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There are three types of keiretsu:
- Kigyō shūdan (企業集団 "horizontally diversified business groups" )
- Seisan keiretsu (生産系列 "vertical manufacturing networks" )
- Ryūtsū keiretsu (流通系列 "vertical distribution networks" )
The prototypical keiretsu appeared in Japan during the "economic miracle" following World War II. Before Japan's surrender, Japanese industry was controlled by large family-controlled vertical monopolies called zaibatsu.
During the occupation of Japan, under the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, a partially successful attempt was made to dissolve the zaibatsu in the late 1940s. Sixteen zaibatsu were targeted for complete dissolution, and twenty six more for reorganization after dissolution. However, the companies formed from the dismantling of the zaibatsu were later reintegrated. The dispersed corporations were re-interlinked through share purchases to form horizontally-integrated alliances across many industries. Where possible, keiretsu companies would also supply one another, making the alliances vertically integrated as well. In this period, official government policy promoted the creation of robust trade corporations that could withstand heavy pressures from intensified world trade competition.
The major keiretsu were each centered around one bank, which lent money to the keiretsu's member companies and held equity positions in the companies. Each bank had great control over the companies in the keiretsu and acted as a monitoring entity and as an emergency bail-out entity. One effect of this structure was to minimize the presence of hostile takeovers in Japan, because no entities could challenge the power of the banks.
There are two types of keiretsu: vertical and horizontal. Vertical keiretsu illustrates the organization and relationships within a company (for example all factors of production of a certain product are connected)—while a horizontal keiretsu shows relationships between entities and industries, normally centered around a bank and trading company. Both are complexly woven together and self-sustain each other.
Although the divisions between them have blurred in recent years, there are six major postwar keiretsu:
Toyota is considered the biggest of the "vertically-integrated" keiretsu groups. The banks at the top are not as large as normally required so this is actually considered to be more horizontally integrated than other keirutsu.
The Japanese recession in the 1990s had profound effects on the keiretsu. Many of the largest banks were hit hard by bad loan portfolios and forced to merge or go out of business. This had the effect of blurring the lines between the keiretsu: Sumitomo Bank and Mitsui Bank, for instance, became Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation in 2001, while Sanwa Bank (the banker for the Hankyu-Toho Group) became part of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. Additionally, many companies from outside the keiretsu system, such as Sony and Honda, began outperforming their counterparts within the system.
Generally, these causes gave rise to a strong notion in the business community that the old keiretsu system was not an effective business model, and led to an overall loosening of keiretsu alliances. While the keiretsu still exist, they are not as centralized or integrated as they were before the 1990s. This, in turn, has led to a growing corporate acquisition industry in Japan, as companies are no longer able to be easily "bailed out" by their banks, as well as rising derivative litigation by more independent shareholders.
The keiretsu model has not appeared outside Japan, but many non-Japanese businesses are described as keiretsu such as the Virgin Group (UK), Tata Group (India) and Cisco Systems (USA). Airline alliances such as Oneworld and the Star Alliance have also been described as keiretsu. Generally, these groups exhibit more top-down management, centralized control or (in the case of airline alliances) looser equity ownership connections than do "true" keiretsu. Banks cited as being central to keiretsu-like systems include Deutsche Bank and the early years of JP Morgan and Mellon Financial in the United States. One economic group, the Colombian Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño, is often described as such.
South Korean conglomerates, called chaebol, are often compared to keiretsu, but the chaebol conglomerations are much more similar to a Western conglomerate like General Electric or a pre-World War II zaibatsu.
- ↑ "Japan Again Plans Huge Corporations," New York Times. July 17, 1954.
- ↑ The Toyota Group, the One and Only Horizontal-Vertical Keiretsu
- Masahiko Aoki and Hugh Patrick, The Japanese Main Bank System (1994)
- Ronald Gilson and Mark J. Roe, "Understanding the Japanese Keiretsu," 102 Yale L.J. 871 (1993)
- Yoshiro Miwa and Mark Ramseyer, "The Fable of the Keiretsu," 11 J. Econ. & Mgmt. Strategy 169 (2002)
- Kenichi Miyashita & David Russell, "Keiretsu: inside the hidden Japanese conglomerates" McGraw-Hill (1995)