The workday at Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha (Nigeria) Ltd. (Mitsubishi Nigeria) begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. The unusual hours were set so that employees can get home safely in the evening, as some of them commute from up to two hours away. "Thanks to all these early mornings, I'm a lot healthier these days," chuckles Hirofumi Masunaga, who shows up well ahead of our 8 a.m. interview.
Masunaga turned 40 years old this past June. Up to now, he has spent his career at MC mostly in the aircraft business, and this is both his first assignment to a developing country and first promotion to president of an MC organization. His responsibility at Mitsubishi Nigeria is to identify new business opportunities. "Theres' a lot to do, but I'm actually enjoying the pressure," he says with a smile. "I'm not one to worry about things."
Nigeria boasts Africa's largest population and economy, and it is a young population, with more than 60% of its citizens under 25. Last fiscal year, the low oil price and other factors caused the government to devalue the Nigerian naira, which dipped the country's growth rate into negative territory; however, Nigeria has otherwise enjoyed growth of between five and six percent in recent years.
Nobody will deny this country's economic potential, but at the same time, it is not without its problems. The crime rate here is still relatively high, making it dangerous for employees to return home late at night, and the social infrastructure is in desperate need of upgrades. Furthermore, chronic power outages have delivered a severe blow to Nigeria's productivity.
Masunaga is aware of all these challenges.
"Local problems are future business opportunities," he tells us. "Optimizing our functions to find one solution at a time will lead to new businesses, and ultimately new growth for us." Since taking the helm at Mitsubishi Nigeria this past April, Masunaga has been swiftly gathering intelligence to determine what exactly the company can do to for Nigeria, keeping in mind things like power supply to local enterprises.
When Masunaga was working in the aircraft business, Japanese airlines were having difficulty disposing of scrapped components, so third parties stepped in to purchase the components and sell them to refineries that recover their precious metals. If costs to airlines go down, that will indirectly lower passenger fares, and more people may be able to afford to visit their friends, families, and so on. "It can be fun to dream like that," says Masunaga.
"There's so much potential for growth here. Providing we plant the right seeds in the right places, we can tap that growth, which stands to benefit not just us, but society as a whole. Building new mechanisms to enable that is the big challenge, and I for one am excited about taking it on."
The passion in Masunaga's words is palpable, and as if on cue, our gaze is drawn towards Nigeria's financial hub of Lagos, where the blazing sun has suddenly breached the horizon. Masunaga watches quietly as it starts to rise, knowing that once again, the heat is on.
This article appeared in Asahi Shimbun's "GLOBE" feature of July 2, 2017.