Falling Seven Times, Rising Eight: Bad at English, But Never Gave Up

七転八起 – 小島順彦 – 英語苦手 負けず挑戦 (Original)

Yorihiko Kojima

Falling Seven Times, Rising Eight: Bad at English, But Never Gave Up
Yorihiko Kojima, Age 68, President of Mitsubishi Corporation

“In college, I studied industrial engineering, but after graduating, I went into business.”
It was because I wanted to work abroad. My first placement was in the heavy machinery division. We imported equipment for domestic ironworks.

One afternoon, I was at the company filling out a document. My boss said, “Why are you here? Go visit a customer!” “I went this morning,” I replied, but he said, “Commute in both the morning and the afternoon! Do the paperwork at night.” From then on, I visited not only customers’ purchasing windows but their other posts as well, and little by little I learned what they needed.

One day, a customer told me, “I don’t just want the machinery; I want it installed as well.” This was over 30 years ago, when companies didn’t do that. The people around me said it was too risky, but I convinced my superiors it was worth the challenge. Our first month of installments passed without any problems to speak of. From that experience I learned that even if it’s risky work, if you analyze sharply and make an effort, you can succeed.

Abrupt Transfer Abroad
“In 1978, at age 37, after a year as head of the employees’ union, I was suddenly transferred to Saudi Arabia.”
I was actually supposed to return from the union to heavy machinery, but at the time, we were starting a joint petrochemical venture in Saudi Arabia, and we needed a staff member on site. So my first posting abroad was in the difficult environment of the Middle East. I was the only Japanese person there.

The owner was Saudi, the president Lebanese. The team included citizens from over 20 countries, like England and America. The lingua franca was not Arabic but English. I was lonely, but fortunately I got a lot of contracts and made a significant contribution to our company’s profits. Along with that, the president started to frequently ask for my opinion. I was never good at English conversation, but I realized that abroad as much as at home, the most important thing is to work hard and have firm opinions.

The 3 C’s
“In 2004, at age 62, I became the president. In the fourth quarter of 2008, our after-tax profits were 471 billion yen, the highest total in company history.”
Young employees ask me, “How does one become company president?” I answer, “If you only think about advancing, you won’t get anywhere.” I myself recklessly confronted as many problems as possible so I could have more knowledge.

I ask the young employees to remember two things. The first is the Three C’s: Curiosity, Challenge, and Communication. Challenge, especially, is important. If you avoid difficult work when you’re young, when things really do go wrong, you won’t know how to handle risk. A fourth C precedes the others: Courtesy. If you speak humbly and respect others, they’ll want to talk to you again.

The second is the Three Principles of the Mitsubishi Group: Corporate Responsibility to Society, Integrity and Fairness, and International Understanding through Trade. In other words, have a global perspective, try to contribute to society through your work, and act with dignity. These precepts were adopted 76 years ago, but they haven’t lost their meaning. I want our employees to be talented people who remember these aspirations as they contribute to our company.

Yorihiko Kojima with Daughters in Italy

Tamaki Aikyo conducted this interview.

Yorihiko Kojima was born in Tokyo in 1941. He graduated from Tokyo University School of Engineering in 1965 and entered the Mitsubishi Corporation. He was the supervisor for importing machinery for ironworks in the heavy machinery department. After serving as a managing director and vice president, he became president in April 2004. He will become chairman June 24, 2010. The Three Rules of English he developed while working abroad – (1) You don’t have to speak well; (2) Don’t think that only smart people can speak English; (3) Even if your English is poor, express yourself assertively – are famous.

The Mitsubishi Corporation is one of the three core companies in the Mitsubishi Group, along with Mitsubishi Bank and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. It has wide holdings in many industries, including machinery, metal works, and natural resources, and footholds in about 80 countries. Its revenues in the first quarter of 2010 were 17 trillion yen, its highest ever. Its headquarters are in Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo. It has about 58,500 employees.

英語苦手 負けず挑戦
小島順彦(こじまよりひこ) 68歳 三菱商事社長





30年前 サウジアラビア駐在時代。家族で訪れたスイスにて









(2010年6月3日 読売新聞)

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