Business / Corporate

Next Nippon Steel chief Eiji Hashimoto aspires to secure top global spot

Kyodo

Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.’s Executive Vice President Eiji Hashimoto expressed his ambition to make his company the world’s top steel-maker after being appointed to become the next chief of the Japanese steel giant on Thursday.

“There is a fair chance that we can become the world’s No. 1 comprehensive steel-maker” with our vast range of products, high level of skills and grasp of the market through our global network, Hashimoto, a 63-year-old executive with ample experience in overseas operations, said at a news conference.

Hashimoto, a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School, will replace the current president, Kosei Shindo, 69, as of April 1, the day when the company — currently ranked third in the world by crude steel production — will start afresh under a new name, Nippon Steel Corp.

Shindo will assume the post of chairman and representative director.

The announcement of the leadership shuffle came as the steel giant faces imminent seizure of its assets in South Korea due to compensation disputes with forced Korean laborers, an issue that has created tensions in relations between Japan and South Korea.

Hashimoto declined to comment on the matter when asked by reporters after the news conference.

A South Korean district court said Tuesday it has approved a request for the seizure after Nippon Steel refused to comply with an earlier court order to pay compensation to four South Koreans who were recognized as having been forced into labor during Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese company owns a 30 percent stake, or about 2.34 million shares, in Posco-Nippon Steel RHF Joint Venture. Some 81,000 shares, worth about 200 million won ($178,000) — which is on a par with the amount of compensation ordered by the South Korean top court for two plaintiffs — are subject to the seizure.

The company said Wednesday in a statement the notification of the seizure by the court was “extremely regrettable” and that it will “consult with the Japanese government and take appropriate responses.”

On trade frictions between the United States and China, Hashimoto expressed concerns that the dispute could push down the global demand for steel and the economy as a whole.

“I presume that (the market situation) will be extremely difficult but … I hope to enhance competitiveness globally by focusing on emerging markets such as India where demand is expanding,” Hashimoto said.