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Asahi Breweries advisor Takanori Nakajo

by Judit Kawaguchi

Takanori Nakajo, 82, is the honorary adviser of Asahi Breweries Ltd., one of Japan’s leading beer and beverage makers. From “boy Friday” in 1952, Nakajo worked seven days a week until his official retirement as chairman in 1994. He poured all of his energy into beer-making and miraculously dragged the company out of the financial gutter, from a 9.6 percent market share in 1978 to a staggering 25 percent market share by the late 1980s. Nakajo was the force behind the development of Asahi Super Dry, the beer that since its release in 1987 has continuously occupied around 50 percent of Japan’s beer market and ranked ninth in the global market share in 2006. For the past 20 years, Asahi Super Dry’s annual domestic sales surpassed 100 million cases, each case holding 20 bottles of 633 ml. If beer is king in Japan, Nakajo is its emperor and as the jovial beer guru, he’s still the toast of the town.

Even if you’re young, be brave and state your opinion. When I entered my company in 1952, I decided to always think over a point three times before making a statement about it. That usually took me about two seconds so I quickly became known as quite outspoken.

Anyone over the age of 35 should not have a say in new product development. Older people are too opinionated and they tend to believe that they are always right, even when proven otherwise. More importantly, younger staff members are too scared to argue with such seasoned professionals, which leaves a lot of young talent and fresh ideas untapped. Young people must be encouraged to make products that they enjoy.

Believing that you’re right is not enough: You must be right. You must also be honest. Then you can win in business and in life.

Listen to naysayers and then prove them wrong. In 1986 Kirin Beer had 63 percent of the domestic beer market. After Sapporo Beer, we were a distant third in the running. Back then, a Harvard University study predicted that if one company had such huge advantage in a market, the second and third companies would find it impossible to change the status quo. I listened carefully and disagreed. Sure, it was true that to increase the company’s market share by one percent we had to sell 97 million bottles. Even so, we all believed that we could make Asahi number one.

A job is not just work, it is your contribution to society, to the world. We succeeded at Asahi because we all loved Japan. We were so motivated to make a delicious beer that everyone would love, it was only natural that we succeeded. We had to! I felt the same determination at work that soldiers feel when they’re protecting their homeland. I always felt that I could die for Asahi Beer. I never once wondered about other job opportunities. The day I was hired, I made the decision that unless I got fired, I would put my life on the line for my company.

Only a bright, friendly president can energize his or her staff. A smile inspires, but a frown makes everyone tired.

In any business, three parties must be satisfied equally: the seller, the buyer and society. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Japanese merchants perfected this business model, which was called sanpo yoshi or three-way satisfaction. Simply put, it means selling at a smaller profit than one could, or maybe would like to, so the buyer gets a great deal. To maintain universal happiness, businesses must sacrifice more than consumers. This system brings less immediate monetary benefits to companies but it creates much peace and happiness for society. Everyone can live well: If you like, you could call it a wonderful balanced socialism.

In a well-balanced system, the income difference between factory workers and presidents isn’t outrageous. In a typical Japanese company, the president’s yearly salary, including bonus, is no more than seven or eight times the yearly income of a fresh recruit. This is just right. Most Japanese presidents would not want to receive more as they would be kept up at night by guilty feelings for being paid so much more than ordinary workers.

Aging can make you more open about feelings. My wife is 79 years old, and every time I leave the house or return, I kiss her. Sometimes I even kiss her in-between.

Exercise is a personal festival where one celebrates oneself. Forty-three years ago I was at my busiest. I realized that to keep up my stamina so that I could make Asahi number one, I had to be in top physical condition. I began exercising. Even now, by 6 a.m., I am out in the park — rain or shine, 365 days a year. In 43 years I have not missed one morning. I run for one hour, do 50 pushups and a few handstands. When my arms and legs are extended, I feel that I am Atlas, holding the earth on my shoulders.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/