President's Message at the 2013 New Employees' Initiation Ceremony

April 1, 2013

Good morning, everyone. I am Masahiro Okafuji, president & CEO.

I’m very happy to welcome 124 new colleagues to our Company—110 of you are on a career track and 14 of you are working in a clerical capacity. As you have experienced, the job market is growing increasingly competitive each year. Therefore, I also want to praise you by letting you know the extraordinary odds you beat in joining our Company. For those of you on the career track, there were 11,409 applicants who took the written test. That means 104 other people were trying to get your position. Those of you in a clerical capacity did even better: 1,618 applicants took the test, meaning that you were each chosen in favor of 116 other candidates.

All of you must therefore be overjoyed and full of hope for having made it here today. Now, not too long ago, some people had the luxury of allowing themselves to feel uneasy about joining a company and becoming a cog in the machine. However, becoming a cog isn’t that easy. In a piece of machinery, the gears and wheels can jam if only one cog is missing. But a company can operate as though nothing went wrong, even if a few of its members were to leave. What I would like for you to do--and please interpret this positively--is to take the bull by the horn and turn the tables around. Why not aim to become such an important cog in the machine that we would be lost without you.

To become that cog, and as my congratulatory message today, I would like to assign two tasks I want each of you to take to heart.

The first task is to approach everything with a Yes I Can mentality.

Don’t react to requests from a customer, or a piece of advice from your supervisors and senior colleagues, as difficult and impossible. Instead, you should always have a positive mindset, accept their input, and concentrate on how best to respond to their wishes. A positive mindset is the most important asset of a business person. Being positive leaves a good impression on others, besides being a building block to acquiring good people skills. Please make it a habit to always embrace a Yes I Can mentality.

The second task is to become a professional in your assigned position.

As winners in a severely competitive job market, each of you seated here must be full of big ambitions. Don’t get me wrong. Fresh beginnings and being motivated are very good things indeed. However, most of you will probably feel some dejection when you experience a gap between your ambitions and reality after working with us for a while. My advice to you is to let go of your big ambitions for the time being, and instead apply yourself diligently to the tasks at hand. You may not get the plum assignment you were hoping for, and the work you are asked to perform may not be what you were expecting. But please don’t make a fuss about it. Always strive to be a professional no matter how small your assignment or the business world may seem initially. This is because the only way to gain insight into the essence of doing business is to become a professional and master any assignment. Gaining recognition as a professional means you will be the person people seek out when they want advice. Once this is accomplished, the information will come to you, and your professional knowledge and experience will grow as a matter of course.

Master your assignments first, and one day you will be asked to draw on your experience and pioneer some new business for ITOCHU. If you follow my advice, your big ambitions will be realized before you know it.

On a different note, I would like to make a comparison with the fashion industry to describe ITOCHU to you today. I think of us as being similar to a maison de couture, or a French fashion house. These maisons are characterized by brands that generations of designers have upheld over the years. By contrast, Italian fashion is dominated by brands that just showcase the work of one single designer. At one time, it looked as though the center of fashion was about to shift to Italy, but France has made a comeback recently. This is because while most Italian brands end after the one designer ceases working, French brands such as LANVIN and Nina Ricci have lived on for 120 years and 80 years, respectively, due to the young, talented designers they have taken in over the years.

Now, even for talented designers, creating fashions from scratch can be a Herculean task. Here, also, the French have an advantage. Maison de couture archive their past samples and design sketches, and new designers can draw on them for inspiration when they run out of ideas. In other words, these fashion houses own a business model in which history and tradition can be fused with young talent. In the same manner, I hope that each of you can realize your capabilities to their fullest, now that you have joined Maison de ITOCHU with its history of more than 150 years. ITOCHU will also grow by internalizing young and capable human resources, and I have very high hopes for each of you.

In closing, please be proud and confident that you were chosen to join our Company. I offer you congratulations on behalf of us all, and wish you the best in your career at ITOCHU.