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Suntory taps Lawson boss for president job

Kyodo

Suntory Holdings Ltd. is set to appoint the chairman of convenience store operator Lawson Inc. as its president, the first time someone from outside the founding family of the century-old brewer and distiller has been chosen to fill that post.

Takeshi Niinami will step into the role on Oct. 1, the firm’s current president said Tuesday. By choosing the 55-year-old, Suntory hopes to accelerate its business expansion, sources said.

The current chairman and president, 68-year-old Nobutada Saji, is expected to focus on his role as chairman.

Niinami “has an international outlook, vigor, and an ability to crisscross the world, and connections,” Saji told reporters in Tokyo. “I have big hopes for him.”

The appointment will be finalized at a board meeting on July 1.

Saji said he decided on the Lawson chairman partly because the younger generation of Suntory’s founding family had yet to gain sufficient experience.

Niinami hails from trading house Mitsubishi Corp., which he joined in 1981. As Lawson president, he oversaw impressive results for the convenience store chain. He became Lawson chairman last month.

As a member of the government panel on industrial competitiveness, Niinami recently called for agricultural reform and deregulation. He is expected to step down as Lawson chairman soon to prepare for his new job.

The leadership change comes as Suntory aims to roughly double its group sales, which currently stand at ¥4 trillion, by 2020.

Several leading Japanese companies have recently announced outside appointments to leading positions. In March, correspondence education provider Benesse Holdings Inc. said Eiko Harada, chairman of McDonald’s Holdings Co. (Japan), would become its chairman and president. Others include cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.

As part of efforts to globalize its businesses, Suntory completed its $16 billion buyout of U.S. distiller Beam Inc. earlier this year. The company is also accelerating its group realignment with measures including the public listing of subsidiary Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd. last year.

Saji, who assumed the presidency of Suntory in 2001, suggested last year he would step down as president in the near future. He indicated that he wanted to pick his successor from outside the company, to hand over his job to someone “young and energetic” who can play “globally.”