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Business

Foreign directors in greater demand in Japan

MUFG, SoftBank, Mitsui among those looking abroad for perspective

TOKYO -- Japan's publicly traded companies are offering more board seats to foreigners amid a growing realization that diversity can help with overseas expansion.

The number of foreign directors is set to climb 30% to 56 at 100 big companies sampled by The Nikkei, assuming shareholders approve outstanding nominations at meetings this month. 

That will mean foreigners sitting on the boards of 28 of the companies. Of that number, 13 would have two or more foreign directors. Foreigners would make up about 5% of the total number of directors at all the companies, up 1 percentage point from before the shareholder meetings. 

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group is nominating a foreign board candidate for the first time -- two in fact, including Tarisa Watanagase, a former Bank of Thailand governor. The Tokyo-based banking group said it seeks to adapt to globalization by "welcoming candidates from North America and Asia, our largest markets after Japan."

Mitsui & Co. looks to welcome Samuel Walsh, the ex-chief executive officer of British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, as an outside director. The trading house says it aims to capitalize on Walsh's resource-sector expertise.

SoftBank Group has nominated five new foreigners to sit on its board, which would bring the total to seven. The Japanese tech group seeks to speed up decision-making on overseas operations. The candidates include Simon Segars, CEO of U.K. chipmaker ARM Holdings, which SoftBank acquired last year, as well as Yasir Al Rumayyan, managing director of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

Electronics maker Sharp, Takeda Pharmaceutical and financial services company Orix also plan to bring aboard more foreign directors.

A pay gap between Japan and other countries has contributed to the difficulty of getting more foreigners on Japanese boards. But a jump in overseas acquisitions has pushed Japanese companies to try harder.

A growing number of companies now "seek individuals who can hit the ground running," according to Shigeru Matsumoto, a managing director at the Japan Association of Corporate Directors.

Companies also see increasing the diversity on their boards, both in terms of nationality and gender, as contributing to improving corporate governance.

(Nikkei)

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