Mr. Tadashi Yanai is the founder and president of Fast Retailing, who is better known as the founder of the global superpower apparel brand Uniqlo. Born in Ube, Yamaguchi Mr. Yanai attended the Ube High School and later into Waseda University graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science. After graduating from Waseda, he started a small business selling men’s clothing and kitchenware at Jusco supermarket. After a year, he left Jusco and joined his father’s tailoring business and rebranded it as Ogori Shoji.
Being an individual driven by passion and the determination to succeed, Tadashi had set out to establish Uniqlo as the biggest apparel retailer in Japan. In 1984, the first Uniqlo outlet was established in Hiroshima and in 1991 Ogori Shoji was renamed as Fast Retailing. Co by 1994 Uniqlo achieved its first milestone and housed over 100 stores in Japan.
His open mindedness and foresight enabled Uniqlo to expand fast and beyond its national borders to become Japan’s largest fashion retailer. Today Uniqlo has established itself in over 15 countries with more than 2000 outlets spanning across Asia, London, US, Europe and many other regions across the globe. Apart from being the largest fashion retailer in Japan, Uniqlo is ranked 3rd in the world for its industry of being a major global apparel manufacturer and retailer falling just behind H&M & INDITEX’s (ZARA), additionally it is also ranked 6th in the world as a leading apparel brand.
As a brand that is known for its modern style and high-quality collections, Uniqlo has attained tremendous success across the globe through its differentiation strategy which extends beyond its products, into services such as the store experience, staff training and free alteration and customization of its products. The ability to allow customers to customize their own apparels have played a big part in Uniqlo’s growth as it appealed to the locals in Japan and in countries such as Korea and Thailand.
With a global base of over 30,000 employees complementing its rapid expansion plans across foreign markets, Uniqlo aims to be the world’s top fashion retailer. With an ambitious goal to reach 5 trillion yen in sales by 2020, Uniqlo is easily a strong contender in the fashion industry for the 21st century. To keep its prices affordable, Uniqlo designs its own products while scrutinizing the manufacturing process. Much of its popularity can be seen through its presence in fashion periodicals, awards attained and its highly-acclaimed UNIQLOCK advertising campaign.
Attributes that make a successful entrepreneur
Throughout Mr. Yanai’s amazing entrepreneurial career, he has displayed a multitude of key values and attributes that has enabled him to become one of the world’s most successful entrepreneur. However, his success was not by chance, it took him a herculean effort to establish Fast Retailing and Uniqlo to be where they are today on the global stage. Based on his quote “There is nothing to gain from pessimism, if you are waiting around for fortune or luck, they will not come. As no one can predict the future, being passive is not the right choice, so why not venture out on your own and create one? Those who create the future will be blessed with luck.” When he decided to take over his father’s business six out of seven executives left as they knew that they were no longer in contention for the position of CEO within the company. This meant that Tadashi had to undertake the arduous task of managing a business that was severely short-staffed. By his own words Mr. Yanai stated that “I needed to clean the store, brush the jackets, sourcing, I literally had to do everything myself because there was nobody else. It was a huge learning opportunity.”
Another quote by Mr Tadashi “If you keep climbing up, you will see another, higher mountain. Climbing up to the peak you see yet another, eventually I will pass away because that is life, but I am climbing mountains because I enjoy the process of reaching greater heights.” Based on the short abstracts from above it is evident that Mr. Yanai’s success has stemmed from his immense tenacity to persevere even when the going gets tough he never gave up. He faces the challenges head strong with the determination and drive to overcome the obstacles in his way. By staying optimistic he looked ahead and considered the proper steps required to build a greater business, thereby establishing a greater foundation for his legacy.
Based on the quotes and experiences shared by Mr. Yanai, I have learnt and understood many key attributes to become a successful entrepreneur. The research materials online were very helpful and insightful as they broadened my understanding on the concept of the key characteristics needed to be a successful entrepreneur. 1. Change does not come by chance, it requires effort and a strong determination to succeed, 2. It is important to be tenacious, optimistic and be ready to fill in the gaps within the organization when needed, 3. It is important to strive to be the best individuals we can, and to surpass that and go beyond our limitations in a sense to become an over-achiever.
The keys to Entrepreneurial Success
Throughout his entire entrepreneurial career, Tadashi has established multiple themes and keys that he believes to be crucial in gaining entrepreneurial success. One such rule would be to always Put the Customers First, by his words ‘Respond to the customers needs and create new customers, as the business is run by them. They should always be at the center of consideration within the business.’ Tadashi also admired Steve Jobs often referring to him as the definitive figure of customer centricity and user friendliness. Tadashi also believed that ‘Unless you deliver beyond their expectations, customers will never be satisfied.’
