Special Report: 10 CEOs to rebuild Japan after March, 11

The Asia Career Times has reviewed more than 100 CEOs in Japan and selected the 10 CEOs that have taken a leadership role in rebuilding Japan. While Japanese politicians have been fighting each other since March, 11, CEOs have shown a different role including: Revamping the energy policy from bottom up, increasing the speed of globalization, hiring massively foreigners to internationalize their company, outsourcing and regrouping their activities, and innovating.

We regret not to have found any woman in this list. Which is certainly not due to the lack of talent but to a glass ceiling that makes Japan difficult to compare with some western countries. We hope that the CEOs listed here will contribute to nurture a generation of women leaders in the near future.

For every CEO, we analyzed the challenge that they are currently facing and how this can impact Japan in the future.

Hiroshi Mikitani Rakuten President

About Hiroshi Mikitani:

Hiroshi Mikitani is the founder of Rakuten, Inc. Mr. Mikitani served as the President from its inception in 1997 and became Chairman of the company in 2001. Mikitani is Head of the E-Commerce and Banking Business Units and Head of the Development Unit. Mikitani is also Chairman of Rakuten Travel, Inc., Chairman of FUSION COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION, and Chairman of Crimson Football Club, Inc. Prior to founding Rakuten, Mr. Mikitani established a consulting business, Crimson Group in 1996. Before Crimson Group, Mr. Mikitani worked at the Industrial Bank of Japan, Ltd. (currently Mizuho Corporate Bank, Ltd.) from 1988 to 1996. Mr. Mikitani received his MBA from Harvard Business School.

The Challenge:

To transform the habits of European customers who are used to going through E-bay or Amazon for online shopping and to promote the Rakuten Brand. Winning the Battle of Europe will help Rakuten to better promote its brand in Asia. Rakuten Headquarters in Tokyo is progressing fast in internationalization. English will soon be the company’s main language, this is quicker than any other Japanese company. The challenge is to maintain the employees  commitment in this fast process and be able to spread its energy to other Japanese services to foster a new “start-ups” generation. Rakuten aims at bringing new values to the world, the real challenge is now to engineer the value transformation process in an industrial manner.

About Rakuten:

Rakuten, Inc. and its consolidated subsidiaries and affiliates (“Rakuten Group”) are full-line internet services companies. Since its founding in 1997, Rakuten, Inc. (“Rakuten”) has spent a decade evolving its business model centered on e-commerce to create a market completely new to Japan. The Rakuten Group is focusing on two approaches in particular to target growth in the decade to come. The first is to empower people and society through continuous innovation and business operation based on their five concepts of success. The second is to establish a “Rakuten eco-system” which enables them to maximize their customers Elifetime value and leverage synergies. Guided by the key phrase “more than Web”, the Rakuten Group is taking on the challenge of creating new value by driving convergence between the internet and the more traditional “bricks and mortar” businesses. It surprised the western world of internet by acquiring PriceMinister of France for 200 million euros. Since the acquisition, international convergence has been increasing at Rakuten.

Takeshi Niinami Lawson’s President

About Takeshi Niinami:

Mr. Takeshi Niinami is serving as President, Chief Executive Officer and Representative Director of Lawson Corporation, as well as the Director of ORIX Corporation. He used to work for Mitsubishi Corporation and a company that is under the new name LEOC JAPAN Co., Ltd. Mr. Niinami is also a Harvard MBA graduate. Takeshi Niinami is always promoting the revitalization of Japan and has been advocating to grant a wider role to Japanese agriculture in the development of the economy.

The Challenge:

Lawson’s strategy is quite clear and fitting to Asia. The company is one of the early pioneers in understanding that Asia can be the growth relay that Japan has been expecting for so long. Lawson is intensively recruiting Chinese and other Asian students in Japan to offer them opportunities once back in their own country or at Lawson global operations HQ in Osaki. Lawson has been competing against the market leader 7-Eleven  by adopting a  clear differentiation strategy.

