Sunday, October 14, 2012

EXCLUSIVE! Uniqlo billionaire & Japan's wealthiest tycoon Tadashi Yanai gives exclusive interview on Success Secrets & global brand building

(Uniqlo visionary Tadashi Yanai, photograph by Garry Weaser of The Guardian)

(Photos below show Fast Retailing's Uniqlo boss Tadashi Yanai in Paris, France signing up international tennis star Novak Djokovic to a five-year endorsement contract in his bid to popularize Uniqlo's brand appeal among European and U.S. shoppers)

Japan's richest tycoon on success secrets and brand building

From my column in the Philippine Star newspaper

June 18, 2012

Bull Market, Bull Sheet column by Wilson Lee Flores

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SM Investment Corp. vice chairman Teresita “Tessie” Sy-Coson welcomes Tadashi Yanai, Fast Retailing Co., Limited chairman, president and CEO, at the first Uniqlo casual wear store opening in SM Mall of Asia on June 15.

Anything worth doing is worth 100 percent. — Konosuke Matsushita 

Commit to your job and your work, whatever it is. Believe in it more than anything else. If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do the best you can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you — like a fever. — Sam Walton

In partnership with Henry Sy family’s SM Group through SM Retail, Inc., Japan’s wealthiest tycoon Fast Retailing Co., Limited chairman, president and CEO Tadashi Yanai opened the first Uniqlo casual wear store in SM Mall of Asia on June 15.

SM Investment Corp. vice chairman Teresita “Tessie” Sy-Coson personally welcomed Yanai, who graduated from Waseda University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics. Yanai is also director of Japan’s telecommunications giant Softbank Corporation.

Philippine STAR had an exclusive interview with Japan’s “fashion king” Tadashi Yanai, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes magazine at US$10 billion and whose company has 30,000 employees worldwide. Several young male and female assistants in dark suits stood around us during the interview.

Yanai could understand my questions in English, but he answered me in the Japanese language and had a pretty interpreter translate every reply meticulously. Excerpts from the interview:

Who are the entrepreneurs you admire the most as ideal role models and why?

TADASHI YANAI:  Sam Walton of Wal-Mart and Konosuke Matsushita of Panasonic. First of all, Walton started his business in Arkansas, which is a rural state in America and he developed his company to become the world’s No. 1. Wal-Mart is an amazing success story. What I particularly admire very much about the late Sam Walton was his policy of valuing his employees. Giving value to employees is very rare in the retail industry. I also admire the strategies Walton used to build up his discount store concept.

(Photo below of the late Wal-Mart retail chain founder and once the world's wealthiest billionaire Sam Walton)

What about the “rags-to-riches” Japanese industrialist Matsushita, why do you consider him another ideal role model for businesspeople?

Konosuke Matsushita was a visionary entrepreneur. He started working very young as a teenager and he eventually created Panasonic to become a truly global company. He not only represented himself and Japan positively to the world, he also supported good political leaders who helped make the country better. Matsushita is wise and a visionary pioneer in investing manufacturing operations in China, which many Japanese companies now do.

(Photo below of the late legendary "rags-to-riches" Japanese industrialist Konosuke Matsushita)

konosuke matsushita.jpg

Are you envisioning your Uniqlo to become like Wal-Mart and Panasonic as global leaders?

We’re not in the same industry with either Wal-Mart or Panasonic, but yes, we do aim to become No. 1 globally in our business of casual wear.

(Photo below is Tadashi Yanai with framed calligraphy of four Chinese characters at his back meaning "Number One in the World")

You studied in Japan’s prestigious Waseda University, the same school that South Korea’s late Samsung founder Lee Byung Chull studied in but dropped out of. What are the global Asian brands you admire most?

Yes, the founder of Samsung went to our school. The Asian brand, which I admire for having become a global success, is Samsung. In comparison, we’re just starting, but I believe that we at Uniqlo will be the next Asian brand to do well globally. I believe in the next few years we shall witness the rise of more world-class Asian brands becoming famous globally.

