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Japan Executive Team
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Japanese CEOs are throwing out the rule book in the face of unprecedented challenges, including natural phenomena like typhoons, earthquakes, and extreme snowstorms on their shores.
“In these uncertain times, where conventional wisdom and past experiences no longer apply, we must confront complex issues directly,” said Satoru Komiya, CEO Tokio Marine Holdings, the oldest insurance company in Japan.
Buy-side and sell-side professionals voted Komiya as the No. 1 chief executive in the insurance and non-banking financial sector in Institutional Investor’s All-Japan Executive Team survey. His firm is reimagining traditional insurance to suit renewable energy by acquiring smaller renewables insurers and hiring specialist claims adjusters, who assess the amount of compensation after a claim has been made.
Many Japanese homes still lack sufficient earthquake resistance and thermal insulation, according to Yoshihiro Nakai, the top-ranking chief executive in the construction sector according to buy- and sell-side voters. His firm Sekisui House is working on creating more high-quality housing by improving the resilience of existing homes.
Meanwhile, Osamu Hashimoto, the top-ranking chief executive in the chemicals sector by combined vote, is addressing climate threats by internally transforming his firm, Mitsui Chemicals — as well as teaming up with other companies. “I believe multi-company collaborations will lead to even greater contributions toward the reduction of greenhouse gasses,” he said, pointing to Mitsui Chemicals’ work with the Finnish oil refining company Neste to produce “renewable” plastic.
Alongside climate issues, inflation is putting pressure on budgets across all sectors. Yasuo Takeuchi of Olympus, who was voted best chief executive in the medical technologies and services sector by buy- and sell-side professionals, said it was a time to exercise caution as costs continue to rise. But government efforts to suppress inflation are not always popular.
Takeda CEO Christophe Weber, who was voted No. 1 in the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals sector by sell-side participants, took aim at the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. He said the act, which President Biden introduced in August, partly to try and lower prescription drug prices, will hit innovation and the development of new drugs: “Even in the U.S., which has long served as an innovation engine for the industry, the Inflation Reduction Act involves an unprecedented government price-setting system for medicines that may put future innovation at risk.”
One area where innovation is expected to flourish: Artificial intelligence. In December, Olympus acquired a London-based startup called Odin Vision to use AI to create a digital endoscopy, a medical test where a camera is passed into the body through an opening. “This goes far beyond the current endoscopy or endoscopic procedures, offering a series of smart, curated solutions,” Takeuchi said.
Meanwhile, Sekisui House CEO Nakai said his firm is working on a digital platform which will collect data on inhabitants’ environment and lifestyle to enhance their health and safety. And Mitsui Chemicals’s Hashimoto says he’s excited by the explosive growth of ChatGPT and the technology’s potential to free up humans for more creative work.
But the growing reach of AI has an impact on demand for semiconductors at a time when they are also in demand for self-driving cars and memory upgrades for computers. Toshiki Kawai, who came first place in the electronics precision instruments category in the combined vote, credits the founders of his firm Tokyo Electron for having the foresight to start a trading company for semiconductors in 1963, when the technology was still relatively small.
“The founders placed importance on the company's ability to function as a manufacturer and to expand its business globally, and this has become a reality,” Kawai said. “There is a lot of business opportunity and I am excited.”