[sws_pullquote_right] “Let’s create innovative ideas by fusing diverse views and different cultures, ETakeshi Niinami [/sws_pullquote_right] With more and more companies starting to hire Chinese-speaking people in Japan, the resources will be more and more difficult to find. Lawson’s challenge is to make sure that it can offer clear development capabilities to students while maintaining a reasonable cost structure. In other words, Lawson’s foreign employees turnover will probably be one of the factors driving its success in Asia.  Lawson will also have to manage both a Japanese shrinking and aging market and booming opportunities in other parts of Asia.  The recent nomination of CEO for its global operations will certainly help.

About Lawson:

Lawson is one of the top convenience store chains in Japan, second only to convenience store franchise 7-Eleven. Its operations are spread on the 47 prefectures of Japan and two major areas of China.  Lawson is aiming at expanding its operations to other Asian countries. Its motto is “happiness and harmony in our community”. Lawson recently acquired HMV Japan to extend its online business operations.

Carlos Ghosn Nissan President

About Carlos Ghosn:

In 1981, Ghosn joined French automotive supplier Michelin as a plant manager in Le Puy, France. About a decade later, he was named chairman and chief executive officer of Michelin North America. In 1996, Renault hired him as executive vice president responsible for advanced research, car engineering and development, car manufacturing, powertrain operations, purchasing and supervision of Renault activities in South America. Ghosn joined Nissan as its chief operating officer in June 1999, became its president in June 2000 and was named chief executive officer in June 2001. Ghosn is well known “radical Eways when he cut 21,000 Nissan jobs, shut the first of five domestic plants and auctioned off one of Nissan’s most prized assets, the aerospace unit. However, Nissan’s net profit grew to $2.7 billion from a loss of $6.1 billion just a year before. Ghosn is the first non-Japanese person to lead a Japanese automaker. He changed the official company language from Japanese to English and included executives from Europe and North America in key global strategy sessions for the first time.  He graduated with engineering degrees from the École Polytechnique in 1978 with the final year’s specialization at the École des Mines de Paris.

The Challenge:

[sws_pullquote_left] “China will be the answer to Japan’s problems. ECarlos Ghosn [/sws_pullquote_left] Power 88 is the most ambitious plan ever announced by Nissan. It aims at taking a global 8% market share within 6 years and with an 8% corporate operating profit. But Nissan also promised to maintain a 1 million vehicle production in Japan.  Nissan was the first Japanese manufacturer to produce abroad a car sold on the domestic market.

The challenge is clearly to keep some cohesion in Japan while pushing the company to be more aggressive commercially. It requires a full transformation from its operations and transfer from R&D abroad, development for more marketing skills for the Infiniti luxury market, and above all the necessity to find the adequate talent to drive the expansion. To do so Nissan will have to deploy more energy than ever in its campus management and mid-career recruitment.  It will also be facing tough competition at all levels from competitors. A failure would probably cost a lot to Nissan and push shareholders to be more conservative in its commercial strategy.

About Nissan:

Nissan Motors Company, often referred to as Nissan, is a multinational automaker headquartered in Japan. In 1999, Nissan entered a two way alliance with Renault S.A. of France, which owns 43.4% of Nissan while Nissan holds 15% of Renault shares, as of 2008. The current market shares of Nissan, along with Honda and Toyota, in American auto sales represent the largest of the automotive firms based in Asia. In Japan, Nissan is the third largest car manufacturer, with Honda being second by a small margin of 2,000 units and Toyota in a very dominant first. Along with its normal range of models, Nissan also produces a range of luxury models branded as Infiniti. In recent years, Nissan has been known for their heavy investment in developing economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and in particular China, where Nissan Motors is now the No.1 Japanese car maker.

Masayoshi Son Softbank CEO

About Masayoshi Son:

Masayoshi Son has a unique career path in Japan. A third-generation son of a Korean family in Japan, Son was not considered a Japanese citizen until his family adopted the Japanese surname Yasumoto. Son pursued his interests in business by securing a meeting with Japan McDonald’s president Den Fujita. Taking his advice, Son began studying English and computer science. At age 16, Son moved to California and finished high school while staying with friends and family in South San Francisco. He attended the University of California, Berkeley in which he majored in economics and studied computer science. Enamored by a microchip featured in a magazine, Son at age 19 became confident that computer technology would ignite the next commercial revolution.

