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Well-scripted success in America for Pentel of Japan

Jul 26, 2017
Credit : GMI Post

In 1964, Pentel founder Yukio Horie traveled to the U.S. with a backpack full of pens and a mission: to personally introduce his products through massive sampling. The following year, then U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed his State of the Union Address with a Pentel Sign Pen, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Pentel’s EnerGel gel pens come in 8 barrel designs, 5 tip sizes and 12 super-smooth ink colors.

That watershed moment in 1965 came as Pentel opened its first overseas subsidiary outside Japan in Chicago. Pentel of America still holds an office in the Windy City more than 50 years later, but its headquarters has been in Torrance, California since 1968.

“We relied so much on imports from Japan at that time. That’s why we made the move. California is closer to Japan. Communication is easier. Logistics are easier,” explained Pentel of America President Chotaro Koumi.

Accounting for around 30 percent of total global sales last year, Pentel of America topped the sales of the entire company, including that of its headquarters in Japan.

Koumi is also proud of how much the company has been able to localize.

“Most of the customers I talk to don’t know that we are Japanese. They think we are an American company, which is good,” he said.

While its pencil leads and erasers dominate market share in the country, Pentel of America continues to be innovative in the pen category, with its revolutionary flagship EnerGel line becoming a bestseller. In recent years, Pentel of America has seen its EnerGel pens become one of the leaders in its category, an achievement that brings pride to the company.

“We are not the biggest player in the field because there are giants that own so many brands. But we are really well known as the quality products supplier, from writing materials to art materials and everything else in between,” Koumi said.

Japanese adviser succeeds against the odds

Jul 26, 2017
Credit : GMI Post

Japan-born Yukuo Takenaka began his career in the Los Angeles office of KPMG when the so-called Big 8 firms hardly hired minorities. Through persistence, he found success in the industry as a wave of Japanese companies came to the U.S. in the 1980s. In just eight years, Takenaka was made a partner in that firm for having secured prestigious clients like Mitsui Bank, Honda, Mazda, and Hitachi.

Takenaka Partners CEO Yukuo Takenaka

In 1989, Takenaka established his own investment banking and consulting firm to focus on mergers & acquisitions and strategic alliances. Nearly 30 years later, Takenaka Partners has grown into a multiservice consultancy firm engaged in investment banking, global strategy consulting, corporate valuation, and business due diligence.

Because of his linguistic advantage, Takenaka grew his network among Japanese companies and advised them on the intricacies of expanding across the U.S. and other parts of the world. A passionate advocate of globalization, he has become the preferred investment banker for Japanese companies wanting to expand in the U.S. market.

As one who witnessed the challenges faced by these Japanese companies, Takenaka has served as the right-hand man that steers them toward success by encouraging CEOs and executives to adopt a global mindset, accept change, and embrace different cultures.

“The biggest challenge for Japanese companies is understanding foreign cultures and knowing how to motivate local colleagues. We educate them on how to overcome cultural differences and to succeed here,” Takenaka explained.

“In the U.S., we focus on the largest and most attractive market in the world and the client’s core business. We show the U.S. as a country where Japanese brands thrive. We encourage Japanese companies to challenge business in America,” he added.

Recently, Takenaka became the first representative from Japan and investment banker to join the Board of Directors of the World Services Group (WSG), a global network of professional business service providers with more than 130 members from 116 countries, including the U.S. His appointment came as the WSG seeks deeper collaboration between companies from the two countries.

Fujitsu Frontech continues to change the game in a digital society

Jul 26, 2017
Credit : GMI Post

Fujitsu Frontech North America (FFNA), one of the group companies of Japanese information and communication technology giant Fujitsu, has remained the leader in providing front-end technology solutions to the North American market for over 30 years.

Fujitsu Frontech North America President and CEO Michitaka Sugawara

“In North America, FFNA has a strong presence in the retail and financial sectors through our self-checkout and currency handling technology respectively,” CEO Michitaka Sugawara said. “In fact, our currency-handling portfolio has experienced the largest growth over the past couple of years. Retailers are beginning to understand the costs of manually handling cash in the front of the store and in the back office cash rooms of larger retailers.”

“Self-service continues to grow and expand into new markets. We now offer small versatile footprints, support for cash management and quick ‘impulse’ purchases, while providing better customer service. This allows our customers to grow into new businesses and revenue opportunities,” he added.

Having established a strong reputation in front-end technology, FFNA has also launched several new, revolutionary products: the Washable UHF RFID Tag, the industry’s smallest and flexible washable tag for linens, garments and high fashion apparel and PalmSecure, a palm vein pattern recognition technology with exceptional authentication accuracy.

