Teaching Note | HBS Case Collection | October 2015 (Revised December 2015)

Trouble at Tessei

by Ethan Bernstein and Ryan Buell


In 2005, Teruo Yabe is asked to revive Tessei, the 669-person JR-East subsidiary responsible for cleaning its Shinkansen ("bullet") trains. Operational mistakes, customer complaints, safety issues, and employee turnover are at or near all-time highs, even as the demands on Tessei continued to grow.

Given previous leaders' failed attempts to fix Tessei's problems with increased managerial monitoring and controls, Yabe seeks a creative approach to overcome the motivation, capability, and coordination challenges facing his organization. Like many contemporary leaders, he selects transparency as his tool. He is, however, unique in adopting a highly nuanced approach to implementing transparency. In the process, he not only leads a fantastic organizational turnaround but even helps to make otherwise "dirty" work more meaningful for Tessei front-line employees. The case therefore presents students, particularly in leadership, organizational behavior, operations management, and service operations courses, with an opportunity to think through how a well-crafted transparency strategy can act as a powerful leadership tool.

Keywords: service operations; service management; employee engagement; employee motivation; leadership and managing people; leadership; quality improvement; efficiency; Japan; operational transparency; employee coordination; transparency; Leadership; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Employees; Quality; Transportation Industry; Japan;


Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan Buell. "Trouble at Tessei." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 616-031, October 2015. (Revised December 2015.)