Hiroki Kanai works for Mitbana Pte Ltd. (MITB), a joint venture between Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) and a design-and-engineering firm based in Singapore. He is involved in MITB's real-estate and urban-development projects in Southeast Asia, through which he is endeavoring to create new value. What is the value he intends to create and what past experiences drove him to this challenge?
I am based in Singapore and work on urban developments in surrounding countries, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar. People in Southeast Asia rely heavily on cars, so many of the region's cities are struggling with traffic congestion and air pollution from vehicle emissions. It is my ambition to help address those challenges through our urban-development projects, and that ambition is what motivates me each and every day.
"We should never forget to respect the countries and regions we do business in, nor our appreciation to them for accepting our business."
Throughout my career, that message has been repeated to me many times by my senior colleagues, and I have always taken it to heart. I first experienced its significance during my very first overseas assignment, which was in Myanmar. I knew very little about Myanmar, so before I left Japan, I promised myself to show the utmost respect to the local people and learn as much as I could from them. Determined to familiarize myself with the country as quickly as possible, I wore a longyi* every day at the office, which drew attention and lots of positive comments from my co-workers. It helped to break the ice, and before long I was chatting with them regularly and learning a lot about their homeland. They told me that although Myanmar has enjoyed some benefits of its rapid economic development, such as an increase in highrises and modern shopping malls, its public transportation infrastructure has not been keeping up, which has caused a host of problems that have had a detrimental impact on living conditions, one being longer commuting hours due to traffic congestion. Experiencing their problems first hand was an eye-opener for me, and it got me thinking about how we should be applying our businesses to help address these social issues.
*A long sheet of cloth resembling a skirt that is traditionally worn by the people of Myanmar.
At present, I am involved in a large urban-development project on the outskirts of Jakarta that covers more than 100 hectares. This is the first urban development in Indonesia that focuses on public transportation, aiming to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution caused by vehicle emissions. There are also plans to launch a smart-city pilot project that will incorporate cutting-edge AI, IoT and mobility technologies. The development will soon be in full swing, but in the meantime, I had planned to meet with the local residents and listen to their honest feedback and ideas.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic has made that difficult, but instead, many of my collegues stationed in Indonesia have taken this role and provided me with new information that I would not have been able to access on my own, which is a large asset that MC has created through its long history.
I have really come to appreciate and feel rewarded that these urban development project can help countries grow and leave a tangible legacy for future generations to enjoy. If you were to ask me what motivates me to give my best every day, I would say it is imagining how the region will evolve in the next 10 to 20 years and bring a smile to the community.