Constant evolution in the face of challenges is what unites the top-scoring chief executives in Institutional Investor’s 2021 All-Japan Executive Team. Shigenobu Nagamori, chairman and chief executive of Nidec Corp., quotes Nietzsche: “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die.”

Nagamori is once again the top-scoring chief executive in the electronic components sector for his work at Nidec, the company he founded in a prefabricated hut along the Katsura River in Kyoto in 1973. For more than 10 years, he has been searching for a successor for his business. But few hopefuls can match his resolve: After his father passed away when he was a child, Nagamori’s mother, a farmer, told him that as long as he put in twice as much effort as others, he would succeed in his endeavors.

He may be getting closer to handing over the reins after Nidec promoted Jun Seki to the role of president and chief operating officer in April 2020. Seki was the third outside executive Nagamori had recruited as a potential candidate for president. Nagamori told II that his promotion marks an end to a more non-hierarchical management structure and a return to a top-down approach as the company aims at consolidated net sales of 10 trillion yen by the financial year ending March 31, 2031.

Yasuhiko Saitoh knows well the trials of taking on a business that has been steered by the same leadership for decades. Saitoh became president of Shin-Etsu Chemical in 2016, with the tricky task of helping the company transition from the leadership of chairman Chihiro Kanagawa, who is in his nineties. The laconic executive said the most important lesson he has learned in business is “to keep learning – and that there is no end of learning.” He achieves this partly through collaboration with external partners, a strategy shared by Christophe Weber, president and chief executive at Takeda.

“If the global Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that speed in R&D can be achieved through effective collaboration and partnerships,” Weber said.

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