Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, seems to be attracted to intractable problems. Not only has he become an external director of Tokyo Electric Power Company, post Fukushima but is now also a director of Toshiba, as it goes through a massive restructuring of its business, following its falsified accounting scandal (see our previous post – Toshiba – where did it all go wrong?). On top of all that he is also the chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives.
Asked by the Nikkei Business magazine why he has taken on both TEPCO and Toshiba, he explains that he regards both as extremely important to the Japanese economy. “Nuclear power is a Japanese national policy, and Toshiba is a national policy company. If it is damaged, then it is damage to the whole Japanese economy” (as we explained in another post Shazai and the art of being a corporate shame magnet). “That doesn’t mean we have to preserve it at whatever cost. We need to be open about all the bad parts of Toshiba, and take responsibility for explaining what happened. Then we can rebuild. Governance needs to have concrete substance, not just on the surface.”
Nikkei Business calls 2015 “Year Zero of Corporate Governance” for Japan. Kobayashi says it will take 10 years to change corporate culture at the roots. Toshiba and TEPCO resemble each other, he thinks, in that TEPCO is learning to be a privately owned company, that looks after public infrastructure, which is similar to Toshiba.
“Aspects of Japan that had been good such as life time employment and seniority based promotion have now become a minus, and Japan has lost its competitiveness. Companies should not rely on politicians. It is not just about deregulating but changing the spirit behind the regulations.”
Kobayashi points out that while Japanese companies have been investing large amounts in overseas M&A, domestic M&A is still a fraction of that. There are 3 nuclear power companies, 8 car companies and yet 20,000 chemical companies. As a consequence, research and development is behind the West and China.
“What’s key is for Japan to keep hold of its traditional technical strength, but work out how to team this up with services.” “Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings is doing this – working on new materials, for the environment and healthcare… and also for light weight cars”.
Kobayashi also believes that top executives in Japanese companies should walk away once they have finished their stint as chairman. However he think that it takes 10 years at the top to really understand a company. The Toshiba system, whereby Presidents only stayed in post for 4 years, but then carried on for many years after as advisors was not healthy. “Maybe it’s because their remuneration is not as high as in the West that they stick around. Dow Chemical’s CEO is earning 50 times what I earn. Although Mitsubishi group companies don’t have so much cross shareholding in common now, we keep an eye on each other’s governance, so oldies are not allowed to hang around”
“Toshiba has a surprising number of businesses. In companies like that where there are many capable people, there are a lot of big fish swimming in small ponds. They think they are the company, and forget the public interest.”
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