“The job is more suitable for a woman,” Yanai, the chief executive officer behind clothing giant Uniqlo, said in an interview. “They are persevering, detailed oriented and have an aesthetic sense.”
As Yanai gets older, he’s been asked more frequently about succession at the company, which he built from his father’s tailor shop into a global brand. A possible candidate could be Maki Akaida, who was appointed this year to run Uniqlo’s Japan operations — the company’s most profitable unit. Yanai said he wants to increase the ratio of female senior executives to more than half the total. Fast Retailing currently has six women in such roles, after hitting its goal last year of having more than 30 percent of women in management positions.
Japan has faced scrutiny over its lack of gender diversity in top management roles; only 4.1 percent of women in the country hold executive titles at publicly traded firms. That pales in comparison with places such as the US, where women make up about a quarter of executive ranks, according to multiple studies.
“It’s a possibility,” Yanai said when asked whether Akaida would be a potential successor.
Any successor to Yanai would inherit one of Japan’s more recognisable global brands, after Fast Retailing fought off domestic doldrums by expanding Uniqlo overseas. Revenue has grown consistently, surpassing 2 trillion yen ($18.9 billion) in 2018, mainly through new stores in foreign markets from China to the US.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to promote women in the workforce amid a labour shortage triggered by Japan’s ageing and shrinking population. With a declining birthrate, the number of people will slump by almost a third by 2060, by which time about 40 percent will be 65 or over, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
“We’re in the business of selling clothes — it’s not so good that we’re old,” Yanai said.
The Southeast Asian region will become an increasingly important part of Fast Retailing’s business, Yanai added. The company said it would invest $1.8 million in a partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), an arm of the United Nations, to help support factory workers in Indonesia. The ILO will also conduct a study in other countries where Fast Retailing has contract factories to explore ways to improve social protections for workers in the future.
Yanai said such investments are a way to both help pursue business goals and contribute to the world, as upward mobility in developing countries would likely eventually boost Fast Retailing’s top line.
“If we expand in a place where incomes are not growing, we cannot sell clothes,” the CEO said.
By Lisa Du, Grace Huang; Editors: Rachel Chang, Kana Nishizawa, Reed Stevenson