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May 25, 2010

Leadership Changes At Shin-Etsu

Japanese Industry: Celebrated manager moves on after 20-year run

Jean-François Tremblay

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Satoru Shirai

Shin-Etsu Chemical, Japan's most profitable chemical company, will get a new president after Chihiro Kanagawa, the company's leader for the past two decades, moves on to become chairman, a position that has been vacant for at least 15 years.

Kanagawa will be succeeded by Shunzo Mori, a senior manager of the company who at present is an executive vice-president with responsibility for human resources and general administration.

Now 84 years old, Kanagawa is yielding the top post to another Shin-Etsu veteran. Mori, 72, joined Shin-Etsu in 1963, one year after Kanagawa. Trained as a mechanical engineer, Mori managed a Japanese rare-earth compounds and silicones plant in the early 1990s. After that, he headed the company's electronic materials business for several years.

Shin-Etsu did not provide a reason for the management change, although it emphasized that it plans no major rethink of how the company is run. The firm is the world's largest producer of both polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resins and silicon wafers, two businesses where it intends to maintain its global dominance.

With net earnings of nearly $900 million in its latest fiscal year, Shin-Etsu is by far Japan's most profitable chemical company. Asahi Kasei, the country's second most profitable chemical maker, managed less than a third of Shin-Etsu's profit last year despite sales that were 50% higher.

Under Kanagawa, Shin-Etsu made some bold but highly rewarding moves. As its competitors hesitated in the late 1990s, the firm invested heavily into facilities for 12-inch silicon wafers. It reaped the rewards when semiconductor fabricators upgraded their production facilities to process the larger disks. Shin-Etsu has steadily boosted its output of PVC over the years even at times of global oversupply. Yet for the 14 years leading up to the global recession that began in 2008, the company managed to post record earnings every year.

It's not clear how much influence over the company Kanagawa will have as chairman. But he once told a reporter that he planned to lead the firm until he is 100 (C&EN, Oct. 7 2002, page 18).

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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