Convinced that anything related to microchips could yield a fortune, Son decided to produce at least one entrepreneurial idea a day. He patented a translating device that he eventually sold to Sharp Electronics for $1 million. Applications of the patent include the Wizard series of Sharp PDAs. Flush with cash, Son imported Space Invaders video arcade systems and dispersed them about the UC Berkeley campus. Soon after graduating from Berkeley with a BA in economics in 1980, Son started Unison in Oakland, California, which has since been bought by Kyocera. In 1990, Son Masayoshi had adopted Japanese citizenship. Founder of Internet and telecom firm SoftBank, he recently celebrated the 30 year anniversary of the company. He owns one of Japan’s three biggest wireless carriers, via 2006 acquisition of Vodafone Japan, and the only one with rights to sell the iPhone. Smartphone business booming; stock up 34% over the past year.  Softbank also owns large stakes in Yahoo Japan, Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.com as well as a 40% of China’s largest social-networking service Renren, which is planning to IPO this year. Focused on succession plan: started a school,”Softbank Academia,” to groom 300 executives from inside and outside the company.

The Challenge:

Masayoshi Son is a well known philanthropist. After March 11, he has immediately started action to support the Tohoku region. His new challenge is to get rid of nuclear energy by promoting solar energy. His solution lies in having local governments handling their energy policy rather than a centralized administration in Tokyo. Son advocates that deregulating the market and fostering many private initiatives will bring a solution to the nuclear problem.  For that he stresses his experience in the public telecommunications deregulation. His plans involve his company in a project that will build 10 solar power plants in the country. Son’s idea is to build an “Eastern Japan Solar Belt Eto promote the country’s shift away from nuclear and towards renewable energy  Esolar, wind and geothermal. His project would also help the northeast part of Japan recover after March 11’s quake and tsunami, which triggered a nuclear crisis after Fukushima plant’s reactors were destroyed. While some politicians are clearly in favor of such a solution, others fear that they might transfer public money to an already almighty company. Son’s challenge is to be able to create a consensus on the renewable energies in Japan.

About Softbank:

Softbank is a Japanese telecommunications and media corporation, with operations in broadband, fixed line telecommunications, broadband, internet, technology services, finance, media and marketing, and other businesses. SoftBank was established in Tokyo, Japan on September 3, 1981. SoftBank’s corporate profile includes various other companies such as Japanese broadband company Cable & Wireless IDC, cable company BB-Serve, and gaming company GungHo Online Entertainment. Additionally, it has various partnerships in Japanese subsidiaries of foreign companies such as Yahoo!, E-trade, Ustream.tv and Morningstar. SBI Group is a Japanese financial services company that began in 1999 as a branch of SoftBank. SoftBank is currently the only official carrier of the iPhone for Japan.

Tadashi Yanai Uniqlo President

About Tashi Yanai:

[sws_pullquote_right] “I might look successful but I’ve made many mistakes. People take their failures too seriously. You have to be positive and believe you will find success next time.” Tadashi Yanai [/sws_pullquote_right] Tadashi Yanai is founder and president of Fast Retailing, of which popular subsidiary Uniqlo is part of. He is considered to be the richest man in Japan with an estimated net worth of $6.0 billion USD. Yanai graduated from Waseda University in 1971 with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Politics. In 1984, he opened first Uniqlo store, in Hiroshima. He is credited for introducing cheap, fashionable clothing to the highly designer-conscious Japanese youth. Uniqlo is a world-wide operation with over 750 stores. Yanai hopes to continue Uniqlo’s growth by franchising out to some of the newly emerging Asian countries.

The Challenge:

Yanai-san is one of the richest men in Japan and is known for never giving-up. His company is doing well but recently some issues have been emerging at the surface. There is a clear dichotomy between the Uniqlo image in Japan and the rest of the world. While foreigners consider it to be cool and up to fashion, Japanese consumers regard it as day-to-day basic clothing. The customers visiting Uniqlo stores in Japan differ a lot from foreign ones. As long as Uniqlo can keep the fashion momentum abroad everything will go well. Should it be slowed-down by new competition from Asia or new brands issued by competitors such as H&M and Zara, then it will be more difficult. The second trap is pricing, Uniqlo prices in foreign countries exceed by far the prices in Japan. Opening new flagships and developing new teams end up costing an arm and a leg. Uniqlo’s challenge will lie in the capability to harmonize its Japanese and foreign operations to avoid a brand distortion. Therefore, there will be trade-offs to be made between fashion and basic, low price and higher margins.

