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Business

How a Mitsubishi ringer turned Kansai Paint into a global force

Hiroshi Ishino revamped the Japan-focused coating supplier in three years

Kansai Paint President Hiroshi Ishino

OSAKA -- Kansai Paint's buying spree continued apace Tuesday with the announced acquisition of Austrian rival Helios Group for 70 billion yen ($613 million). Transforming the Osaka-based outfit into a truly global company is the man who came as a helping hand from Mitsubishi Corp.

Hiroshi Ishino, promoted to president in 2013, tells employees that the real battle is "two, three years" down the road. Under his watch, the company has indeed taken the fight to Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Turkey and other locations. Overseas investments and acquisitions have totaled seven this year alone. The fear that international competition will eat his company alive keeps Ishino's foot on the gas pedal.

Ishino first arrived at Kansai Paint in 2003 after cutting his teeth at Mitsubishi's automotive division. During his time working in Thailand for the Japanese trading house, he hit it off with a top executive of Kansai Paint, who later asked Ishino to assist with offshore ventures.  

After putting on his Kansai Paint badge, he rose through the ranks. As a senior managing director, he successfully steered the buyout of a major South African coating company in 2011, setting off the overseas strategy that would define his career.   

Ishino calls Kansai Paint a latecomer to the global stage. Although the company is the largest supplier of automobile coating in Japan, its overseas penetration is usually limited to tailing domestic automakers. Kansai Paint had little to no experience striking out on its own, and foreign markets accounted for less than 40% of sales at around 2010.

But Kansai Paint is not moving about aimlessly. "We take on regions where foreign majors have not entered," said Ishino. With that in mind, he first took his company to Africa and the Middle East and limited potential targets to those involved in architectural paints and certain other products. The purchase this time around, Helios, is strong in coatings for rail cars and industrial machinery.

Units bought out by Kansai Paint retain their management and are granted a generous amount of discretionary powers locally, in keeping with Ishino's philosophy. He also started the so-called "global meetings" between the Japanese head office and foreign group companies. That decision-making abilities do not lie with the board of directors at headquarters alone has become a catchphrase at these gatherings. Foreign-born executives stationed at the front lines outside Japan are invited to share their opinions.

Ishino also personally embarks on sales meetings, and he sends smartphone photos taken during those talks to sales representatives. In August, he sent pictures of a hospital in Africa, urging sales reps to market the company's antiviral plaster paint. Thanks to Ishino's drive, foreign sales now approach 60% of company sales overall.

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