#5 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
"Conflicts with my father – fired from the sakagura"
After my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer, I decided to quit my job and join Asahi Shuzo in 1976 to take over the company. My wife, my newborn daughter, and I returned from Kanto to the mountains of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Eventually, my father's surgery was a success and he got better. After he got back on his feet, we started to disagree with each other.
My father was the president of an old sakagura. He was leaving the sake making to the toji and salesmanship to the salesmen. He was also a town councilor and the head of a forest cooperative, and every evening the neighbors would come over for drinks and political discussions. In the old days, that was fine. But sales were declining, year after year. My father asked me to only care about sales without ever teaching me about running the business. I was told to sell our sake, it felt like I was being used.
One day, I went visiting some of our customers, the liquor stores and found out they would not purchase our sake anymore unless I offered them a discount. I told my father that it would affect us badly in the long-run, but he disagreed. He said that we would just get by fine, just by doing what we always do. He told me to do today the same thing I did yesterday. From my father's point of view, I was being too cocky.
When I think about it now, it's natural to think that way, but I could not help but say “things are done differently back in Tokyo”. We were constantly arguing, and one day my father got furious. He told me that I did not have to come to work the day after so, I stopped coming to work. My father probably didn't think I would really stop coming in, but I could not push my pride aside. Even though I had quit my job and came back to my hometown to eventually take over the company, I got fired.
Anyway, I had to start and make money by myself. I started a company dealing with stones as raw material, at my house near the sakagura. A relative of my wife was running a stone mining business in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. The economy was booming at the time, so I decided to start selling the stones that this relative was mining. At first, we mainly sold his stones but gradually we expanded our business, and eventually even began to import stones from China. I would leave home at three or four in the morning, cross to Oshima Island in Imabari City, load the stones, deliver them to a stone dealer in Hiroshima, and go home. It was hard work, with little time to sleep. Along the way, my wife started to help by doing clerical work. We also hired two more drivers, and even though we had a hard time getting drivers to stay working with us, our sales were growing. Our annual sales increased to about 200 million yen. I started to think I would run the company all my life.
In January 1984, my father asked me to take over the family business. The first financial statement he showed me was about 85% lower than the previous year, and sales had fallen every year. I thought to myself: "This is no good”. So I refused to take over, saying I couldn't do it. The stone company was doing well, and even if I took over, my father would interfere again. At the time I thought he would start to use me again. The fact I refused my father’s proposal disappointed him. He started to look unwell, so much so that I asked a friend of my father, a doctor, to check up on him. The diagnosis was cancer. It was not his stomach cancer that moved somewhere else, it was a new one.
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