Mitsubishi Corporation

vol.2 Mitsubishi's Foundations Underpinned by Strong Sense of Honor

Our Roots A history of rising to the challenge

vol.2 Mitsubishi's Foundations Underpinned by Strong Sense of Honor

Iwasaki Family Tree - Yaziro Iwasaki / Yataro(Founder of Mitsubishi) / Hisaya(Third President) / Yanosuke(Second President) / Koyata(Fourth President) Photos courtesy of the Mitsubishi Archive

A Vital Lesson, Handed Down Over the Generations: "Do Not Forget What It Was Like to Be Poor"

Please tell us about Mitsubishi's history after Yataro

Yataro's approach to business was all about pushing forward, but Yanosuke was different; if pushing didn't work, he might try pulling instead. Yanosuke established a far-reaching intelligence network and then considered wisdom received from various sources. He brought in outstanding personnel, including foreigners, to complement the diverse network that Yataro had cultivated. He promoted the diversification of Mitsubishi's business by expanding into fields such as mining and shipbuilding. Yanosuke also sent Hisaya to study in the U.S., just as he himself had done.
When Hisaya was in the U.S., the nation was brimming with idealism. Hisaya returned to Japan with an expanded outlook, including an appreciation of the social responsibility of the wealthy. When Hisaya took over as Mitsubishi's third president, he delegated authority to specialists in each area of business and promoted a modern style of management centered on operational divisions, similar to the ones we have today. Hisaya was very concerned about the role of business in society and about fair competition. After retiring, he enjoyed working on farm-related business while also seeking to make contributions to society.

At the age of 50, Hisaya yielded the presidency to his 36-year-old cousin, Koyata. With WWI helping to fuel a robust economy, Hisaya believed it was the ideal time to leave the company in the hands of his successor. Koyata had a very international outlook. He graduated from Cambridge University after his father, Yanosuke, recommended that he study in England. Koyata was an outspoken advocate of the spirit of internationalism, even as fascist elements began to emerge, and his stance didn't change after the outbreak of Pacific War. While Koyata told company executives that "Mitsubishi would do its best for the country", he also went on to say, "Mitsubishi owes its existence to its British and American colleagues. The time will come again when we can work together as friends towards world peace and the welfare of mankind."
I think one of the most remarkable things about Mitsubishi's history is that the respective qualities of the first four presidents made them remarkably well suited to meet the particular demands of the eras in which they served.

What did the four presidents have in common? What traits remained the same?

They all shared the samurai spirit of the Meiji era-or in a word "honor". This spirit was also reflected in a strong sense of duty, loyalty, and fairness. The number one priority in their business activities was making contributions to the nation and society; the second was ensuring the economic rationality required to do this. I think this mindset is highlighted by the phrase Shoki Hoko ("Corporate Responsibility to Society"; now one of MC's Three Corporate Principles).

Mitsubishi continued to be soundly managed even while being totally under the control of the Iwasaki Family. I think this is largely due to the fact that the heads of the Iwasaki Family (after Yataro) all studied in the West and learned the ways of the world. Beyond this, Mitsubishi also had a custom of actively cultivating the human resources needed for the company on its own. The company established a boarding school, which both Hisaya and Koyata entered when they were still young and impressionable. They lived under the same roof with other students who went on to become top managers. This vigorous and austere communal living experience had a large impact on them. Managers at Mitsubishi, who had shared this experience with Hisaya and Koyata, freely voiced their opinions to the president and engaged in discussion. This, in turn, led them to arrive at sound decisions. Going back even further, the family precepts left by Yataro's mother and the rule of "do not forget what it was like to be poor" also had a large impact. The lessons of "not forgetting their origins as a poor family on the brink of starvation and not becoming arrogant" were firmly passed on from generation to generation.

Mitsubishi History Analyst Seiichi Narita

Seiichi Narita previously worked at MC, engaging in power plant exports and corporate communications. He became an executive director at Mitsubishi Economic Research Institute (MERI) in 1999 and oversaw the Mitsubishi Archives. He assumed his current position in 2007. Narita has written various works related to the history of Mitsubishi and is an active lecturer. His book, "The Story of Yataro Iwasaki: The Group of Samurai Who Built Mitsubishi" (publisher: Mainichi Ones), came out February, 2010.