(Picture of Waseda University at night, Tokyo City, Japan)

(Photo below shows the late Samsung Group founder Lee Byung-chull writing "gyeomheo" or "humbleness" in Chinese calligraphy at his office in Seoul City, South Korea in 1987. Source: Korea Times newspaper)

How did you become a successful international brand? What can others in Asia learn from your experiences?

Our international success started out first because we became the No. 1 casual wear brand in our home market of Japan. Then, we set up stores in the world’s major fashion centers of New York, Paris and London. It is also important that Uniqlo became successful in the booming Asian markets of China and South Korea, and now we’re expanding throughout the rest of Asia.

Also, a lot of companies limit the type of market they service or sell to, like targeting only the youth, the old, sportswear only, etc., but with us at Uniqlo, we make good products for every age and background of people.

How did you make Uniqlo into the No. 1 brand in Japan, since that is a market with so many competitors?

I feel the reasons for the success of Uniqlo are: we provide and sell products which the customers are happy to buy and which are beneficial to them. For a company, there’s a need for a brand to clearly know where its position is.

I heard you have a bold vision of opening a store in every major US city, and up to 200 stores throughout America, with sales per year of $10 billion in North America alone by 2020. How many stores do you expect to open in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia?

Here in the Philippines, I hope we can open 50 Uniqlo stores in three years, and for other countries in Southeast Asia, we also want the same speed in growth of our retail networks.

The problematic US and Euro-zone economies seem to be relapsing into crises. What is your assessment of the state and future of the world economy? 

Europe, the United States and Japan — these First World economies are not doing well, but the developing countries have better economic growth prospects. There will be short-term changes in the world, but in the long-term, I foresee that the most dynamic economic development and growth will shift from the US and Europe towards rising Asia.

What are the secrets to your personal success?

Luck (laughs). I’ve been lucky … my father was the owner of a clothing business, which provided suits, but I converted it into the casual wear business with the Uniqlo brand in 1984.

Which global fashion brands are your direct competitors?

Zara, Gap, Forever 21 and a brand which is not yet here in the Philippines, H&M.

How big are your total sales per year now?

Maybe we shall reach US$12 billion.

What was your original ambition when you were young?

As a youth, I originally thought I wasn’t suited for business as a career. You know, I just wanted to think of a way to survive without working at all (laughs).

Not a few COOs or child of owners in your situation either become spoiled brats, disobedient, too entitled or unmotivated. How did you enter the family business and excel?

I thought I wasn’t suited for business, but because there were no companies where I could get into, I tried working in our business. I came to realize that I could do business, that I was good at it and enjoy it. Oftentimes, young people, they declare so early in their lives that they are not suited or cut out for certain fields, that they are not good at something, but don’t think this way. I encourage young people to try out first before saying that work, profession or business is not for you. That is my advice.

(Photo below of Tadashi Yanai with Philippine celebrity endorsers basketball star Chris Tiu and actress Iza Calzado in the opening of the Uniqlo store in SM Mall of Asia, Metro Manila in 2012)

Where does your drive to excel come from, your vision to be the world’s No. 1?

Probably it’s because I like competition and I see it as a race. I don’t want to lose to Zara or to any other brands.

That’s also exactly what Rafael Nadal said after he won his record seventh French Open championship: “I have always been afraid to lose...”

(Laughs) Next time the French Open champion will be Novak Djokovic! He’s our international tennis brand ambassador, and he will wear not only our Uniqlo sports wear but our other products, too.

What is your hobby, are you a tennis enthusiast?

I play golf every week.

What is your advice on how our leaders can make the Philippine economy better?

My advice for the Philippines is to open your country more to foreign investors and tourists. Let people come here to invest and to spend more. I also encourage Filipinos to continue developing and utilizing your talents to go abroad and contribute to world progress.

(Photo of Tadashi Yanai with Nobel Prize winner and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus in July 2010 in Tokyo, Japan. Japan's casual clothing brand Uniqlo and Yunus said they would jointly create a textiles company in Bangladesh to help poor women gain financial independence, with Tadashi Yanai's firm Fast Retailing investing US$100,000 to establish Grameen Uniqlo Ltd.)

(August 2012 photo of Uniqlo big boss by Eric Chung of The Wall Street Journal)

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