- You have worked quite a long time at Sumitomo, haven't you?
- I was brought up in Tanzania. After completing high school, I went on to college in India. Upon graduation, I returned to Tanzania where I had been employed by a Japanese auto dealership until 1987 when I was recruited to join Sumitomo Corporation by an expatriate employee of the company who I had met through business.
I have been with Sumitomo for 26 years, and every day I communicate with a variety of people, consider new business opportunities, and engage in serious discussions; not a day goes by that I do not learn something new. I cannot tell you how happy I am to be paid to go to school. (Laughs)
Group photo (taken in Mar.2011) with staff members of Nairobi office, joined by General Manager for Johannesburg Mr. Onojima (left in the front low).
- Please tell us about east Africa, where your office is located.
- The Dar es Salaam Office serves as Sumitomo's base in east Africa, and we are presently engaged in business in countries with stable public security and political conditions that are expected to see economic growth. New business opportunities are anticipated not only in Tanzania but also in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, and South Sudan became independent in 2011. Development is expected to center on agricultural equipment, agrichemicals and other agriculture-related products, but will also include electric power plants and other infrastructure projects, transport equipment, and medical goods.
Photo with my family taken while participating Japanese society festival (Fureai Matsuri) held in Nairobi on Sept.2010.
- What do you find most satisfying about your work?
- Sub-Saharan Africa is very far from Tokyo, so the head office does not have a solid understanding of the region. There have been more than a few times that I have felt decisions were made based on mistaken knowledge or impressions. I think that biased media coverage is partly to blame, and my job is to correct this on a day-to-day basis so that the people at Sumitomo as well as at potential partner Japanese companies can more broadly understand this region's appeal. I feel that attitudes in Japan have certainly changed over time, albeit very slowly, and I would like to keep the ball rolling. The world is a village, and I believe that improving the communities and living environments of people in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere would be good for the entire planet.
- Has anything surprised you in working with Japanese people?
- I discovered something very funny when I was working at the Nairobi office.
I hesitate to say this, but there are some Japanese family names that have very funny meanings in Swahili, the Kenyan language. In fact, there is one name (apparently not a rare one in Japan) that means "I wet my pants"! When introducing people with such names to high-ranking government officials or executives from major corporations, I only referred to them by title but their business cards always elicit a laugh from the locals. Afterwards, I had a tough time trying to explain to these Japanese persons what was so funny.