• Kyodo

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Yoshifumi Nishikawa, a former chief of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. who spearheaded a major shakeup of Japan’s banking sector in the early 2000s, has died, sources said Friday. He was 82.

Nishikawa was one of Japan’s most well-known bankers and had a reputation as a strong leader with bold ideas. In 2005, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi selected him to oversee Japan Post’s privatization process, which began two years later.

At the time, the Japan Post group had some 240,000 employees and its banking unit was the world’s largest deposit holder.

However, he resigned as president of Japan Post Holdings Co. in October 2009 when the Liberal Democratic Party’s defeat in the preceding summer’s general election led to a review of the group’s privatization by the new government.

Nishikawa, a native of Nara Prefecture, joined what was then Sumitomo Bank in 1961 and became its president in 1997. At the time, the nation’s financial industry was in crisis due to widespread bad debt, with several major banks and brokerages collapsing in 1997 and 1998.

As chief of the bank that was part of the Sumitomo conglomerate, he was credited with successfully completing its merger with Sakura Bank to create SMBC in 2001. The merger started a significant shift in the industry as Sakura was an amalgamation of Mitsui Bank and Taiyo Kobe Bank, meaning that two rival conglomerates — Sumitomo and Mitsui — joined forces to establish a megabank.

While at the helm of SMBC and its holding firm, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., Nishikawa focused on clearing the ledger of bad loans and improving its financial health by taking measures including selling ¥150.3 billion ($1.4 billion) in SMFG convertible preferred shares to U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in 2003.

Nishikawa resigned as president of SMBC and SMFG in 2005, but soon re-emerged as a major player in Japan’s corporate world when he assumed the presidency of Japan Post Holdings in January 2006 to start preparations for the privatization.

He aimed to float Japan Post Holdings, as well as its banking and insurance units, as quickly as possible in order to execute the LDP’s privatization drive.

However, the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan took power and moved to freeze the planned sale of postal shares, and Nishikawa stepped down as Japan Post Holdings president in October 2009.

“There is a big difference between what I have already done, and intend to do, in the process of privatizing the Japan Post group and the new government’s policy,” he said at a news conference at the time.

When the LDP retook power in 2012, the government moved the privatization plan forward and shares of three units of the Japan Post group were listed simultaneously on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in November 2015.

Nishikawa served as chairman of the Japanese Bankers Association twice, first in fiscal 2000 and again in fiscal 2004.

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