The heads of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation)and the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives) are considered to be the three key positions for business and industry in their interactions with government – to influence government policy and “receive ministerial guidance” in return. So business and political commentators always like to speculate and analyse who has been chosen and from which company, and why.
When the appointment of Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, the current president of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings as the new head of the Keizai Doyukai was announced in November of last year, Nikkei Business magazine jumped on it as an opportunity to look at how the corporate culture of the Mitsubishi group (keiretsu) is perceived by the Japanese corporate world.
Apparently Kobayashi’s appointment had the unanimous support of the Keizai Doyukai members and his contribution as a member of the government’s Industrial Competitiveness Council also stood him in good stead. It’s also thought that he will step down as President of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings in 2015 so will be able to devote himself full time to the association.
Kobayashi stated that he “wants to be involved in economic activism from the basis of contribution to society [corporate social responsibility]” – presumably an echo of the “kaiteki” philosophy he espoused at Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, and also to counter the kinds of accusations that the Nikkei Magazine journalist himself goes on to make, which is that the Mitsubishi group of companies has so far been seen as being mainly concerned with protecting its own members’ interests.
The Nikkei points out that no member of the Mitsubishi group has headed up any of the three organisations for the past 20 years. Yorihiko Kojima, current chaiman of my alma mater Mitsubishi Corporation, the group’s trading company, was mentioned as a possible successor to lead the Keidanren, but in the end Sadayuki Sakakibara of Toray was chosen, as it was felt that it was better to have a manufacturer at the helm. Hideaki Omiya of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was also in the frame, but rejected because of MHI’s involvement in the defence industry.
All these appointments, it seems to me, can be explained by the way Japanese businesses strive to be seen as socially responsible and ethical and as representative of Japan’s self image as a nation, as much as it is about political connections.
Mitsubishi is usually contrasted with the Mitsui group as being “organisation” focused whereas Mitsui is more about “people”. I’ve asked many Japanese business people what this means in practical terms. Apparently when dealing with Mitsui, internally or externally, who you know and who they know is the key to getting business done, but with Mitsubishi, the individual is less important than getting the organisation to work for you. The Nikkei says it means Mitsubishi group companies are motivated to do things only by how the group will benefit as a whole, which accounts for the caution with which they are treated by other companies outside the group.
So why was Kobayashi chosen? Partly because there were no other candidates, says the Nikkei. Lawson President Takeshi Niinami (who is actually a Mitsubishi Corp alumnus, and Lawson is a Mitsubishi group company, so I think the Nikkei might be overstating the case somewhat re Mitsubishi’s lack of involvement) has been poached by Suntory Holdings so is out of the race for such positions. Also many Presidents are too busy with global competitive pressures to spend the money and time needed to head up the top of a business group.
The Keizai Doyukai is also seen to be losing influence. It was close to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, but now the ruling LDP has revived, the Keizai Doyukai has lost its raison d’etre. “I was worried during the vetting process, but I slowly began to realise it was something I had to do” says Kobayashi, which Nikkei terms a rather innocent comment – “Kobayashi is being viewed somewhat coldly by those around him.”
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