When Akira Matsumoto speaks, investors hang on his every word. And here's what he tells them: You're less important than everyone else.

The diminutive 71-year-old can get away with it because of his status in the Japanese business world, where he's known for his two decades successfully running big-name companies. At the food group Calbee Inc., for example, Matsumoto almost doubled sales and increased operating profit sixfold in his nine years in charge. The shares tanked when investors heard he was leaving.

But Matsumoto doesn't share the love, at least on the surface. Stock owners, he says, come only fourth in his list of priorities, after customers, employees and the wider community. Only by ignoring them — and focusing on the greater good of the company — can he serve their needs.