KKR Japan Gains Key Ally By Hiring Atsushi Saito

Saito brings extensive knowledge of Japan’s public and private spheres to his role at the U.S. alternative-asset giant’s local outpost.


Atsushi Saito doesn’t know how to quit. At age 75, Saito, who stepped down as president and CEO of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and CEO of Japan Exchange Group in late June, has taken on another high-powered job. Since August 1 he’s been nonexecutive chair of KKR Japan, a division of New York–based alternative-asset giant KKR & Co.

A former government official who once oversaw major bank bailouts, Saito brings deep knowledge of Japan’s public and private sectors to KKR. In his previous role he overhauled the engine of Japan’s capital markets by merging the Tokyo and Osaka exchanges and building a trading platform under the umbrella of Japan Exchange Group. From 2008 until last June, he created the world’s third-largest exchange operator, behind NYSE Euronext and Nasdaq OMX Group.

“Saito-san has done a good job straddling both the political and financial spheres,” says financial markets analyst Hideyasu Ban, a Tokyo-based managing director at Morgan Stanley. “We can see market efficiencies improving.”

From 2003 to 2007, Saito served as chief executive of Industrial Revitalization Corp. of Japan, the state-run firm charged with reviving Japan Inc. In that role he led the government’s efforts to buy more than ¥100 billion (approximately $1 billion) worth of bad debt and provide some ¥10 trillion in loans to help Japan’s banks regain their competitiveness. A subsequent series of mergers created a small group of successful megabanks, among them Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. Before that job, Saito worked as CEO of Sumitomo Life Investment Co. and held executive positions at Nomura Securities Co., where he was also a director.

Saito will help KKR Japan, which was launched in 2007, to focus on restructuring carve-outs from domestic companies. KKR Japan won’t reveal the value of its Japanese holdings, but in 2010 the division bought Intelligence Holdings, a Tokyo-based human resources company, for an undisclosed sum; three years later it divested the business to Temp Holdings Co. of Japan for $537 million. Prior to the sale KKR assisted Intelligence in introducing performance indicators and sales and recruitment efforts that boosted revenue by 45 percent and gross earnings by 170 percent.

In 2013 and 2014, respectively, KKR Japan purchased Panasonic Corp.’s health care unit for $1.67 billion and Pioneer Corp.’s disc jockey equipment arm for $550 million. It is facilitating Panasonic Healthcare Holdings Co.’s and Pioneer DJ’s efforts to expand globally. In June, Panasonic Healthcare bought German drugmaker Bayer’s diabetes care unit for €1 billion ($1.1 billion).

“KKR has cultivated a strong reputation by investing alongside some of Japan’s leading companies, taking a long-term partnership approach to business management and adding value beyond capital,” Saito said in a recent statement. The firm has helped Japanese companies become more competitive at home and abroad while being mindful of the country’s business culture and values, he added.

Follow Allen Cheng on Twitter at @acheng87.