the Appointment was taken in the living room cozy for a large hotel in the city centre of Munich, capital of Bavaria. Tokuichi Okaya, 74 years of age, landed just of Nagoya, a hub of industry and transport nippon is implanted on his family business… since 1669. Hardly the time to ask its suitcases, donning a jacket of which does not exceed an elegant handkerchief of silk, the boss -the 13th of his generation – greet in the purest japanese tradition and sinks gently into the couch.
The man, visibly tired gears yet fast when it comes to telling the story -very – long-family history. “2018 will be a great year for us since we will celebrate the 350 years of the company”, stresses Tokuichi Okaya with a mischievous look, on the eve of chairing the general Meeting of the association of the Hénokiens, an international club very closed, which brings together the family business of more than two hundred years (48 members).
“Always in motion”
His ancestor, Sosuke Okaya, “a samurai warrior”, had deposited the weapons at the end of the Seventeenth century, while Japan was in the “period of peace”. “At this time, he could not feed his children properly so he started to do business by opening a hardware store called Sasaya,” says his descendant. The small business takes off during the wave of the steel at the beginning of the Twentieth century. Become Okaya, in particular, it participates to the creation of the port of Nagoya, and to the construction of the headquarters of Toyota, in Aichi prefecture.
These references will allow him to quickly make a name for themselves in the Empire of the rising sun. “Subsequently, we have provided manufacturers of agricultural equipment or steel makers. It is even open to real estate”, explains the skipper, at the helm since 1990. The conglomerate Okaya, today it is 70 subsidiaries (34 in Japan, 36 abroad), with nearly 5000 employees to nearly 6 billion euros of turnover.
Tokuichi Okaya, 13th, name, driver of an international group and a family whose foundations date back to the creation of a hardware store in 1669
“In Japan, Mr Okaya is not a lot of talk about him, he is very discreet. But his company is one of the largest in the country. It provides, in particular, of the giants national such as Toyota or Honda. It is a huge business,” says Kaichiro Yamamoto, discreet owner, also a member of the association of the Hénokiens, the head of a business tercentenary specializing in green tea. Until now, the Japanese were poorly represented within the assembly, but since Tokuichi Okaya has taken over the presidency in January last, their influence grows. “He attends all the meetings, from miles away to meet us, breath Gérard Lipovitch, general secretary of the association. This is not a very show off, he is cautious, a little bit behind. There is a form of loyalty, in the way he does things. I believe that all of these values transpire in his business”.
Despite the gigantic size of his conglomerate, Tokuichi Okaya sees “always in motion”. “We keep our old traditions, but we are launching continuously new and innovative products. For example, we have become one of the best providers of Intel, in semiconductors. We started to do a lot of things in electronics. It is necessary to innovate, but to innovate it is difficult,” acknowledges the CEO.
“Change of business, it is our common point, adds Willem van Eeghen, vice-president of the Hénokiens. We must always find new ways to perpetuate the business. We are not owners of our companies, we are of the smugglers”. This Dutch knows what he’s talking about. His forefathers have migrated to the United States, “when the times were troubles in Europe”. They have carried on the business of banking in the editing of u.s. bonds, and then imported coffee in addition to-Atlantic, before putting a foot in pharmaceutical products in the Old continent.
in Praise of the time
diversification and investment are the key to the success of these companies trees. “The present is the consequence of decisions taken long ago. Sometimes, it redeems. Sometimes, we sell. It is like that. But there must always be rules. For our clients, always deliver on time and above all tell them the truth. In a word : never cheat, always go in the right path,” says Tokuichi Okaya. For Sabine Rau, professor of economics and former chair of the specialist on the family entrepreneurship within the King’s College London, the long-term management of these family businesses is both a strength and a weakness. “Yes, they are slower in their decision-making and in general they invest less than the others. But there is a valid reason for this caution, they do it with their own money.”
Still, in Okaya, time and faithfulness are also a guarantee of stability. “We have a lot of people who came home after their study and who have made a long journey in the business. There is little staff turnover. Good, now it changes a little bit. But I think it is something typical of Japan,” stresses the head of the company, well in phase with its time. Hold on, what does he think of the decision of Donald Trump to a tax on the european steel? This would have the cause of cold sweats at it as 30% of the turnover of his group is achieved through the steel. “If this is confirmed, the impact will be very large. But at the time we speak, it is still difficult to assess. There may be problemsith the european Union, or Japan, or even in the United States who knows. It is necessary to wait to see what will happen”. The time again to him. And especially not to panic for Tokuichi Okaya
“The reason for which it lasts, it is that we did the right things at the right time. And no one fights ever against each other,” he concludes in a big burst of laughter. Tokuichi Okaya, the descendant of the samurai keeps his sword covered. And proves that we can easily combine wisdom and wealth.
ZOOM : The Hénokiens reward Schwan-Stabilo
This year, the association of the Hénokiens (a club involving 48 family businesses and bicentenary throughout the world) had been given an appointment in Munich for its general Assembly. On this occasion, its members were awarded a “young shoot” for 160 years, the German group Schwan-Stabilo, manufacturer of the famous highlighter.
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Property of the family Schwanhäusser, installed in the north of Nuremberg, the group performs more than 700 million euros of annual turnover, thanks in particular to its branch of cosmetics which weighs nearly 50% of the revenue. The Leonardo Da Vinci award, co-organized by the Château du Clos Lucé (Amboise), the last remains of the Italian genius, aims to highlight the ability of these companies to participate in the “Renaissance” of their economic fabric.