“Many Japanese executives are unable to think critically”, says Hashimoto Takayuki, an external director (ex IBM Japan) and chairman of the nomination committee of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, in a recent interview with Diamond Online.
“There is no right answer to how to manage a business now” he adds. The traditional Japanese model of low-cost, high quality, on-time delivery, based on conventional mass production methods is no longer sufficient. “There is a need for management that resolves conflicts, balancing social and economic benefits, such as carbon neutrality.” So it is not enough for a President or CEO to just have the traditional ability to sell as well as a top sales person or have a great track record as a factory manager.
Japanese people are not very good at managing subsidiaries acquired overseas
“Broadly speaking, the president has three duties. The first is the corporate branding of the company – the “purpose” that is attracting so much attention recently. The second is portfolio management – business consolidation. An appropriate business structure has to be built, in line with trends such as ESG. The third is global governance. Japanese people are not very good at managing subsidiaries acquired overseas, but it is an essential skill for a global company.”
“I believe that people who are future presidents/CEOS will need to be educated within a special track in the company, as a profession, much as you would with marketing or sales. They need to have assignments which will stretch them, such as developing an overseas business from scratch, or rebuilding a poorly perfoming subsidiary.
This is why the top person from within was not selected to become the President, because they had not been educated in management. There were many excellent performers heading up business divisions, but whether they can become President is another matter.
We asked a headhunter to produce a long list of candidates to be President – there were more than 30, including people from outside Japan. The shortlist had 4 people from outside the company, outside Japan, and 3 people who were in-house candidates.
Why an external, non-Japanese candidate was selected
“Mr Gilson gave a good impression of deep understanding of Mitsubishi Chemical’s vision of KAITEKI management. Other people wanted to change this vision as soon as possible, but that was not the kind of successor we were seeking. Also, external candidates may want to bring in a team they are familiar with, but Mr Gilson clearly said he would prioritise teamwork with the current management members.”
Furthermore, during the interview, Mr Gilson summarized his business improvement ideas in a proposal of 2 sides of an A4 and presented them. The proposal was accurate, but above all, it showed a passionate intent.
There were some concerns, as Jean Marc Gilson‘s previous company (Roquette Freres) had sales of several hundred billion yen, compared to Mitsubishi Chemical sales of nearly 4 trillion yen.
“I expected a certain amount of backlash within the company, but I’ve heard that actually there was a more welcoming atmosphere amongst the younger employees. After all, the younger the person, the stronger the desire for change.
Having the former chairman of Mitsubishi Chemical (and the person who came up with the KAITEKI vision), Yoshimitsu Kobayashi on the nomination committee was also a big factor. It was the first time Mitsubishi Chemical appointed a president through a nomination committee, so there was a risk that a decision made solely by people with no experience of Mitsubishi Chemical would not be seen as valid.
Mr Hashimoto still thinks that it is best if the President has been developed within the company, but it takes time to reform internal systems and culture. If this is not worked on right now, the company will never change.
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