Outspoken leader of key Japanese business organization to step down after long tenure

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, answers questions from reporters at his last regular press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 20.

Key business leader Akio Mimura will step down as chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the nation’s three leading business organizations, at the end of October. The honorary chairman of the steel giant now known as Nippon Steel Corp., Mimura’s statements over the years had a tremendous impact on the Japanese government and business community.

The JCCI’s membership is dominated by small and midsize businesses, but Mimura, 81, tackled not only matters affecting small businesses but also more comprehensive issues involving both the government and private sectors.

Mimura has led the organization for nine years and will step down once his third term expires, an unusully long tenure for a JCCI chair. Many JCCI officials regard him as one of their greatest leaders.

He will be succeeded by Ken Kobayashi, the 73-year-old former head of Mitsubishi Corp. and the first JCCI chairperson from a major trading company. The question is whether Kobayashi — currently a corporate advisor to Mitsubishi — can convey the organization’s message as effectively as Mimura did, amid this time of high prices.

Mimura became JCCI chairman in November 2013 as an internationalist leader at a point when small and midsize Japanese businesses faced the significant challenge of strengthening their competitiveness. He had previously served as president and chairman of Nippon Steel.

“I spent nine years worrying and thinking about what I should do in my role,” Mimura said at his last regular press conference as the chairman on Oct. 20 in Tokyo. The answer, he said, was to “once again reconstruction the Japanese economy.”

Since becoming the head of the JCCI, Mimura has repeatedly made unreserved statements criticizing both government administrations and industries. This made him unique among the heads of business organizations, which were criticized for their declining ability to assert themselves.

When Mimura became a member of important government councils, such as the National Council for Promoting the Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens presided by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he repeatedly demanded measures he thought necessary regarding a wide range of policies, including taxes, fiscal matters and energy.

Mimura demanded, for example, that the government take measures to ensure that large firms and smaller businesses could trade with each other at fair prices and that companies could pass costs into sales prices. Both these positions were ultimately reflected in government policy.

As the economy has shifted from deflation in which prices steadily fell, to an era of rising prices caused by the high cost of resources, Mimura has worked hard to ensure the profitability of small and midsize companies.

“His remarks at key moments have had an impact,” a senior figure in the business world said.