President’s Message at the New Employees’ Initiation Ceremony
April 1, 2019
Good morning. I am Yoshihisa Suzuki, President & COO of ITOCHU Corporation.
Today, I am very happy to welcome 127 new colleagues to our company: 116 taking general positions and 11 clerical positions.
You are coming aboard at a time of great strength for ITOCHU. For the past several years, ITOCHU has steadily delivered record-high earnings. When our fiscal 2019 results are announced, we expect to set a new record for a third consecutive year.
At the same time, ITOCHU is on the cusp of massive change. Numerous factors, such as the so-called the fourth industrial revolution and ongoing digitization, are transforming industry all around us. ITOCHU, too, must make bold changes. At our head office and the seven Division Companies, where you will soon be working, everyone from front-line managers to Division Company presidents is looking not just for ways to implement “Earn, Cut, Prevent” today, but also for innovative, future-oriented opportunities. I doubt anyone now imagines that the current Division Companies will all remain as they are in five years. I therefore want you to think of yourselves as coming to ITOCHU not at a time of peak strength, but rather at a time of immense change, the eve of a new chapter.
To you, I will not give the standard advice of focusing first on the work in front of you—doing that much goes without saying at ITOCHU. Instead, I ask you go into day one with your sights set on a point five or ten years down the line. This will require talent and imagination, but each of you has overcome fierce competition to get here, and I know that you are up to the challenge. In your new positions, you will no doubt be given basic, standard tasks. Learn how to handle these, then quickly automate and expedite them, so that you can spend more time thinking about the bigger picture. This is the kind of new employee that ITOCHU needs.
When I joined the Company in 1979, even as I spent my days keeping up with expense sheets and aggregating figures, I dreamed that the future was in the space business. Seven years later, I found myself part of a team that helped paved the way for ITOCHU to launch the Japanese private sector’s first communications satellite. There are many other examples like this. In the 1990s, there was a junior ITOCHU employee who felt strongly that the future of trading companies lay not in wholesaling, but in retail. Frustrated that the Company was not headed in that direction, he eventually quit. Just a few years later, ITOCHU acquired FamilyMart. 20 years after that, that former employee returned, this time as the president of FamilyMart. As you may have figured out, I am talking about President Takashi Sawada. A little further back, a young employee working in ITOCHU’s textile business provided the impetus for a defining shift in focus from raw materials and fabric trading to brand-name products and apparel. That employee was a young Masahiro Okafuji, now our Chairman & CEO.
This is not to say that junior employees can always realize their dreams exactly as they imagine, but their fresh ideas and sensibilities provide a powerful creative force. This potential is in all of you; utilize it to the fullest. When you get to your posts, you may encounter dull-eyed mid–level executives whose thinking comes off as dated, or training personnel with outsized attitudes, or managers who seem to think only of numbers. It is up to you to come up with the ideas that will wake them up. I hope that, from day one, I can expect you to start chasing after and sharing your dreams to make that happen.
ITOCHU is proud to be the sogo shosha (general trading company) with the longest history. Last year, ITOCHU marked 160 years since its founding. Looking back, there have been highs and lows, but ITOCHU has always boldly pushed forward, even in the most challenging of circumstances. This has required an awareness that change is inevitable for a trading company. It also reflects the essence of ITOCHU’s DNA—its emphasis on commending employees for getting back on their feet after they fail, rather than pressuring them to never dare chance failure. First and foremost, I implore you all to embrace that culture and carry it forward. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to push forward your own convictions, for success is achieved only by building upon failures.
At last year’s initiation ceremony, I asked new employees to “Work to be humble,” “Learn” and “Take on Challenges.” This year, however, I will not repeat that request. At this point, I feel that striving to learn is a given, as is taking on challenges.
I would like to make one other remark, instead. Essential to ITOCHU is the philosophy of “sampo yoshi,” meaning good for the seller, good for the buyer, and good for society. “Sampo yoshi” can only be achieved by maintaining a proper mindset as a merchant. Chubei Itoh II often said “No matter what, a merchant must never lie”* and extolled the value of maintaining a richness of spirit. Otherwise, he said, one’s judgment as a merchant will eventually warp. With that in mind, as you embark on your careers, this is the mission that I bestow on you: Be grateful to those who raised you; respect the rules as an upstanding member of society; take pride in being a part of the ITOCHU team; and build the future of ITOCHU based on sampo yoshi.
Some of you may have seen the full-page newspaper ad we took out on April 1st . This ad featured one of ITOCHU’s focuses for this year—the step beyond “good for the seller, good for the buyer, and good for society,” namely, “good for the future.” I would like to close my address by once again welcoming you and congratulating you on joining ITOCHU Corporation. I look forward to seeing your “good for the future” endeavors.