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Asahi Group Holdings Chairman and CEO Naoki Izumiya speaks at the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo on Nov. 8. (Photo by Maho Obata)
Business

Asahi Group CEO envisions 'fully unmanned' brewing

Naoki Izumiya's keys to growth: top-down innovation, smart global deals

KENTARO IWAMOTO, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO -- Full automation is one key to surviving the age of disruption, Naoki Izumiya, the chairman and chief executive of Japanese brewing conglomerate Asahi Group Holdings, said in Tokyo on Wednesday. 

Speaking at the two-day Nikkei Global Management Forum, Izumiya stressed that a stubborn adherence to traditional management strategies can lead companies to self-destruction. During a session on "M&A strategy and corporate governance in a shifting world," he highlighted three areas to focus on: innovation, global strategies, and leadership that makes the first two possible.

Izumiya noted that top management drives innovation at the world's most valuable companies, such as Apple and Facebook.

Innovation, he said, is not only about products themselves but also logistics, raw materials procurement and production. He described a vision of "fully unmanned production using artificial intelligence and robots." He also spoke of an "ultimate fresh management" system in which Asahi Breweries would sell beer as quickly as it produces it, maintaining no inventory. 

In the big picture, he said, innovation means "creating new value for society."

Izumiya also touched on Asahi's overseas acquisition strategy. In the last decade, the group has purchased 12 businesses, including brewers in eight European countries.

He said companies looking to expand abroad should scout potential investments on their own, as this allows them to consider the pros and cons and start formulating post-acquisition strategies. 

On the flip side, Izumiya said Asahi is divesting less-profitable and other problematic businesses to improve overall profitability. He also advised companies not to lose sight of their home markets, as domestic success is vital for earning cash to fund future global expansion.

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