Manager, Provider Network Dept. Healthcare Business Div.
Healthcare & Service Business Unit
Kaori Soma is responsible for the post-merger integration of hospital group Columbia Asia. Providing wider access to healthcare and developing a unique style of leadership are two things that motivate her.
I did a short internship at M&A Department while I was at university. The experience taught me that trading companies don’t just “trade” products —they also create new businesses based on innovative business models. When I actually joined the firm in 2006, I was assigned to the chemicals business. After a couple of years handling administrative tasks, I began exporting Japanese agrichemicals to South America, and in 2010 I was sent to Belgium, where Mitsui has a joint-venture subsidiary with a Japanese agrichemicals company.
Although it was my fifth year in the firm, I was quite nervous. When I got to Brussels, I worked with a Japanese from our JV partner to build a new four-person team. The JV company sells soil treatment products to protect crops from soil-borne diseases. In my first year, my main target territories were Italy and other western European countries. I managed to increase our sales there and in year two moved into Eastern Europe to build relationships with distributors there. I trekked around Poland and Hungary to demonstrate our product to the farmers.
My years in Belgium taught me a couple of valuable lessons. First, I learned that face-to-face marketing is the best way to discover what problems your customers are grappling with. Second, I got a sense of how to build, manage and motivate an organization—albeit a small one— and learn the importance of establishing a long-term strategy.
After moving back to Tokyo in March 2013, I was transferred to the healthcare division in April 2014. Here I have two main responsibilities: One is to act as company secretary for IHH, our high-end hospital business. Mitsui has directors both on the board of IHH and its Parkway Pantai subsidiary. What I do is pre-digest the documentation for the quarterly board meetings and investment committee meetings and prep the Mitsui directors.
The second thing I worked on was the operational due diligence and internal approval process for a major investment we were mulling. While IHH’s hospitals serve high-income patients, the “volume zone” for healthcare is in the middle of the pyramid. Columbia Asia, the firm Mitsui was interested in, has 27 hospitals and 1 clinic in Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam targeting that specific demographic. My job was to evaluate the business and analyze the macro environment, the state of the competition, and so on. I had to learn a lot in a short time.
From Belgium I knew the importance of getting first-hand knowledge from the field. I have accompanied the consultants we’d hired for due diligence purposes on their visits. I also visited a government-run hospital to get some background. Seeing the crowded waiting room and the long lines of people waiting to be examined was very motivating. Columbia Asia offers the middle classes an alternative: easy access to high-quality of medical services at a reasonable price. It’s also a chance for Mitsui to broaden its contribution to society.
Mitsui eventually decided to invest $101 million in Columbia Asia in July 2016. We are now handling the post-merger integration (PMI) and figuring out how Mitsui can add value to the group through the collaboration with its other healthcare and service subsidiaries.
Columbia Asia is an expanding business. One priority is to make sure that the internal controls, operational efficiency and strategic planning required to support that rapid growth are in place. I’m working on improving all these things.
I currently head a team of four here in Tokyo. In contrast to Belgium, we have no direct contact with our partners or customers. I worry that this makes it harder for my team to feel motivated. To counter this, I try to create a fun, exciting atmosphere in the office. I do my best to be a flexible leader and to give my team members the freedom to do their jobs in whatever way works best for them. In Singapore, I hired a hospital-management expert to set up an affiliate to support the PMI process and explore more investment opportunities. I sent one young member of my team over there to acquire frontline know-how. It’s all part of building a system that can keep on generating opportunities for growth.
In the long term, I hope to help expand emerging countries’ healthcare infrastructure so that it will reach more people. From watching Mitsui’s veterans at work, I am learning how we can position ourselves as a long-term strategic partner, send people into key positions and add value by improving management and operations. That is very much the sort of leader I want to become myself.
Posted in Nov 2016