世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！
黒田社長は、1976年兵庫県生まれ。甲南中学校・高等学校を卒業後、甲南大学経営学部に進学されました。その後、米国オレゴン州にあるLewis and Clark College経済学部を卒業。帰国後、2001年にコクヨに入社されました。
- As the CEO of Kokuyo, Co. Ltd. (“Kokuyo”), a leading stationery and office furniture company providing joy in work and study environments, can you tell us what your daily routine is like?
My typical daily work schedule starts with coming into the office at 8:00 a.m. First, I do some desk work (check emails, etc.) for about one hour and then start meetings at 9:00 a.m. I may meet with people at headquarters or outside of the office. With COVID subsiding (as of June, 2022), I plan to travel more domestically and internationally in the near future.
My main responsibilities include launching and working on new business initiatives, capital tie-ups, M&A, and so on. In addition, I have many opportunities to meet with investors and shareholders of the company. Rather than engaging on-site, as management, much of my time is spent planning medium-to-long-term business strategies. And as a representative of a company, I often work with the media by holding press conferences and interviews.
- Since becoming the President and CEO of Kokuyo, you have been advocating various corporate reforms. What in particular are you focusing on now? Can you also tell us more about “CCC2030?”
CCC stands for Change, Challenge, Creative. Our long-term vision of achieving yearly net sales of 500 billion yen by 2030 is embodied by CCC2030. In order to create something new, it is essential to change the status quo and challenge the way things are done at this present moment. Up until now, the company has set plans and goals in three-year increments, but for a realistic approach, we have also decided to initiate a long-term vision in ten-year increments.
Furthermore, with the launching of CCC2030, we began to value the voices of our employees more. We have fostered a corporate culture in which employees can actively take part in what they desire to do within our established themes and objectives. In that respect, CCC2030 has been a worthy opportunity for us to reconsider the existential value of our employees and the company.
Moreover, we are an organization that has transitioned over the years by servicing and centering customer needs. We continuously strive to take on new challenges while reflecting on our roots to see how we can change as we envision the future for our customers.
- As we see the presence of Japanese companies in the global marketplace declining, there seems to be a movement to reform management styles creatively. How do you plan for Kokuyo to continue supporting the Japanese economy?
Kokuyo’s vision for an ideal future is a world of authentic and interdependent lives, in which everyone enjoys personal and social fulfillment in work and life. In line with this vision, we have redefined our role in building such a world: We want to be a “WORK & LIFESTYLE Company.” To change our organization into one that generates new solutions for a fulfilling life, rather than one that just focuses on tangible stationery and furniture, we will reorganize our businesses into two broad domains. The first is the domain of work. The second is the domain of learning and daily life. To that end, our corporate culture emphasizes experimenting with customer needs. An example is our nationwide offices (LIVE Office), which can be viewed by our customers as we demonstrate actual ways of working. At the same time, we pay close attention to the ways customers react, and we preemptively act upon any feedback that may potentially apply to future product development or interior designs.
In the case of developing a new stationery product, we recruit monitors in-house, through our employees and their families of various ages using an internal bulletin board. Before introducing our new product or service to the world, we and our internal monitors actually experiment with the product or service and then deliver it to our customers.
To solve social issues and meet customer needs while working toward the future, we plan not only to supply innovative products, but also to experiment with and propose diverse workstyles and lifestyles of the future, expand the value of product offerings from entity-oriented to situation-oriented, and create new customer experiences in the realm of working and learning/living. We believe that we can contribute to society by creating a new future together with our customers.
- Kokuyo is making considerable efforts into its overseas offices and business developments abroad. What do you keep in mind most when dealing with your foreign counterparts?
As part of our overseas expansion, we are currently pursuing projects in Asia. I am not entirely adept at speaking English fluently, but I do believe in communicating with my foreign counterparts with respect, whatever their background may be. Since I am from the Kansai region, I tend to convey who I am and what I think in a very Kansai-like manner! We have been conducting business in many Asian countries in the last ten years, and I believe I have been able to deepen our mutual understanding through exchanging our opinions openly.
- As we see more people working from home, how do you expect to see Kokuyo’s office products shift under the concept of “office work”?