The washable RFID tag is already being used by large international companies, such as Disney, Universal Studios and many hotels like Resorts World, Wynn Resorts and Westin Hotels to keep track of garments, while PalmSecure is highly accepted in the health care and financial services market for fast and secure customer authentication.

After several decades in the U.S. market, FFNA continues to focus on research and development to combine new technologies to meet the ever-changing digital needs of its customers.

“This flexibility is our differentiator. We adopt new digital technologies and work with partners to co-create breakthrough solutions and increase our customers’ business value. This is the key to our success in digital society,” Sugawara stressed.

Terumo’s acquisition of Sequent Medical represents perfect match

Jul 26, 2017
Credit : GMI Post

It has been 11 years since Japanese-owned Terumo Corp. acquired MicroVention Inc., a company that treats diseases in small blood vessels of the brain. Both companies have experienced tremendous success and growth as a result of this synergistic merger.

MicroVention CEO Richard Cappetta

“Terumo has provided the resources to allow us to invest and grow our business, as well as the opportunity to innovate products for Terumo,” MicroVention CEO Richard Cappetta said.

To further complement its growth plans, Terumo acquired Sequent Medical, Inc., a privately held firm in California that was absorbed into MicroVention. The new venture will allow MicroVention to expand its product portfolio in aneurysm therapy by utilizing the new technologies gained from the acquisition.

“Sequent has a proprietary braiding technology and developed the WEB Aneurysm Embolization System, a mesh created from extremely fine wire for the treatment of both ruptured and unruptured aneurysms,” Cappetta explained.

Following its recent integration with Sequent, MicroVention now has a stronger product portfolio that will establish its leading position in neurovascular disorders. Already launched in Europe, WEB is a therapy that may provide increased patient safety and improved clinical outcomes. With the shorter procedure, patients should face less risk of complications.

Valuing the independence provided by its parent company, MicroVention continues to innovate in patient care and remains prolific in product development.

Since its establishment 20 years ago, the company has expanded to cover a comprehensive portfolio of neurovascular disorders that include aneurysm, stroke and carotid artery disease and neurovascular malformation treatment solutions. Over the same period, the company has seen its revenue increase tenfold and its workforce grow from 130 employees to nearly 2,000 scattered across the globe. 

“We are proud of what we do here to save lives because our innovative products help with many diseases. You are going to see from us very strong growth over the next 10 years with a robust pipeline of products,” said Cappetta.

Where service is as heartfelt as it is unforgettable

Jul 26, 2017
Credit : GMI Post

It’s all in the heart. Nearly six years after taking over the helm of the InterContinental Los Angeles Century City, owned by Sumitomo Realty & Development, President of SRD (USA) Mari Miyoshi attributes the success of one of the city’s most iconic hotels to the heart of every employee and the genuine service they each provide.

“That is intangible, but most important. People will feel because they have heart,” explained Miyoshi, whose work ethos has spread to the whole organization.

Sumitomo Realty & Development (USA) President Mari Miyoshi

“She’s like the mom of the hotel,” said General Manager Steve Choe. “Employees first: That’s one of the biggest things in her philosophy.”

As the Executive Chairman of Sumitomo Fudosan Villa Fontaine Co., Ltd., Miyoshi also oversees the operations of Hotel Villa Fontaine (HVF) in Japan. With 13 properties in bustling neighborhoods in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, the Izu Kogen resort, HVF is a premier brand of hotels that offers standard to high quality service to a clientele of sophisticated business travelers.

As a bridge of cultures, Miyoshi takes several employees with her on every business trip. “I want to give them the chance to see and have that international feeling and global experience,” she said.

That management style focused on team culture and diversity has served the hotel very well, as it has seen an increase in the number of guests from Asia, South America and the Middle East, especially.

With employees representing a mix of cultures from 34 different countries, InterContinental Los Angeles Century City is able to provide every guest – no matter where they’re from – with a personalized experience and unique service touches. 

“We reach people through the experience. We make them remember the experience,” stresses Choe. “It’s a feeling other than just staying in a hotel. Guests make memories here, so when they return, they feel something familiar,” Miyoshi adds.

Located 20 minutes from the heart of downtown, the InterContinental Los Angeles Century City sits in the middle of the entertainment capital, yet takes pride in the privacy it provides guests on the mile-long Avenue of the Stars at Beverly Hills.

Southern California 2017 was prepared for and originally printed in The Japan Times Newspaper.

PDF of the printed report

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