FujiwaraAs the first president of the former Mitsui,* Takashi Masuda, stated, “Mitsui has a pool of very talented individuals. This is Mitsui’s most important asset.” In the course of a long history, Mitsui has been able to advance to its present position by placing particular emphasis on people. Going forward, this approach will remain unchanged. Medium-term Management Plan 2023—“Transform and Grow” sets out six corporate strategies, which include a personnel strategy calling for Local Depth for Global Reach, Global Reach for Local Depth and Diversity & Inclusion. Keeping these goals in mind, we are tackling a variety of initiatives.
Gate 1 Continuous Value Creation
“Mitsui is People” Going Forward
For Mitsui, as a general trading company, its greatest asset is people.
From a variety of viewpoints, we sought opinions from two of our external directors with respect to how best to foster people and
the type of people that Mitsui requires going forward in an operating environment with an uncertain outlook.
“Mitsui is People”
KobayashiAs is often said of us, “Mitsui is People,” Mitsui’s senior management and employees are very distinctive. I feel the Company has many highly individualistic people. On the other hand, whether the Company is making sufficient use of this individuality and whether such individuality is contributing to the Company’s value creation are issues to be examined.
RogersHistorically, the Company has a culture that values people. I agree that people are a particularly crucial asset for general trading companies. The composition of the Board of Directors is becoming increasingly diverse. Five years ago, I became the first non-Japanese director and, after Ms. Kobayashi, the second female director. Now, however, there are more non-Japanese directors, and the number of female directors has increased to three. In addition, a female external Audit & Supervisory Board member has joined the management team. Both Chairman Masami Iijima and President Tatsuo Yasunaga have a deep understanding of diversity and believe that it is the source of innovation. Consequently, I look forward to Mitsui’s future.
Empowerment of Women
FujiwaraWe aim for women to account for 10% of our managerial positions by the fiscal year ending March 31, 2025. With the help of Ms. Kobayashi, we implemented a support program for female leaders in 2019. We want to further strengthen environments and systems that encourage female employees to take on more-significant roles in the Company.
KobayashiIn a variety of situations, I have met Mitsui’s female employees, and my impression is that they are all extremely capable. However, as I mentioned earlier, we should consider whether such talent is being fully used by the Company. Unfortunately, there are as yet no female employees who have been promoted in-house to director. Although the situation is improving steadily, promotion based on length of service remains. As a result, promotion to director inevitably takes a long time. For this reason, I believe it is worth considering a flexible approach to promotion that, regardless of gender, is not exclusively focused on length of service. Further, I have many opportunities to speak with mid-career female employees in frontline businesses. While I get the impression that up to a certain level female employees work in frontline businesses and work overseas, but when they rise above a certain rank in many instances they are assigned to non-business divisions. I would like to see more female employees receiving promotions and playing important roles in business divisions. To earn promotion, however, irrespective of their gender, employees have to experience trials and produce results. In other words, the issue at hand for the Company and its managers is whether they are able to provide female employees with such opportunities. Given that the outstanding capabilities of female employees are evident, I urge the management team to think over whether they are prepared to entrust female employees with important tasks. I suspect that unconscious bias has come into play in this regard.
RogersOn visits to business sites worldwide with Ms. Kobayashi, I have met many female employees who have earned promotion and are expanding their fields of activity in the Company. Unfortunately, however, the occasions when female employees explain proposals at meetings of the Board of Directors are rare. Even for female employees who have spent a certain amount of time at the Company, various personal events may leave them with no choice but to quit their jobs. Envisioning a future career is difficult for female employees because they have few role models. Nonetheless, I think the Company should establish systems with a certain flexibility that enable employees to adjust the timing of overseas assignments and return to Mitsui after career pauses.
More than one-quarter of Mitsui’s employees are women, and the number of female managers is increasing. The Company puts in order a system that facilitates female activities, and in that sense, is ahead of its peers. Role models play an important part in empowering women. In addition, the Company needs a system that evaluates managers whereas their cultivation of diversity in organizations plays a part. There really are a lot of female high performers, and I hope frontline businesses can become as diverse as the Board of Directors has become.
