Published October 17, 2000
Volume 8, Number 10

Experience in Japan, Europe, and America Gives Masa Inoue a Unique Perspective on Business — and Humanity

By Jay Hipps
Network Editor 

There are not a lot of people who can say that they've had top level positions on three continents, but Masa Inoue -- the new president and CEO of Shaklee Corporation-- is one of them. 

"Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co. (Shaklee's parent company and one of the three largest pharmaceutical companies in Japan) employs 4,000 people in Japan but I think only I have experience working in Japan, Europe, and the States," he says. 

It's a unique position that's given him a unique understanding.

Msdsksydu Inoue"I feel I know so many of the differences in ways of thinking and culture between the three places," he explains. "Now, I am a very neutral man: not Japanese, not American, not European. So I can understand why my colleagues in Tokyo think in such a way and also why my colleagues at Shaklee take a certain approach." 

Inoue, 58, was raised in Shizuoka, Japan, a coastal prefecture not far from Tokyo, and attended Rikkio University, where he majored in economics. 

"Actually, I studied Marx," he says with a grin, "but I think my work is more Keynes, not Marx." 

He says that his studies of Marx's economic system taught him a great deal about economic theory -- which he ironically put to use as a capitalist.

"The construction of strategy-- that, I think, is very helpful to me." 

He graduated in March of 1964 and joined Yamanouchi a month later, working in the Sales Planning Department. He rose through the management ranks, becoming general manager of the Okinawa office in 1967, then area manager for Southeast Asia in 1972, and finally area manager for Europe in 1975. 

"I worked the export business and it was very exciting to work outside Japan," he notes. 

His enthusiasm for different cultures paid off in 1980 when he was requested to establish an office for Yamanouchi in London. 

It marked a change in strategy for the company, which now had a local office to support the companies which licensed Yamanouchi drugs such as Josamycin and Nicardipin. 

"I introduced Josamycin, an antibiotic, to our European partners. They sold our products under their trade name, manufactured it there, and paid royalties to Yamanouchi." 

The licensing strategy was a good introduction to the European market, but Inoue soon saw other opportunities. He helped establish Yamanouchi Ireland in 1986 and recommended setting up a manufacturing plant in Dublin, Ireland, which was completed in 1988. It was the first facility of its kind that Yamanouchi had constructed overseas.

Inoue's next step was both ambitious and carefully planned. With a European manufacturing plant on line and over a decade's experience in helping licensees sell to European customers, "I proposed to Yamanouchi in Tokyo that we could sell our products by ourselves." 

The company accepted his proposal and acquired a Dutch firm, Brocades Pharma B.V., in 1991, where Inoue served as a senior vice president for nearly three years. While in Europe, he also helped establish a research center in Oxford, England. 

"We established everything from research to marketing because to sell our product locally, we needed research and development and the capability of conducting clinical research and studies," he explains. 

He was asked to return to Japan in January of 1994 where he oversaw the company's pharmaceutical business in Europe and the U.S. After less than two years in that position, however, he became the director of the Shaklee division. He moved to San Francisco in 1996, happy to be in a position where he could take a more proactive approach. 

"I worked in Tokyo as a catcher, not a pitcher," he explains. "Now, I am a pitcher, not a catcher -- I throw the ball from San Francisco."

He was also named to Yamanouchi's Board of Directors at that time.

Inoue spent four years as an executive vice president with Shaklee, serving as an intermediary between Shaklee and its corporate parent. He became president and CEO on October 1, as his predecessor Charlie Orr retired from the company.

Inoue describes his new job as very difficult. 

"The CEO has to take care of everything: the responsibilities, the risks," he says. In addition to Shaklee's health products such as vitamins and other nutritional supplements, he oversees the activities of Shaklee subsidiaries such as Jackson & Perkins, the world's largest hybridizer of roses, and the Bear Creek Companies, which operates the Harry and David stores and catalog.

Now working on his third continent, Inoue feels privileged to have had such an international experience. 

"I only knew the way of thinking in Japan, the Japanese perspective, and what a difference I discovered when I moved to Europe," he says. 

Much of what he has observed has been reported elsewhere. He notes that Europeans and Americans are generally more independent than the Japanese, who prefer to take a group approach. 

He also believes that each culture places a different value on money. It is of lesser significance in Japan, more important in Europe, but more important still to Americans. 

He says that most cultural differences must be experienced to really be known, however. Even an intellectual understanding of a thought like, "Americans are more aggressive in a business setting" is difficult to comprehend when one has no experience of American culture.

He reports, however, that cultural differences can be overcome by clear communication. People everywhere, it seems, share certain values.

"At the base is humanity," he says. "Honesty is important, sincerity is important; such things are the same in every country. If we discuss from the basis of sincerity or honesty, then finally people can understand each other."

So, while he may not consider himself to be Japanese, European, or American, he may have discovered something bigger about himself: a greater sense of his own humanity. 

For a company like Shaklee, whose philosophy is "living in harmony with Nature," that's an important thing for a leader to know. 


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