Mitsubishi Corporation

vol.10 Thomas Glover

Our Roots A history of rising to the challenge

vol.10 Thomas Glover

We focus on Thomas Glover, who served as an advisor for each of Mitsubishi's first three presidents.

Thomas Blake Glover was a Scotsman who worked for a Hong Kong- based British trading house called Jardine, Matheson & Co. In 1859, Glover became the trading house's commercial agent in Nagasaki, just one year after the city was opened to foreign trade. At the time, Glover was just 21 years old. Before long, he founded Glover Trading Co. Around that time, the authority of Japan's ruling Shogunate was being challenged by certain clans in western and southern Japan, and Glover Trading competed with other western merchants to sell ships and arms to these clans. By the mid 1860s, Glover was in charge of the largest foreign trading house in Nagasaki.

Yataro Iwasaki assumed his post at the Tosa Clan's Nagasaki trading office in 1867. Glover invited Shojiro Goto (a high-ranking Tosa official) and the newly-appointed Yataro to his residence to discuss business. Ryoma Sakamoto (a key figure in Japanese history) and his colleagues also occasionally visited Glover's residence. Besides trading, Glover also participated in some business ventures. When the Hizen Clan entrusted Glover with the management of the Takashima Coal Mine, he initiated full-scale mining operations after introducing modern machinery from England. Around this time, Glover also joined with the Satsuma Clan to build Japan's first western-style dry dock next to his residence in Nagasaki.

The Glover Residence

Built in 1863, the Glover Residence is the oldest, western-style wooden building in Japan today. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries purchased the residence from Glover's son in 1939 and then donated the estate to the City of Nagasaki in 1957 in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Nagasaki shipyard. Today, the residence continues to be one of Nagasaki's top tourist attractions.

With Japan on the verge of war, Glover began to acquire large stockpiles of arms and ships. However, the clans that Glover had been backing soon won a decisive victory, thereby averting a full-blown civil war. Glover Trading Co. was therefore unable to sell off its inventory and it also had difficultly collecting payments for goods it had sold on credit. Glover's cash-strapped company finally went bankrupt in 1870.

Despite the failure of his company, Glover remained in Japan until his death. He continued to work as a businessman while leveraging his experience in international trade and his extensive network of contacts. The Takashima Coal Mine changed hands several times, but Glover managed to retain his position there. Mitsubishi acquired the mine in 1881 and asked Glover to be in charge of the mine's coal exports, to which he confidently replied, "Please tell Mr. Iwasaki that I will surely produce satisfactory results." Indeed, Glover lived up to Yataro's expectations by skillfully handling the mine's trading operations. Glover later became an advisor to Mitsubishi on issues related to foreign affairs and he moved to Tokyo together with his wife, Tsuru.

Glover also served Yanosuke and Hisaya as an advisor, mainly regarding efforts to enhance Mitsubishi's level of international competitiveness, such as through the adoption of new technology. Glover also participated in the establishment of Japan Brewery Co., the predecessor to today's Kirin Brewery Co. In light of his contributions to the development of Japan, Glover was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, in 1908, which was a very rare honor for a foreigner. As a 19th-century international merchant, Glover lived a colorful life that was full of adventure.