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Seven & i honorary chairman and Ito-Yokado founder dies at 98

Masatoshi Ito was hailed as 'one of the world's outstanding business builders'

The company that Masatoshi Ito founded operates about 80,000 stores worldwide.

TOKYO(Reuters) -- Masatoshi Ito, the founder of Japan's Ito-Yokado retail group that became the holding company of 7-Eleven convenience stores, has died at the age of 98, Seven & i Holdings said on Monday.

The company said Ito died of old age on Friday and funeral services were limited to immediate family.

Ito served as honorary chairman of Seven & i Holdings, which operates about 80,000 stores worldwide, including 7-Eleven shops and the Speedway convenience store chain in the United States.

Management expert Peter Drucker called Ito "one of the world's outstanding entrepreneurs and business builders" in a biography posted by the Drucker School of Management, to which Ito was a major donor.

The company dates back to 1920 when Ito's uncle opened a clothing store named Yokado in Tokyo, and the group reorganized under the Seven & I brand in 2005.

Seven & I said last week it would close 14 Ito-Yokado supermarkets in Japan and fully exit from the apparel business as part of a structural reform plan.

The company has been under pressure from U.S. investor ValueAct Capital to sell off low-performing assets, and recently the fund urged shareholders to back a spinoff of the 7-Eleven chain.

Seven & I agreed last year to sell its Sogo & Seibu department store unit to U.S. fund Fortress Investment Group. Analysts have said a full divestiture of the Ito-Yokado chain was unlikely as long as the founder Ito was still alive.

"It is quite possible that the founder could be the only fellow who wants to keep Ito-Yokado under Seven & I's wing," said Oshadhi Kumarsasiri, an analyst at Lightstream Research who publishes on the Smartkarma platform.

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