Japanese billionaire Masatoshi Ito, the man behind the global expansion of 7-Eleven convenience stores, passed away at the age of 98 on March 11, 2023. His death denotes the end of an era for the company that he helped build into a global business empire, with over 83,000 stores across the world.
Ito’s legacy is impressive, having taken over a small apparel store business in Tokyo that had been managed by his uncle and half-brother in 1956. Later, he renamed it Ito-Yokado and carried the business into a chain of one-stop stores that sold almost anything from groceries to clothes, going public in 1972.
In the early 1970s, Ito-Yokado’s executive, Toshifumi Suzuki, saw a 7-Eleven store during a visit to the United States. The two companies later forged a deal, and in 1974, Japan’s first 7-Eleven store opened. Ito-Yokado went on to acquire a controlling stake in the US-based Southland Corporation, which owned the 7-Eleven brand, in March 1990.
Ito’s success story is a testament to his hard work and foresight. He recognized the potential of the one-stop-shop concept and the growth of the consumer society in Japan.
In a 2003 interview, he reflected on his success, saying, “I am frequently asked if I succeeded because of hard work or because I was just lucky. Actually, the answer is some of both. I was fortunate to have started out in business right after the war – the same time that a broad-based consumer society was beginning to develop in Japan.”
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Today, 7-Eleven stores are a common sight in many countries worldwide, and Ito’s vision has contributed to making them a household name. The stores provide quick access to a range of products, from food to household essentials, and have become an important part of daily life for many.
Ito’s passing is a loss not only for his family and loved ones but also for the business world. His contributions have left an indelible mark, and his legacy will continue to inspire many generations to come. As Seven & i Holdings expressed in a statement, “We would like to express our sincere gratitude to him for his kindness during his lifetime.”
In 1992, he resigned from his position as chairman of Ito-Yokado, the predecessor to Seven & i Holdings, over allegations of illegal payments made by three executives to yakuza gangsters to maintain order at a shareholders’ meeting.
The scandal rocked the Japanese business world, tarnishing Ito’s reputation and leading to a shakeup at the company. Despite the setback, Ito remained a prominent figure in the business community and continued to make significant contributions to the industry.
In 2005, Ito-Yokado was renamed Seven & i Holdings, with the “i” in its name as an honor to Ito-Yokado and Mr Ito, who was the honorary chairman of the company. Ito’s legacy lived on, with Seven & i Holdings becoming one of Japan’s largest retailers and a major player in the global convenience store market.
Ito’s success was not only due to his business acumen but also his relationships with influential figures, such as his friendship with Austrian-American management guru Peter Drucker.
The two would discuss the world economy, the Japanese economy, and the direction of Ito’s plans, according to the Drucker School of Management, which counts Ito as a major donor. Drucker himself called Ito “one of the world’s outstanding entrepreneurs and business builders.”
Despite the controversy surrounding his resignation, Ito’s impact on the business world cannot be overstated. He was a visionary who recognized the potential of the one-stop-shop concept and helped build 7-Eleven into a global powerhouse. His contributions to the industry and the global economy will still be felt for years to come.
7-Eleven is a convenience store chain that has become a ubiquitous part of life, with over 71,000 stores located in 17 countries worldwide.
The company was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1927 by Joe C. Thompson Jr. and was initially called Southland Ice Company. In 1946, the company changed its name to 7-Eleven to reflect its extended hours of operation, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The brand’s signature logo, with the red, green, and orange letters and the green and orange stripes, has become instantly recognizable around the world.
The chain is known for its wide selection of products, from snacks and beverages to household items and personal care products. 7-Eleven has also become known for its Slurpee frozen drink, which has become a cultural icon in its own right.
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In Japan, 7-Eleven has become so ubiquitous that the phrase “conbini,” short for “convenience store,” has become synonymous with the chain. In fact, Japan has the largest number of 7-Eleven stores in the world, with over 21,000 locations. The stores in Japan offer a wide range of products, including freshly made meals, toiletries, and household items.
7-Eleven has also been at the forefront of the convenience store industry’s move towards digitalization. The company was one of the first to introduce mobile payments and self-checkout kiosks in its stores, allowing customers to make purchases quickly and easily.
The convenience store chain has also been making efforts to become more environmentally friendly. In 2018, 7-Eleven announced plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. The company has been introducing more eco-friendly products, such as biodegradable straws and recycled packaging, and has been increasing its use of renewable energy sources.
Despite its global reach and success, 7-Eleven has faced criticism over the years for its labor practices, particularly in its franchising system. In some cases, franchise owners have been accused of exploiting their workers and violating labor laws. However, the company has taken steps to address these issues, including implementing new training programs for franchise owners and increasing transparency in its business practices.