About Uniqlo:

Uniqlo Co., Ltd. is a Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer. Uniqlo is Japan’s leading clothing retail chain in terms of both sales and profits. The company also operates in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Singapore, Taiwan, Russia, Indonesia and Malaysia. Uniqlo’s rapid number of sales over the past decade has led to over 30,000 employees and 750 stores world-wide. It has recently opened up in a number of developing economies in Asia while gaining ever so increasing popularity in New York City. By 2020, Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., company which Uniqlo is a subsidiary to, hopes to reach a target annual group sales of over $60 billion.

Kunio Noji Komatsu President

About Kunio Noji:

Kunio Noji joined Komatsu Ltd. in April of 1969. In 1997, Noji worked his way up to Director of Komatsu in 1997.  Shortly after in 1999, Noji served as Executive Officer. From there he became Senior Executive officer in 2000 and President of Construction & Mining Equipment Marketing Division in 2003 before finally settling down as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Komatsu Ltd. in June 2007. Noji has a degree from Osaka University’s school of engineering science.

The Challenge:

Komatsu is one of the rare Japanese companies where domestic sales represent a tiny portion of its total revenue. In  a business where quality primes over price, Komatsu has been able to drive a real branding strategy over the world. Its ability to drive key partnerships in China was also part of the success. While we see less constraints on Komatsu future growth, we believe that a true challenge would be to transfer its international experience and localization capability to other Japanese companies.

About Komatsu:

Komatsu Limited is a multinational corporation that manufactures and sells construction and mining equipment, utilities, forest machines and industrial machinery. Komatsu is just behind Caterpillar as the world’s second largest manufacturer of construction equipment and mining equipment. It currently has has manufacturing operations in Japan, Asia, Americas and Europe. Komatsu Ltd. is part of a larger Komatsu Group consisting of 183 other companies.

Mikio Katayama Sharp President

About Mikio Katayama:

Mikio Katayama joined Sharp Corporation in 1981. Katayama became Division Deputy General Manager of TFT Division I in 1997 and then became Division General Manager of TFT Division II the following year. Leading up to 2003 he held several other directorial positions until he became Corporate Director. In 2007, he worked his way up to President of Sharp Corp.

The Challenge:

Japanese companies are all losing money on the TV market. They are now outranked in technology by Korean competitors particularly in OEL technology and size capability. Sharp  diversification strategy has kept the boat afloat but needs to focus even more on internationalization. The time where Japanese companies were competing with each other on the local market and then expanding abroad might be over. Hit by the Galapagos effect, Japanese companies such as Sharp need to internationalize their staff even more and address markets from a true global perspective. No doubt that the process is already engaged but this will truly imply a reorganization and consolidation of its domestic operations, which is sometimes a difficult task for Japanese management.

About Sharp:

Sharp Corporation is a multinational corporation that designs and manufactures electronic products. Today, Sharp employs more than 60,000 people worldwide. Founded in 1912, it has since been on the cutting edge of technology, consistently innovating new appliances, industrial equipment and office solutions. It is well known for creating the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil, which was invented by Tokuji Hayakawa in 1915. Sharp has developed into one of the leading electronics companies in the world. From the first solar-powered calculator to the largest commercially available LCD monitor, from copiers to solar cells, from air purifiers to steam ovens, Sharp covers it all to meet the needs to live a contemporary lifestyle.

Yoshikazu Tanaka, President Gree Inc

About Yoshikazu Tanaka:

World’s second-youngest self-made billionaire after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tanaka made his fortune from a social networking site, Gree. Tanaka started out at Sony, then worked for fellow billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani at an online shopping site Rakuten.  Tanaka eventually transitioned the site into mobile gaming to better compete with rivals, attracting around a million new subscribers a month who pay for virtual clothes and accessories for online avatars that participate in social games on their mobile phones. Tanka named his conference rooms Sunnyvale and Mountain View, after the locations of Yahoo’s and Google’s headquarters. In June 2010, 5 years after the foundation, GREE, Inc. was listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.  Tanaka was 33 years and 3 month at that time and the youngest founder whose company was listed on the TSE first section.