At Kokuyo, we not only sell office furniture, but also provide services that improve our working life and environment. With the pandemic came changes to how we work. We see many people working from home either full or part time. Rather than working in large spaces, many people prefer a quiet working environment where they can work alone or with only a few people. We have created such spaces to meet the demands of working under the pandemic.
Furthermore, we believe that not only the workspace but the way we work will ultimately become hybrid—the pandemic has led to a more flexible places for working, and we should expect to see even more flexible working arrangements in the near future. As we see and accept new normal ways of working, we will upgrade the way we offer our office furniture products and new business services.
- You have experience studying abroad, in the United States. Can you tell us what you studied and perhaps share with us any memorable and/or frustrating episodes?
I studied Business Administration at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon for two years. As a foreign exchange student, one of the things I immediately noticed about Portland and the surrounding regions such as Seattle was that people were diverse in so many ways, with many thinking in a radical way. With my friends, I attended WHO conventions (when held locally) and took part in cultural exchange fairs hosted by the college. This enabled me to truly experience an international environment without any sense of racial segregation. In fact, these experiences are what led the conception of our corporate policy, “be Unique.”
After the exchange program, I decided to stay in the United States for about two years on an internship visa, so I worked in one of Kokuyo’s overseas operational bases, in Chicago. As a student, I had limited knowledge of Kokuyo’s business, but as I started to engage in communications with the local staff and deal in business trades, I found myself truly enjoying working in a foreign country.
- How did you study English before going abroad? What advice would you give to the younger generation on how to study and acquire English skills?
Before studying at Lewis and Clark College, I studied English in Hawaii for about four months and stayed with a local acquaintance of mine. I took an English language course at the University of Hawaii. And I must say, I actually studied diligently! Also, since the university was far from where I stayed, I rarely had the time to enjoy my leisure hours with my classmates after class and instead went straight home, where English was always spoken. This actually helped me to learn and improve my English.
Learning English in classes is essential, but I believe it is just as important to communicate your thoughts to others. During my time in Hawaii, I tried to communicate to my family and friends what I wanted to pursue and what ideas I had in mind. By sharing your thoughts and opinions with others and putting your skills into practice, English becomes much easier to acquire.
- Having experienced education both in Japan and the U.S., did you feel any educational gap between the two countries?
I was extremely surprised to learn that instead of writing a thesis, I needed to complete a final presentation as part of my finals for college graduation. This entailed forming and delving into one’s opinions of the topics assigned, which we do not see much of in education systems in Japan. I truly think that we can incorporate more positive aspects of U.S. education systems in Japan.
- There are many issues that need to be solved in this world. What do you think the younger generation should be aware of in the future in order to solve them? How do you think we should be educating our next generation?
I believe that we should be able to discuss and untangle issues of economy or society as a whole to change the world for the better. To this end, we should cultivate leadership skills in younger generations who can contribute for the sake of others. Needless to say, it is also important for each individual to lead a happy life while maintaining a balance within society, and to nurture leaders who will take the initiative to create positive effects in society as a whole. Japan’s leadership has hitherto been characterized as protecting and inheriting legacy that has already been built. But at the same time, as the proverbial saying goes in Japanese, Harmony is the greatest of virtues (wa wo motte tottoshi to nasu). It would be nice to see many leaders benefit from the concept of wa, respecting our society as a whole, and better connecting with society. I earnestly wish that young people will not give up hope for making our world a better place.
- Who do you respect as a global leader?
My grandfather grew this company to where we are now. As I hold him in high regard, my grandfather’s legacy will be carried on to build something even bigger and better.
I also sincerely respect the external board members who thoroughly instructed me when I took office as president of the company. All the people who were there for me and supported me in my duties were a big part of my life.
- A message to the young generation who aspire to become future global leaders:
We live in a world where the future is uncertain and unpredictable, but I believe this can be changed by way of perspective and action. At the end of the day, the singular highest purpose of companies and individuals is to contribute in our own ways to the world. It would be delightful to see more people who are passionate and purposeful about changing the world. I hope to see many people embracing and taking on new challenges to grow a better self and society!