Takeshi Niinami is probably the most famous alumnus of my alma mater, Mitsubishi Corporation. Born in 1959 and a graduate of Keio (as so many Mitsubishi ‘gentlemen’ are), he started off in sugar trading and after a Mitsubishi Corp sponsored MBA at Harvard, he was involved with the foundation of the Sodexo joint venture in Japan with MC, and then transferred to and ultimately ran the convenience store chain Lawson, which MC had acquired a majority share in.
He was lured to the family run Suntory in 2014 by the grandson of the founder, Nobutada Saji, and has been shaking the place up ever since, much to the consternation of many employees. The revolution was already underway, as Suntory had already announced its $16bn acquisition of US whisky maker Beam and the year before had acquired the UK brands Lucozade and Ribena from GlaxoSmithKline for $1.35bn and in 2009 acquired Orangina Schweppes for $1.97bn.
A former director who worked with him at Lawsons says “there are people who cannot keep up with him. He keeps coming up with new things, and then says do it within a year”. Niinami believes that Suntory will not be able to function well as a global company if it only promotes from within, so has appointed Vincent Ambrosino, formerly CFO of Pepsico Canada as an Executive Officer of Suntory Holdings, in charge of strategy, finance and accounting. He only joined Beam in 2013 as the CFO so this by Japanese standards was seen as meteoric rise to a top position.
Furthermore, Makiko Ono, one of the rare senior Japanese businesswomen in a major company, who had been involved with various collaborations with foreign companies as executive officer of Suntory Food & Beverages, has transferred to Suntory Holdings, to become the GM of global HR. Around 17 people from Suntory Holdings will be seconded to Beam Suntory, with the aim of improving global mobility. Niinami himself announced that he wants to hire more people from outside the company, “including those who have investment experience who were in trading companies” – hiring in his own image, in other words.
Suntory Holdings mid term plan has highly ambitious double digit targets for turnover and profit. It is unlikely this will be reached organically, says Toyo Keizai magazine. More M&A can be expected. Niinami is not likely to slow down.
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