FujiwaraIn terms of providing opportunities, it may be the case that managers are unconsciously giving female employees insufficient support. I believe that making use of the capabilities of high performers by providing female employees with opportunities to accumulate experience and grow is the key to success in terms of the empowerment of women. We will reflect the opinions you have both stated in our human resources system.
Let me add that the percentage of women among new graduate hires is increasing. Although broadening the in-house pool of female candidates for senior management positions will require a little more time, we will also broaden the pool of candidates through active mid-career recruitment.
FujiwaraMitsui is engaged in a variety of businesses around the world. Since the establishment of the Company, we have been involved in the trading business, and present-day Mitsui has become deeply embedded in a range of regions and contributes to nation building. As our intention is to remain deeply involved in local businesses as well as nation building, we have been considering the best way to foster and assign global talent. As part of these efforts, we are conducting programs aimed at developing regionally hired staff. Moreover, we are promoting such employees to executive positions in overseas affiliated companies.
RogersSince becoming a director five years ago, I have visited local offices in the United States, Australia, Mexico, and Singapore, and I can confirm that a number of regionally hired staff are playing pivotal roles there. However, in many cases a Japanese employee transferred from Japan heads these businesses. For this reason, I feel that there is something akin to an invisible wall in the sense that no matter how hard local employees work they cannot get promotion to the top of the organization. Motivating local high performers to make even greater contributions to operations calls for a change in assumptions not only about salaries but also with regard to promotion as well as the establishment of a system that reflects this new mind-set.
KobayashiAt the overseas offices I have visited, even though the leader is Japanese there are many regionally hired staff who perform important functions in the businesses. On the other hand, I have never been to a preparatory briefing before a meeting of the Board of Directors at the head office conducted by a non-Japanese employee. While the number of cases of highly capable local hires being assigned to Japan is increasing, I think there is room for further improvement. Furthermore, the Company should increase opportunities for transfer among overseas offices so that employees can move from the United States to Europe or from Asia to the United States and so on. When it comes to non-Japanese employees working in Japan, understandably the language barrier becomes a factor not only for in-house communication but also for communication with customers. By contrast, given that English is the general language of communication globally, I believe the Company could facilitate transfers among overseas offices in a more flexible manner. In advancing transfers among overseas offices, however, analyzing information on the specializations and experience of employees is important. Therefore, the Company needs to expand and enhance its global database in relation to employees.
FujiwaraAs Ms. Rogers pointed out, at this moment the Human Resources & General Affairs Division is developing systems focused on global talent management. We are accelerating initiatives aimed at cultivating friendly rivalry among regionally hired staff and staff hired in Japan on a global basis so as to refine their abilities as well as add to their experience.
RogersIt is important for employees to deepen communication with their coworkers regardless of nationality, get to know each other, and cultivate a team spirit as Mitsui people. I would like the Company to continue programs in which regionally hired staff and staff hired in Japan are trained together. Further, the Company hires non-Japanese employees who are fluent in Japanese. However, communication will become even more lively if the Company fosters employees who are not only linguistically proficient but are also able to understand multiple cultures.
KobayashiPutting fair career planning in place is needed to realize true friendly competition among regionally hired staff and staff hired in Japan. For this reason, the Company should establish an approach and culture of developing talent on an equal footing regardless of their nationality or the region they were hired in.
FujiwaraTalent development is indispensable for the Company’s sustained growth. Until now, we have developed employees mainly through on-the-job training that includes guidance from superiors and senior employees. While preserving such beneficial systems, in the coming era we must focus on fostering the capabilities of individuals. With this task in mind, in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2020, we discontinued an appraisal system that was based on organizations’ results and enhanced our system for evaluating the development of individuals. If Mitsui is to continue growing globally in a new era, on which aspects of talent development should it focus?
KobayashiConsidering that Mitsui has diverse talent working in regions around the world, I think that the Company should make it clearer to the leaders of frontline businesses that talent development is one of the very things among their important jobs. The senior management team needs to set out the development of the next generation of leaders as an important mission and to evaluate progress toward achievement of this mission.
