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Chubei Itoh Ⅱ
Tracing the footsteps of Chubei Itoh Ⅱ shows both his business and humanist qualities. We see his spirit of rationalism and his ability to make bold decisions.
There is an interesting episode that depicts the rational approach of Chubei Ⅱ. It took place soon after he had joined Itoh Honten, following the adoption of the name Chubei Itoh Ⅱ when he was only 17 years old. He suggested to the General Manager that bicycles be used for visiting customers in Osaka instead of walking, as store employees had previously done. It was around the 1890s, and because bicycles were not yet very popular, there was nobody in the store who could ride one. Chubei Ⅱ volunteered to become an instructor and taught the store employees how to ride. Thanks to his initiative, the number of customers the employees could visit in one day rose significantly.
Chubei Ⅱ's spirit of rationalism was also reflected in other initiatives, including a series of amendments of the store charter to make the store a modern organization, and recruiting a number of graduates, which was rare in those days. Chubei Ⅱ also began trading directly overseas rather than through foreign trading companies, and dealing with non-textile products, including machinery and steel. Chubei Ⅱ was born with this spirit of rationalism, but he is believed to have honed it during his stay in the United Kingdom. What was required to embody this spirit of rationalism, however, was his other quality: the ability to make bold decisions.
The decision-making ability of Chubei Ⅱ became even more pertinent when he was faced with a crisis. For instance, during a management crisis that resulted from an economic disaster in 1920, he overcame the unprecedented challenges by aggressively downsizing the businesses and undertaking management reforms in accordance with his management ethos: “If you don't take a step back when it is necessary, you won't be able to grow when the opportunity arises”. The average age of the new management staff Chubei Ⅱ created beneath him at the time was only 35. It was like the management system of a venture company today.
When Japan began gearing up for war, with the escalation of state control, Chubei Ⅱ found it difficult to fully deploy his business approach, which was based on liberalism and a cosmopolitan ethos. As a result, he gradually moved away from direct management. He continued to display a strong presence as a charismatic manager, however. Meanwhile, the organizations developed by Chubei Ⅱ grew steadily to become the ITOCHU Corporation of today. If it is correct to say that “people develop organizations and organizations develop people”, the management ethos and the spirit of Chubei Ⅱ certainly remain alive, not only in ITOCHU Corporation today, but also in the many managers who learned from Chubei Ⅱ.