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CEO interview

Suntory’s growth from Beam integration offers lessons in collaboration and adherence to core values

25 January 2022 in Videos

A decade ago, spirits maker Suntory was primarily a Japanese business. Now, it’s well on the way to being a global one, Takeshi Niinami, the first outsider to lead the family-run business...

Takeshi Niinami became President and CEO of Suntory Holdings just over seven years ago, in October 2014. His task: to help the company manage the biggest event of its 120-year history – its purchase of the US’s Beam Inc, maker of Jim Beam and a host of other spirits, for US$16 billion. 

It was an audacious deal. Beam’s revenues were more than twice those of Suntory’s own spirits division, while the sum paid made it the fourth biggest overseas acquisition by a Japanese company.  

To help the company negotiate the new challenges it faced, Suntory hired Niinami, its first non-family-member leader. 

He arrived with plenty of experience. For just over 10 years he had been president and CEO of Lawson, Japan’s second-largest convenience store chain, and before that he had headed up a hospital food joint venture between Mitsubishi and France’s Sodexo.  

But rather than deciding to bring in new ways to help him through his initiation into the company, he turned to what he calls Suntory’s “founding spirits”. From the start, he says, “I asked myself: What are the core values that carried the company along over 120 years?”  

Various traits stood out: an obsession with quality, a focus on doing new things and taking risks, and of course Suntory’s strong relationship with its workers. 

Most important, he says, is Suntory’s relationship with the society that surrounds it. “From the beginning, Suntory always took care of the community,” he says.  

“It’s the community that has always given us our business opportunities, so first and foremost we have to give back to society. We’ve survived through difficult times because of the huge support of the community.”  

“Always, our thinking starts from giving back to society. Are we doing anything wrong? We have to be transparent, and we have to communicate frankly with society, get feedback and then take action,” he explains. 

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