Staff writer

The telecommunications industry was a good pick for Yasumitsu Shigeta, who as a teenager dreamed of starting his own business.

Now at 31, Shigeta is president of Hikari Tsushin Inc., a telecommunications retailer that has grown into a 50 billion yen business in just 10 years.

Shigeta says the seed for his idea came when he learned of the first deregulations in the telecommunications industry, symbolized by the privatization of the former Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp. in 1985. The company was also boosted later by the proliferation of mobile phones.

“I am serious in catching changes and quick in coping with them,” Shigeta says. “It took 10 years for 1.5 million people to come to have mobile phones. And it took only three years for that figure to grow to 30 million. Things that had happened in 10 years could happen in a month.” The young and optimistic president partly credits the company’s success and flexibility to its youth. The average age of his employees is 25 and the average board member is 32.

With just 1 million yen in capital, Shigeta pursued his business in the distribution sector of the telecommunications industry, believing it was suitable for a small firm with little capital. Then he began selling and leasing electronics equipment and telephones to offices.

“If I have ever made a right choice, it was to have chosen telecommunications for my business,” says Shigeta, who founded the firm in 1988. “It was a field heavily protected by regulations. So, I thought the market had a lot of future potential.

“Deregulation will create competition in the huge market,” he says. “New services and new goods will be born one after another. And it was good for a business with small capital.”

In the past decade, the industry has gone through a series of deregulations that have allowed new international and domestic carriers to enter the market and liberalized the mobile telephone service, which provided Shigeta an opportunity to expand his business.

Because of the recent explosion in popularity of cellular phones and personal handy-phones, Hikari Tsushin’s business in mobile phones became a turning point in the company’s development. In 1994, the government lifted a ban on selling cellular telephone equipment; sales of mobile phones jumped from 433,000 in 1994 to 31.4 million by the end of this July. Until the liberalization, subscribers had to rent mobile telephone equipment.

Accordingly, Hikari Tsushin, a forerunner as a sales agent for mobile telecommunication carriers, doubled its sales from 26.1 billion yen in 1995 to 56.2 billion yen in 1996. Sales of mobile telephones accounted for 64.8 percent of the firm’s total sales in 1995 and 72.7 percent in 1996.

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