Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Toray Industries Inc. and the next chief of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), was well-known for his business achievements before he emerged as a front-runner for the Keidanren post late last year.
Hitachi, Ltd. Chairman Takashi Kawamura had been considered the most likely candidate to chair Keidanren until he recently declined the position.
Sakakibara, 70, is known to be close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and has been lauded for his managerial acumen, which helped foster Toray's growth. His achievements with the company include transforming Toray's carbon fiber operations into its core business and expanding overseas operations. The new chairman will be closely watched to see how he demonstrates these skills in revamping the nation's largest business lobby.
During Keidanren's regional meeting in Toyama on Oct. 31, Kawamura, who currently serves as a vice chairman of the body, was unequivocal in his refusal to succeed Hiromasa Yonekura, the 76-year-old incumbent chairman and chair of Sumitomo Chemical Co.
"I don't deserve the post," Kawamura reportedly told Yonekura. Yonekura replied, "I understand" and gave up on making him successor.
Prior to the October meeting, Yonekura had also asked Kawamura to assume the chairmanship during the business lobby's summer forum in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, on July 18-19, but the 73-year-old Kawamura turned down the offer then as well, according to sources. He cited his advanced age among other reasons, the sources said.
Yonekura was keen to tap Kawamura as his successor because he is "qualified" for the job. Keidanren often names its new chairman from among its serving vice chairmen, and from the manufacturing sector in particular. Yonekura highly valued the management skills Kawamura demonstrated in rapidly turning Hitachi's business performance around.
Other candidates included Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. adviser Kazuo Tsukuda, MHI Chairman Hideaki Omiya and Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, but all were eventually deemed less suitable for the Keidanren lead.
MHI is seen as too close to the government due to its core units in defense equipment and nuclear power plant operations. Uchiyamada was viewed unfavorably due to lack of his influence within larger business circles.
Some observers say Yonekura struggled to find a successor partly because he failed to lobby hard enough with Keidanren Honorary Chairman Takashi Imai and others. …