“A man of noble character esteems wealth and is scrupulous in seeking the ethical way to acquire it.”

  • # Sumitomo’s Business Philosophy
  • # Director-General
  • # CSR
Shūmon Mujintō Ron (Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen) by Tōrei Enji. He was a follower of Hakuin Ekaku, the reviver of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. (Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives)

This aphorism was written in the Edo period by the Zen monk Tōrei Enji in a book titled Shūmon Mujintō Ron (Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen). Teigo Iba, the second Director-General of Sumitomo, made it his personal motto because he believed, “A man of noble character esteems wealth. A company is a profit-making enterprise, and to work for a company is to work for profit and nothing shameful. This is an important truth. However, there is an ethical way of earning profits. Profit must be earned in accordance with moral principles, and the money gained must be used for proper purposes.”

It was this belief that prompted Iba to relocate Sumitomo’s smelting operation to Shisakajima to solve the smoke pollution problem. On this uninhabited island with no fresh water supply, Sumitomo developed housing, a school, a hospital, and other essential infrastructure. Starting a business enterprise by first building a new settlement for the workers and their families was an extraordinary undertaking at the time.

The start-up costs for the Shisakajima Smelter soared to 1.73 million yen, equivalent to two years of net profits from the Besshi Copper Mines. Although Sumitomo could have used the funds for palliative measures, such as payment of compensation for damage caused by smoke pollution, Iba sought a definitive solution and insisted on eradication of smoke pollution.

This episode contains an important lesson for businesspeople today. Do not greedily chase easy money. It is important not to engage in unethical businesses, think dispassionately, and stop to consider whether you are not violating the ethical way of earning profits.

Teigo Iba
Teigo Iba was born in 1847 as the eldest son and heir of Sadataka Iba, a local administrator, in Nishijuku in the Gamo District of Omi Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture). His mother was a sister of Saihei Hirose, the first Director-General of Sumitomo. After serving as a judicial official and ascending from the Hakodate Local Court to the Osaka Superior Court in 1877, Iba joined Sumitomo in 1879. He became director of the Osaka Head Office the same year and engaged with distinction in the Sumitomo family’s business and the wider business community as Hirose’s right-hand man. He was appointed general manager of the Besshi Copper Mines in 1894, where he sought a solution to the Niihama smoke pollution problem and assiduously implemented environmental measures in the Besshi mountains. He became the second Director-General of Sumitomo in 1900 and retired just four years later at the young age of 58 in the belief that “What is most harmful to achieving progress in business is not the mistakes of the young, but the domination of the old.”