The Challenge:

One option is of course to focus on Japan only and to build a stronghold. But the risk is clearly to face an increase in competition from both local players and companies from China who benefit from a much larger market, or being like mixi, the Japanese social network whose positions are slowly being taken over by Facebook . The Japanese Game industry has certainly the strongest brand equity in the world. Fully opening the door to internationalization and building a new game world game giant from Tokyo is another option. The challenge is probably to avoid being stuck in the middle of the river between those two options.

About Gree:

Gree is a Japanese social networking service founded by Yoshikazu Tanaka and operated by GREE, Inc.. As of January 2011 it is the largest social network in Japan, closely followed by Yahoo! Mobage and Mixi, in terms of total users and the number one site in Japan based upon revenues and profitability. GREE, Inc. is a public company with a value of several billions US dollars. GREE focuses primarily on mobile games and over ninety percent of its users access the site via their mobile phones. The company makes money by selling virtual goods to users such as clothes for their in-game avatars.

Akihiro Nikkaku Toray President

About Akihiro Nikkaku:

Akihiro Nikkaku has been the President and Chief Operating Officer of Toray Industries Inc. since June, 2010 and served as its Executive Vice President since June 2007. Mr. Nikkaku served as Senior Managing Director and Managing Director of Toray Industries Inc. He has been a Director of Toray Industries Inc. since June, 2010. He studied at The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering in 1973.

In addition, he has held several leadership positions in the company. As General Manager of Manufacturing Division, he successfully addressed quality improvement and production cost reduction issues and as General Manager of Water Treatment Division he pursued global business expansion of the business. From 2009, as General Manager of Corporate Strategic Planning Division he comprehensively investigated and analyzed the impact of the global economic crisis on Toray Group’s business environment, identified the management issues and implemented actions to tackle them.

The Challenge:

Toray clearly has leadership and technological advances in many segments. Many industrial companies such as Mercedes or Boeing recognize its unique technical capabilities. The challenge is now to globalize its team in Japan and expose its management to foreign countries even more.  (Toray just announced a new website all in Chinese). By moving from a global technical leadership in Chemistry innovation to a global management leadership in the innovation management, Toray will attract new human resources and expand its managerial leadership from Japan to the world like GE did.

About Toray:

Toray Industries, Inc. and its subsidiaries provide fibers and textiles, plastics and chemicals, IT (information technology)-related products, carbon fiber composite materials, environment and engineering products, and life science products Asia, Europe, North America.

Ohtsubo Fumio Panasonic President

About Ohtsubo Fumio:

After graduating from Kansai University with a masters in mechanical engineering, Mr. Ohtsubo joined the Panasonic Corporation, previously known as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. In 1998, Ohtsubo was promoted to Director of Panasonic Corporation and five years later served as its Senior Managing Director. Since June of 2006, Ohtsubo has served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Panasonic Corporation.

The Challenge:

Panasonic is definitely awake now. Its recent transaction on its Sanyo white appliances subsidiary to Haier, and willingness to face Korean manufacturers in India head to head are positive signs. But while Korea is sending 100,000 + to study abroad and gain crucial local experience, Japan is sending a mere 50,000 students. Panasonic cannot stay in this position for a long-time or he will be quickly outranked in every niche and segment. While the top management understands the crucial need of internationalization and concentration, the middle-management might be puzzled about recent decisions and ask itself which division will be soon restructured. Panasonic’s international recruitment is not yet at a level that fosters a true middle-management revolution. A solution could be in an alliance with a European or American competitor to create cross-functional teams and gain mutual experience. Panasonic cannot take the risk to sell its businesses one by one to Chinese low-cost competitors while losing market shares to Korean competitors. It’s clearly a dangerous path. The wake-up call has come a little bit too late but Panasonic but the sense of crisis seems to be fully activated by now.

About Panasonic:

Founded in 1918 in Kodama, Osaka, Japan, Panasonic Corporation has grown since to become the 89th-largest company in the world according to Forbes Global 2000. Formerly known as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., Panasonic focuses most of its products in the electronics field under the names of Panasonic, Technics, and more. It is currently the largest electronics producer in Japan. Panasonic also offers non-electronic products such as various home renovation services. In recent years, Panasonic has geared away from the brand name “National Eand has added the popular slogan, “Panasonic, ideas for life E in hopes of giving it a more global image.

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