Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Revamp: Creating Opportunities for People to Realize Their Potential

Takashi Sawada
(President and Chief Executive Officer, Revamp Corporation)

Follow your heart at university

Takashi Sawada President and Chief Executive Officer, Revamp Corporation

When I was at high school, I went to the US for a short one-month homestay. My host father worked at NASA, and he told me a lot of interesting stories. Because it was all in English, I couldn't follow everything he said, but I was still suitably impressed. It was partly because of that experience that I chose the Faculty of Science and Technology's Physics Department (now reconstituted into the Department of Engineering and Applied Sciences.).

To be honest, I can't say that I studied that hard at university, but I was certainly passionate about club activities. I was captain of the American Football Club, and the training was really tough. Usually with American football, you have an offensive team and a defensive team, and they take turns playing, but we had so few people back then that that was impossible. We just played game after game with no substitution. What I gained from that was the determination to never give up, and the fighting spirit and tenacity to carry through. That's why I called my first company "Kiacon", combining "kiai" (fighting spirit) with "konjo" (tenacity).

American football also pounded into me the importance of colleagues who share your goals. I made lots of great friends. It was actually club activities that got me successfully into the workforce. I wanted to do big business and fly around the world, so I applied haphazardly to various general trading companies, but I was a science grad and, on top of that, my grades weren't anything to boast about. The only reason I got into the popular Itochu Corporation was a recommendation from an American Football Club senior.

So I'm very grateful to Sophia University and very proud to be a Sophia graduate. However, at work, there's no time to worry about what university someone is from. Interestingly enough, if you don't manage to bring together all sorts of people and their particular knowledge and intelligence, completely regardless of their academic background, nationality, gender or age, you just won't achieve the kind of stellar performance that people recognize.

Finally reaching the start line 10 years on

Takashi Sawada President and Chief Executive Officer, Revamp Corporation

Revamp, the company I currently head, will soon be in its 10th year. Looking back on our succession of failures, I'm amazed that it's managed to survive.

One of the pillars of Revamp's business is consulting work. Slumping, plodding, trying to build from scratch? we get requests from companies with all sorts of problems, fix the problems, and get them back into shape.

Looking back, since I handled the acquisition and rebuilding of the bankrupt 7-Eleven America back in my Itochu days, I've ended up doing much the same thing throughout my career? at Uniqlo, where, as vice-president, I helped the company grow from 40 billion to 400 billion, at the investment fund Kiacon Corporation, and then at Revamp. It's huge fun jumping into a company with problems and working hard to rebuild it. And it's also helped me personally to grow.

That's why Revamp is different from ordinary consultants that just write out a prescription for business improvement. For us, the prescription is secondary. Our method is to send in a team to work with senior management and frontline staff. The team members roll up their sleeves and think together with management and staff about how to fix problems and whip the company into shape.

Over the years in this field, we've built up quite a range of knowledge and know-how on guiding business to success. A number of employees have also acquired solid management abilities on their way up through the ranks. Another Revamp pillar is using these intellectual and human resources to establish and develop new business.

We've already launched more than a dozen companies in Japan, including working with Lotte to set up the local Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Japan. Our goal is to establish 100 companies, each with sales of 10 billion yen, to achieve a total of one trillion yen. Where my old company Uniqlo is aiming for one trillion yen all by itself, my aim is achieve the same thing with 100 companies.

Saying that, I also feel that Revamp has only now finally sorted itself out and made it along to the start line. The next five to 10 years will be the real test.

Opportunity and responsibility create growth

Takashi Sawada President and Chief Executive Officer, Revamp Corporation

One woman in her 20s who was previously a cabin attendant for an international airline came to me and said that she wanted to set up a specialist breakfast cafe. To be honest, at the start I didn't get it at all. Breakfast to me is fast-food gy? don (rice topped with beef) or soba noodles. When I asked her how she could top that, she suggested that I really needed to change my thinking.

Having travelled around the world as a cabin attendant, she knew that Westerners regard their morning time and how they eat breakfast as very important in ensuring a productive day. That was the culture she wanted to introduce to Japan. Listening to her enthusiasm, I gradually started to get excited too, and I decided to invest in her business.

Since Eggcellent opened in autumn last year, its sales have shot up at an exceptional pace for Roppongi Hills, and inquiries have been coming in from all over. I'm pushing her to make Eggcellent Japan's top breakfast restaurant 10 years from now. In 10 years, she'll still be in her 30s.

Young people like her bring their dreams to me almost every day. Sometimes, of course, they're my own staff, and sometimes they're from outside. I learn a lot from listening to these youngsters; they inspire me, and my own daydreams too suddenly widen right out. In more than a few cases, we get straight down to details and a new business emerges before our eyes.

The important thing is to provide opportunities wherever possible, challenge people, and, in return, expect them to shoulder responsibility. Do that, and even without considering anything as presumptuous as human resource development, people just grow and grow.

That's why I don't nag my staff about every tiny detail, and just leave them to do as they like. But I do check the four following points rigorously.

First, will the business make customers happy? Second, will your colleagues and employees share your vision? Third, will the people who will support the business? your business partners and everyone else involved? be happy as well? And finally, because it's business, will the return match the investment?

What I want is for my staff, and indeed everyone involved, to become independent and realize their full potential. Revamp will continue to provide places and opportunities for that.

Takashi Sawada President and Chief Executive Officer, Revamp Corporation
Takashi Sawada
President and Chief Executive Officer, Revamp Corporation

Mr.Sawada graduated from Sophia University's Faculty of Science and Technology in 1981. He joined Itochu Corporation, where he was in charge of chemical product sales and distribution projects. He participated in the Ito-Yokado and 7-Eleven Japan project and was involved in the acquisition of 7-Eleven America. In 1997, Mr.Sawada joined Fast-Retailing Co. Ltd (Uniqlo). He served as managing director of products before being appointed Executive Vice President of the company in 1998, contributing to the rapid growth of Uniqlo as head of the sales division. In 2003, Mr.Sawada founded and became the president of Kiacon Corporation. In 2005, he launched Revamp Corporation, which specializes in corporate management support consulting, management team dispatches and other corporate support business.

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