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Sapporo Breweries President Wants His Employees to Speak Up and Step Up





Hideya Takashima, who has long worked to transform Sapporo Breweries Limited, was appointed president of the company in January this year. When the  2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck, he was among the first to make his way to the devastation in Miyazaki Prefecture and lead reconstruction efforts.


The leadership skills he demonstrated then will be tested in this latest promotion. Despite the shrinking beer market, Sapporo Breweries’ leading Draft Beer Black Label is doing well, with sales increasing for the past two years. Within the industry, however, Sapporo still hovers in 4th place. How will Takashima turn this around?



How did you come to work for Sapporo Breweries?


Working for a beer company seemed a “cool” thing to do. I came across a photo of then-president Koji Kawai in a career guidebook and thought at the time that he looked like a judo or rugby athlete. As a former rugby player myself this suggested an open corporate culture, which I found appealing. I remember thinking I might be able to forge a real career at this kind of company.


What was your first assignment?


For my first six years and six months, I was making beer at the Sendai brewery. My job was to oversee the processes of selecting and blending ingredients, deciding the brewing conditions, fermenting, storing, and filtering. It was a hard learning process and my supervisors made sure I mastered it all.



What were your major turning points in your career at Sapporo?


Well, one turning point was when I made a big mistake at the Osaka brewery. The market was diversifying at the time, but our production department wasn’t keeping up. Before I knew it five or six young workers had spontaneously formed a group to try to find and implement solutions on their own. Seeing this, the plant manager ordered me to increase the group size and get more employees involved. The trouble was we ended up with such a variety of ideas that we didn’t get anywhere. I learned then that when you are going to attempt new things, you need to allow free rein to the people who are really eager to do something on their own.


You said you thought of quitting Sapporo when you were at the Osaka brewery. Why was that?


I married at 29 and was just starting to see where I fit into the company. I was also getting the courage to argue with my superiors. It was around the time Sapporo was slipping from the second-place standing in the market that it had had when I first joined the company. Our beers were good and yet we were losing ground. There was a feeling at the breweries that this was the fault of the sales staff, not the production people. But I knew there were problems with production too and I was frustrated. I wanted to do something.




It’s a wonder you didn’t give up, and in fact have made your way to becoming president.


I’ve had the support of a lot of people along the way. I did have a passion to improve the company, and I did try many different things, but there were undoubtedly people around me who were willing to tolerate my actions.


What do you look for in your young workers?


I want them to speak up about any problems they see or anything they are unhappy about; I don’t want them to keep quiet. And if they have good suggestions and legitimate complaints, I want them to know I will act immediately to take up those suggestions and deal with those complaints. They need to step up and talk to me.



Sapporo ranks fourth in market share for beer and beer-like beverages right now. How do you plan to increase your share?


I don’t expect to get people motivated with only numerical targets like market share and profits. The first thing we need to do is think carefully on what we want to accomplish. And what I want to accomplish is to continue what Masaki Oga, president and representative director of Sapporo Holdings, Ltd., started by further strengthening our Black Label and Ebisu brands. Black Label sales have been increasing year-on-year for the past three years, and this is proving a big boost to employee morale.




Family: Takashima is married and has one daughter. His wife is from his hometown and they were in the same class at university, but, he says, “I was in the rugby club and was too shy to talk with any of my female classmates.” They didn’t get to know each other until a friend introduced them later. They married just six months after their first meeting.


Black Label: “When I was in charge of the Hokkaido facilities, I sometimes reported to work wearing a Black Label T-shirt. It was the best beer in the world and even the can design was classy. I wanted everyone to know about it. I’d like to wear that T-shirt at headquarters too, but have refrained. Don’t want people to think I’m trying too hard.”


Interests and hobbies: “I enjoy smoking meats. My latest is smoked pork shoulder, which my wife and I savor with a beer, of course.”


Favorite word: “The one Japanese character for tsukuru, meaning to make, build, or create. Creating something is complex and at the same time must be progressive. It is important not to become complacent in the process.”


Influential book:Roma-jin no monogatari (Stories of the Romans) by Nanami Shiono. The Romans had a certain magnanimity that contributed to their wealthy empire. They were open and liberal and could accept people as they were and had the courage to change themselves—traits that are important in business as well.”


Hideya Takashima: Born November 20, 1959. After graduating from Tohoku University, he joined Sapporo Breweries, Ltd. in 1982. He has served as the Sendai Brewery manager, director and operating officer for management strategies, Hokkaido executive operating officer, and Pokka Sapporo Food and Beverage Ltd. executive managing director. He became Sapporo Breweries Ltd. president and CEO in January 2017.



Gen Koganezaki is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun.



(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)


Gen Koganezaki is a staff writer for the Sankei Shimbun.

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