What are the entrepreneurial qualities shared by many famous businesspeople? Representative Director and President of Lotte Ventures Japan Co., Ltd. Takashi Sawada
Lotte Ventures Japan, Co., Ltd., a 100%-owned CVC of Lotte Holdings, Co., Ltd., launched in April 2022 to engage in investment and business support to seed to mid-stage venture companies in Japan and overseas operating in the well-being sector. Headed by Takashi Sawada, with his wealth of experience in startups and business management, including Vice President of Fast Retailing, founder of Revamp, and President of FamilyMart, the new company is attracting a great deal of attention. DIMENSION Business Producer Noriyuki Ito asked Sawada what he thinks are the qualities needed by entrepreneurs and for any pointers on good business management.
Face up to realities in the field, not desk-bound theories
ーーWith your experience of starting up and managing a variety of companies, what would you say are the important qualities an aspiring entrepreneur needs?
First would be “intense passion” to want to start up or engage in a certain business.
Second would be having a “customer perspective.” Out of all stakeholders the most important is the customer who pays for your product or service. It is essential to perceive your product or business from the standpoint of customers.
Third and fourth would be “empathy from colleagues” and “empathy from business partners.” This is because you can’t do anything significant working on your own as an individual or a single company. It is essential to get stakeholders on board who understand and appreciate your passion.
The fifth and final quality I would identify is “cost-effectiveness,” or keeping a strict eye on whether returns match the investment made. From time to time you may be called on to make a cool-headed judgment.
As for me, I have experienced many failures up to now. I have always looked back and examined what went wrong at these times, and I think that out of that process of reflection I have identified these five elements that summarize what it takes to succeed.
Born in 1957
After graduating from Sophia University he joined Itochu Corporation, where he was involved in Itochu’s buyout of U.S. convenience store giant 7-Eleven, before joining Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., where he served as vice president. After founding Revamp Corporation and also serving as Representative Director and President of FamilyMart Co., Ltd. (where he currently serves as advisor), in April 2022 he was appointed Representative Director and President of Lotte Ventures Japan, a 100%-owned CVC launched by Lotte Holdings Co., Ltd.
ーーDuring your career to date you’ve met and worked with many people who could well be described as legends in the fields of business and entrepreneurship.
It was when I was working on the buyout of 7-Eleven at Itochu that I first had the opportunity to meet the founder of Ito-Yokado Co., Ltd., Masatoshi Ito.
I joined him on visits to various stores in both Japan and the U.S., and wherever we went and whatever kind of store we visited, he would always take detailed notes. He had a really amazing passion for getting facts from the workplace and using these to improve the business.
This was at a time when I was working as a trader at a major trading house, and making purchases or sales of hundreds of millions of yen with one phone call, without ever seeing things out in the field. To see the company president getting down to the details in this way was a real wake-up call for me and I thought he was really cool and canny operator. The one person who I have since striven to be like as a manager and as a person is Mr. Ito.
The next person you will probably know is Tadashi Yanai.
Today his is a name known by everyone as a famous manager, but when I first met him back in 1997 he was still virtually unknown.
Even though it was a time when he was still unknown in the world, back then his approach was the same as now, in that he focused on “putting the workplace first.”
His style was to identify challenges in the workplace as he headed towards his target, squash these challenges and move on, and then do the same again, on endless repeat. It was this insatiable stance that I learned with ferocious intensity from Mr. Yanai.
Putting into practice what I had learned from these two giants of business, when I became president of FamilyMart I visited more than 1,000 stores to learn more about business in the field. I met with various people, who taught me various things about what was happening in the workplace and out in the field.
I found that depending on whether FamilyMart stores were operated by an owner or manager, there were cases where the sales figures would fluctuate wildly. In extreme cases, I saw for myself how a manager’s mood could completely change the atmosphere of a store, as well as sales, employee turnover rates, and so on.
It was through these experiences, that I came to strongly believe that the most important job for me as president of FamilyMart was to support our franchisees in the field so that they could remain highly motivated, happy, and energetic in their business operations.
What we share in common is that it is truly important to face up to realities in the field, rather than concentrating on desk-bound theories and hollow words, and while setting out a path to the future, continue to identify and solve the immediate issues in front of you and those that are anticipated to occur in the near future, and in so doing gain the understanding of as many stakeholders as possible and work together to move forward.
People who are known as great managers consistently demonstrate just such an attitude, and it is something that I strongly admire.
Set a “top-class” standard for yourself
ーーIs there anything you have been conscious of when you have met these top-class businesspeople?
“Top-class” means different things to different people. I think that it’s important to first think about what “top-class” means for you, what kind of person you want to become and look inward to understand yourself.
Once you have decided on your own definition of “top-class” and if you have the passion to aim in that direction, you may be able to seek out opportunities to meet people who actually embody just such a “top-class” world, meet them in person, or read their books or write to them to ask to meet them.
In my case, it was when I was still at Itochu that I decided that I wanted to become a manager in the retail industry.
That is why I constantly wrote letters to all the businesspeople I wanted to learn from, asking for a chance to meet them. They included Masatoshi Ito (Ito-Yokado), Toshifumi Suzuki (Seven & i Holdings), Den Fujita (MacDonald’s), Satoshi Sakurada (Mos Burger), and Shinya Arai (Summit). Luckily for me, still a 35-year old employee at Itochu, all of these famous businesspeople agreed to meet me.
I don’t believe that the people who are said to be “top-class” deliberately aim to be so. They each have a clear picture of what it is that they want to do and what they want to achieve, and simply work single-mindedly towards their goals, in the process making a success out of various businesses.
It’s important to first clarify what it is you want to accomplish, identify what you need to learn to achieve your goal, and then use all methods possible to diligently try to absorb various qualities from the people who embody what it is you want to become.
ーーWhile some people, like Mr. Yanai, continue to aim ever higher with an insatiable spirit of adventure, there are also many entrepreneurs who are satisfied with small-scale success. From where do you think do such differences arise?
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager or an employee, what is best is that you actually do what it is that you want to do. You can stop and be satisfied after reaching a certain level, or you can continue to aim ever higher with an insatiable urge for adventure. Either way is fine and up to the individual concerned. It’s only natural that everyone’s view on life should be different and we shouldn’t criticize other people’s choices.
What is critically important is the first quality I mentioned, namely “intense passion to do something.” I believe that is what drivers managers and individuals.
I still meet regularly with Mr. Yanai, and his insatiable drive has always been and still remains the same. He is more committed than anyone to UNIQLO and continues to be sincerely devoted to ensuring its success.
I’m repeating myself, but it’s important to remember that what people want to do, their views on life and their lifestyles are all different. I am convinced that continuing to get to grips with your own passions and thoughts is the only way to attain that tantalizing goal of being known as a great manager in the future.
Interviewer Noriyuki ITO
DIMENSION Business Producer: Graduated from Waseda University, School of Political Science and Economics. After working at Rakuten and EdTech startups, he invested in and analyzed domestic startups and provided management support for their IPOs at Dream Incubator Inc. In 2009, he joined Dream Incubator Inc. In 2009, he participated in the MBO of DIMENSION Fund from Dream Incubator Inc. He is working to revitalize the Japanese economy by providing support as a capitalist to ambitious entrepreneurs. He is an outside director of FinTech startup 400F Inc. Also teaches "Venture Strategy Planning" and "Business Analytics" at a business school.