RogersI think it is also necessary to unify indicators for measuring the achievements of individuals. In Japanese companies, job descriptions tend to be unclear, making it difficult to measure the achievements of individuals. Therefore, the experience and evaluations required for promotion need to be made more explicit.
FujiwaraI agree that impartial, unified standards for evaluation are essential for the work in a globalized environment. Further, Ms. Kobayashi’s recommendations on how to proceed with training at frontline businesses will become ever-more important as we develop an array of different businesses going forward. What is required to heighten awareness of talent development at frontline businesses?
KobayashiIt is important to develop a culture in which work is not something that employees are compelled to do but rather something that they tackle with a sense of ownership. Environments and innovative systems that inspire employees to venture further and conduct more research of their own volition are beneficial. Further, while some are interested in promotion, others are not. Consequently, multifaceted systems that allow many types of people to be evaluated and express themselves in a variety of ways are called for.
Also, the young generation who will join the Company are focused on finding interesting work that helps them grow rather than on salary. In light of these priorities, Mitsui has to show potential employees that it offers interesting work by establishing systems that empower individuals and support their ambitious initiatives.
RogersAs Ms. Kobayashi said, there exists room for reconsidering the system under which all employees are promoted in the same way and via the same routes. A system ought to be established that appropriately recognizes the professional status of employees who do not have subordinates but instead focus on honing their expertise. Such a system would enable specialists to work with vitality and contribute to the Company. Further, the mindset of supervisors is important. Supervisors should discuss with each subordinate his or her strengths and the types of work suited to them. Utilizing each person’s individuality in this way is sure to bring about a range of innovations. Realizing such a dynamic not only calls for a nuanced approach on the part of supervisors but also requires each employee to take greater responsibility for their own careers.
Work Styles in the “New Normal” Era
FujiwaraAs a result of the spread of COVID-19, working from home has become the primary work style. Meanwhile, the head office building to which we relocated in May 2020 has various innovative features, including spaces for interaction among employees and spaces for focusing on work. What are your opinions on work styles that incorporate working both from home and at the office in the “New Normal” era?
KobayashiI think that we have made a very good discovery, namely that work styles we had thought of as problematic are in fact feasible. Some work, however, cannot be done entirely from remote locations and is better suited to being done by coworkers meeting directly, even if they are separated by partitions. On the other hand, there is no need to go all the way to the office to do work that can be done remotely. At other companies, I have heard of cases where employees work at the office due to their superior’s lack of IT literacy. It is important that each employee is given various options and that companies put in place systems guaranteeing the availability of these options.
RogersThe Company used its relocation to a new building as an opportune moment to launch the Work-X (Workplace Experience) team, which is tasked with taking on initiatives that change employees’ mindset and encourage collaboration. Changing values with respect to work is difficult unless greater trust is developed between superiors and subordinates. Moreover, systems have to be established that recognize results rather than time spent. Further, working from home is gradually becoming accepted as normal. If this work style becomes more entrenched, female employees will be able to work with greater flexibility, which should make it easier for them to continue their careers. Also, employees’ work–life balance will improve. In addition, working from home could be more conducive to innovation.
KobayashiToday, I visited the head office for the first time in a while, and face-to-face discussions have, if anything, felt novel. We have also been holding meetings of the Board of Directors online, and I have not found this to be an inconvenience. In a way, I feel closer to the other directors when I see them on screen than I do when seeing them across a table—participants’ reactions are easier to grasp. Another merit is that it is easier for overseas employees to take part in meetings.
RogersAs far as I am aware, among Japanese companies Mitsui’s adaptation to working from home has been quite swift. As the Company was able to naturally transition to working from home without confusion, online meetings of the Board of Directors are being conducted in the same manner as offline meetings. At online meetings of the Board of Directors, participants ask questions and state opinions in a given order, and my impression is that the number of participants asking questions has increased, and discussions have become livelier. This has shown me some of the merits of online meetings.
FujiwaraThe increased diversity of work styles will affect talent development. As a company, we will view these changes seriously and analyze which work styles are optimal for the growth of employees. I would like to thank you both for sharing a broad range of informative opinions with me today.
From a legal perspective, there is no continuity between the former Mitsui & Co. and the present Mitsui & Co., and they are totally separate corporate entities.