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Mitsui & Co. President and CEO Tatsuo Yasunaga discusses the future of business at the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo on Nov. 7. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)
Economy

Diverse talent makes the difference for conglomerates: Mitsui CEO

Tatsuo Yasunaga urges market to stop undervaluing multifaceted groups

MASAYUKI YUDA, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO -- Diversified businesses need diverse human resources to thrive, Mitsui & Co. President and CEO Tatsuo Yasunaga told a conference on Tuesday.

"People are the source of our innovation and progress," Yasunaga told the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo. 

The Japanese trading house dates back to 1876. Throughout its history, Yasunaga said Mitsui has continued to foster personnel with the ability to tackle new challenges, "to step into a new world, and to actively create and develop businesses."

Should all workers aim to become managers? "Not necessarily," said Yasunaga, who was promoted to president in 2015. "I would rather want my staff to be professionals who can create diverse values in every business."

Yasunaga noted how his own experience influences his approach to nurturing human resources. In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked on pipeline and liquefied natural gas projects involving Russia. Negotiating with large corporations, governments and other parties under tough conditions, he said, made him a better businessman. 

"The individual builds the business, and the business cultivates the individual," Yasunaga said.

Ensuring workers gain that kind of valuable experience can be tricky these days, however. Companies like Mitsui often handle projects that are too large to leave up to young employees.

Rethink the "discount"

Yasunaga also touched on the "conglomerate discount" -- the market's tendency to undervalue such companies due to questionable synergies among their businesses. Mitsui's price-to-book ratio is under 1, which suggests the discount is in effect.

"The market undervalues us," Yasunaga said, arguing instead for a conglomerate premium. Returning again to his experience with Russia, he said: "We could match oil majors in the projects 20 years ago, because we were a conglomerate. We must communicate well with the market, and keep showing the strength of our business model and solutions."

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