Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of Mitsubishi Chemical was interviewed towards the end of 2020 by Nikkei Business magazine. Mitsubishi Chemical is not in our Top 30 Japanese employers in Europe, as it only employs around 3,200 in the region – mainly via the UK company Lucite International which it acquired in 2008 and other acquisitions in Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
Kobayashi has always been his own man, and somewhat unconventional by Japanese corporate standards, having studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before joining Mitsubishi Chemical in 1974. He is nonetheless a leading light in Japanese business circles and sits on various government and employer bodies.
He was asked if capitalism will change, as there seems to be renewed interest in the kind of stakeholder capitalism that Japanese companies prefer to practise. His view is that Japanese companies should not just say “sampo yoshi” (three way satisfaction for the buyer, seller and society) and be complacent, but have to improve their productivity and capital efficiency, and make a profit.
Asked about the surprise appointment of Belgium-born Jean-Marc Gilson to President of Mitsubishi Chemical, Kobayashi said they had been preparing the ground for some time. Even when he chose the previous president, Ochi, he found it hard to make his mind up. So he set up a nominations committee with external directors with overseas experience. They were tasked with finding the best person globally – but it took five years for this message to get through.
He had “no hesitation – almost no” in appointing a foreign president. Rather, he was more afraid of turning back to the past and appointing a Japanese president. He wanted to make sure that whomever became president understood the “KAITEKI” philosophy that he had been promoting and take a radical approach to zero carbon and reduce reliance on oil and coal. This probably needed an outsider to push this portfolio transformation and improve Mitsubishi Chemical’s market capitalization. “What this company lacks most is the awareness of how to make money. I talked to Mr Gilson about this four or five times over Zoom, as he also had experience in a private equity fund, he explained this point very clearly. I hate to say, but a Japanese president could not give such a presentation.”
“Rather than Gilson’s own performance, I am hoping that by him becoming President, the whole company will up its game. Rather than being told to study English or speak English, wouldn’t you try to speak English of your own accord because the president is foreign?”
He is quite critical of the current Japanese government announcing zero carbon by 2050 without any actual design behind it. “There is no serious discussion at all” and yet per capita GDP in Japan is lower than Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.
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