Raw Japan

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Suzuki CEO: 80, going on 56

January 21, 2010


When Toyota and Honda replaced their retirement-age CEOs with executives in their 50s last year, they said the tough times called for young blood and a fresh start.

Not so at Suzuki Motor.

Nine days short of his 80th birthday and after 31 years heading the company that his wife’s grandfather founded, CEO Osamu Suzuki says his best days are ahead of him. If Suzuki is weary of the recurring question about succession plans — a question he’s probably fielded for the past two decades in his ripe age — he masks it well, coming up with a different analogy every so often. His latest favourite response? “100 is the new 70.”

“There’s an old saying in Japan that life maxes out at 70 years,” he told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan today. “But that was in the days when the average life span was 50. Now it’s 100. These days, centenarians are a dime a dozen.”

Applying that formula, the genial, bushy-browed Suzuki said he considered his effective age to be 56 — that is, 70 percent of 80.

“The work starts here!”

Suzuki, who joined Suzuki Motor when Eisenhower was in the White House in 1958, has certainly shown no sign of slowing down.

Last month, he became man of the hour by announcing, along with his counterpart at Volkswagen, a ground-breaking tie-up between the two successful carmakers that remapped the auto industry landscape. It was the second such alliance that he saw through for the survival of Suzuki Motors, in his own words. The previous one, formed ith General Motors in 1981, ended last year.


Suzuki is a rare breed, but he’s not alone. Last week, Japan Airlines got a 77-year-old boss, Kazuo Inamori, to lead the flagship carrier’s restructuring out of its historic bankruptcy.

But even the younger Inamori, the respected founder of electronics maker Kyocera, can’t hold a candle to Suzuki’s youthfulness. “I am old and a full-time job is hard for me, so I would like to work three or four days a week,” he told reporters last week.

As for Suzuki? Asked today what the secret behind his mental and physical fitness was, he replied: “Oh, that’s simple: work!”

Photo credits: Issei Kato/REUTERS; Yuriko Nakao/REUTERS


Well, if he only knew the ripping off policy that Suzuki has in Europe, I am sure he would be too happy!

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