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In the Nation's Interest

2016 Awards Dinner Spotlight: Takeshi Niinami

CED is proud to honor Takeshi “Tak” Niinami with the 2016 Global Leadership Award. Tak is the President and CEO of Suntory Holdings Limited, Japan’s largest alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverage company. He has been leading the company’s globalization by driving the post-merger integration of Beam Suntory, the world’s third largest spirits company created after Suntory acquired US-based Beam in 2014.

Tak has served as Vice Representative of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) for three terms, from Apr 2010 to Apr 2016. He is a member of the Tax Commission of Japan, and acts as a member of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. As senior economic advisor to the Prime Minister, he has played an active role in rebuilding Japan’s economy as one of two members from the private sector. Tak is a current member of the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council, and also served as a member of the Global Agenda Council on Japan until August 2016. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School.

Below is our Awards Dinner Honoree Spotlight of Tak.

by CED August 19, 2016

Which aspects of business leadership attracted you to aspire to become a CEO?

I have always wanted to do something that benefits society. I figured that the most effective way to do that was to become the leader of a business that does its part to help solve social issues. Looking back, this has become a connecting thread throughout my career.

I first became the CEO of a company at the age of 34, when I founded Sodex Corporation, a food service business, with a French partner. I noticed that hospital patients in Japan were being served cold, unappetizing meals and felt that changing this would be beneficial and valuable to the community. When I later became CEO of Lawson, I instilled a corporate philosophy to help guide and bring meaning to our business. This became the company’s promise to our employees and to our customers: “We will bring happiness to the community we share with you." One of the primary reasons I joined Suntory was its principle of always giving back to society, with more than a hundred years of growing “in harmony with people and nature.”

What advice do you have for those who aspire to careers in leadership, or have just started to serve in a leadership capacity?

Always ask yourself, “What value are you creating for your community?” A sustainable business is one that serves a need in the community and I believe that a business can be successful as long as its community understands its value. But creating this kind of value takes long-term commitment.

That is why it is important for a leader to have a vision that involves not only profit for the business but for the community as well. A leader also needs a strong aspiration to fulfill that vision. In order to persevere, a leader must truly believe that their initiative will bring a positive value to society – even during uncertain times.

Has Suntory spearheaded a particular philanthropic initiative that you would like to share with CED's Members?

Suntory is particularly committed to conserving and regenerating natural water – not just for future generations, but also for the future of our business. Without an ecosystem of healthy forests and abundant water, we would not be able to create the products we do today.

In Japan, we designate forests from where we source the water we use as Natural Water Sanctuaries and work with forestry experts and scientists to cultivate rich ecosystems that can protect and generate more groundwater. We are committed to always giving back more than we take. That is why our goal is to help our forests generate double the amount of water necessary for our production by 2020.

Last year, we started an initiative that brings Suntory employees to forests to see firsthand why it is so important to protect our water sources. And through our Mizuiku-Education Program for Nature and Water, we help future generations appreciate water stewardship by inviting children and their families to the forest to learn about the value of natural water.

We are expanding such initiatives to countries outside of Japan. We started educational programs in Vietnam, and are also committing to a local project in Kentucky.