#25 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
“Handing over the CEO position to my oldest son”
When I took over, I could not foresee any future improvement of the company. As we slept together with my family, I often thought to myself at night, looking at my eldest son's face, "I hope this company lasts, at least until he graduates college”.
The current president is my oldest son, Kazuhiro. I wanted him to take over when I could afford to do so. My son was working for a company in Tokyo that had nothing to do with sake-crafting, but in 2006 he asked me if he could join us at Asahi Shuzo. I had always wanted him to join us, but couldn't quite ask him directly. As I didn't get along with my father myself, I was afraid it would also happen with him. I think my son was afraid of that as well. Especially because unlike before, the Dassai brand was already well established. There would be a great dishonor in crushing a brand such as Dassai.
I was happy when he joined us; I gave him a year or so of in-house training and then immediately sent him to New York, USA. It may have been too doting as a parent for sending him there. I thought that would be a good experience as it was a very important market, but still a growing one anyway. At the time, no sake producer was seriously trying to sell sake in New York. It was hard work, but I could see there were great opportunities. My son took it seriously, and Dassai soon became the best-selling sake in New York. In 2013, Dassai was the top seller of Junmai Daiginjo sake in Japan. I felt a sense of accomplishment, but there was no future in competing for the top spot in Japan. I was ready to go through on a completely different path from the one of the sake industry.
In September 2016, I stepped down as president. My son Kazuhiro, who was vice president, became president, and I became chairman. My eldest son had turned 40 at that age, so he wasn't young. I had to hand him over the position while he was still healthy or it would have been too late. I also thought that having me as chairman would allow for more deep management decisions. There is no conflict between Kazuhiro and me at all like there was between my father and me. My eldest son is kind and gentle, and sometimes I think he's too much in tune with me, but I guess that's not much of a concern.
In the same year, the overall production staff of Asahi Shuzo would exceed 120 people. Sales were also increasing rapidly. It seemed to be going very well, but I was feeling the beginnings of a “Big Company Disease” for Asahi Shuzo. When our sales exceeded 10 billion yen, we couldn't adapt as smoothly as before as a company. For example, when I would go to a sales meeting, I am handed some documents. The new coronavirus situation has made it impossible to drink at bars and restaurants, so my staff had come up with various measures to get people to enjoy Dassai at home. What was written, everything was good and needed to be implemented. But I told them to just get on with it, that there was no point in discussing it here and now. I said that if I were the CEO, I would have already done everything myself.
Because I’m just the chairman, I don’t want to say anything. But because it’s not going as well as I want it to be, I still end up saying something… Being a chairman is very stressful, isn't it?
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