The next would be towards Contributing to Society, as Tadashi believes that a company’s value is essentially linked to the value it brings to society in general. He believes that successful companies must serve society and work in unison with it as a fundamental rule towards its survival. He believed that, to be accepted by employees, suppliers and consumers a company must gain the recognition from society as he felt that the notion of ‘doing good’ was essential a key motivator for his employees as well creative a positive impact in the environment. Quoting Mr. Yanai “Only after making a positive difference in society, are you able to run a healthy business.” To show his dedication towards creating a better environment around the world. Tadashi has engaged himself in many charitable activities such as donating 1.4 billion Yen to aid the disaster relief effort in Japan when they were struck by Earthquakes and Tsunamis. And engaging Uniqlo in various Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts to provide for the needy around the world through the recycling of unused apparels. He has also donated USD $1 Million to the UNHCR to provide life saving assistance to the refugees in Bangladesh. From his actions Mr. Yanai possesses the passion and determination to create a better world for all its inhabitants. Although it is his attempt at sustaining his own business, it is undeniable that he is creating a positive impact around the environments he has ventured into.
Mr. Yanai also stated that it is crucial to “Know your Enemy.” Throughout the expansion of Uniqlo, Tadashi has spared no effort in studying his competition, starting from Giordano, GAP, Marks & Spencer to H&M and ZARA he has always sought to understand what they have done right and wrong so that he can learn from their success. It is his belief that “one should not limit themselves when studying the competitors outside their industry, by studying examples outside your comfort zone will you be able to gain a better understanding of other markets that could come up against you in the future.” Tadashi has done so by analyzing retailers such as Nike and Adidas in a bid to understand the different customer segments beyond that of Uniqlo’s.
Lastly “Being your Own Critic”, under Tadashi’s key principle of “Review and rethink your actions and approach to improve and renew yourself” he does so by placing himself into the perspective of a highly-critical customer. He noted “the most demanding critic can be the customer of your business; therefore, you need to place yourself in their shoes and look at the exterior of the store and evaluate if it looks attractive. Then you can think about the presentation of the merchandise and whether the sales floor associates are good enough.” This highlights Tadashi’s strong belief that anyone can be a potential customer, it is just a matter of tackling them at the right angle.
From the study above, I have gathered many keys concepts towards entrepreneurial success as displayed by Mr. Tadashi Yanai. I learnt that it is not enough to possess a good business idea, but it is the ongoing improvements within the business. Hence the importance of conducting a strong competitor analysis, so that we can learn from them be it through their successes or failures. The study above also suggests the strong impact good publicity and corporate social responsibility can bring towards helping a company to thrive in the business environment. Whilst also incorporating a high-tier customer profiling/segmenting that encompasses the public into its scope of business.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
When young entrepreneurs sought out Tadashi Yanai for advice during a talk at Waseda University. He shared many interesting tips and insights but the main issues that hit home were ‘To be persistent and set high goals” To him, it is important to be persistent in striving to meet the high standards one places upon himself. Among others, he also stated that “to be a capable manager in any form of business one must first dedicate himself a minimum of 10 years before reaching there. And the best way to learn how to run a business is by starting one up yourself.” The second advice, given was not to take failure too seriously but to accept it positively and believe that success will come in time. Being an entrepreneur that has seen many failures in his career, namely his initial expansion into the western markets. Mr. Yanai is an individual who is all too familiar with the concept of failing and picking himself back up. To turn something negative into a positive effect requires a lot of willpower and drive to succeed. To him, if individuals can accept their failure and learn from it then it was a lesson well learnt and one that was worth learning.
Lastly, Tadashi also stated “I believe that whoever manages to adapt to Globalization and Digitization will become the winners, as this is the biggest challenge.” On the surface that statement seems linear, but through delving deeper I understood that it was important to manage relations between countries, it is also important to focus on countries with the greatest potential. Quoting Tadashi “Uniqlo relies too heavily on China” as a potential market as well as an ideal location to host its manufacturing processes. From this I understood that it was important to diversify and to balance a business in terms of its international ventures and domestic growth.
For aspiring Entrepreneurs, it is important for them to have measures in place to tackle the problem of globalization and digitization, as we progress into a more technologically advanced society it is crucial for us and our businesses to be able to adapt in the ever-changing environments. The concepts taught and shared with the entrepreneurs included how Tadashi connected Uniqlo to the World, being a highly-adaptive organization to tweak its strategies to suit the various environments as well as being an industry disruptor. As Tadashi often repeats “Uniqlo is not a fashion company, it is a technology company.” This has enabled Uniqlo differentiate itself from its competitors and to derive a stronger standing in the industry.
The advice given to aspiring entrepreneurs, enabled me to obtain a better understanding of a country’s External Environment Scanning, Importance of selecting the correct business strategy as well as to manage one’s own manufacturing processes and distribution chains.
Tadashi Yanai’s View on (Leadership, Decision Making, Opportunity, Judgement Skills)
Leadership – To Tadashi, Leaders must never delegate, they must be responsible for the actions of their employees and be able to push them to be at their best. It is his philosophy that “If people do not have much demanded of them, they cannot achieve greatness.” It is not enough to just lead with words but to lead by example and through actions.
Benefits of good decision making and being decisive – When Uniqlo was established, Tadashi Yanai had his eyes set on transforming Uniqlo into a global superpower. To Tadashi, it is important to be decisive and to stand by your decisions. With a goal to hit 5 Trillion Yen in sales, Tadashi spared no efforts to plan the direction for Uniqlo carefully whilst being decisive to secure an opportunity wherever possible. A quote by Tadashi “I want to make truly authentic good clothes that have never existed before, I am doing my best to achieve that. And I hope that everyone thinks of Uniqlo when they think about clothing.”
The Importance of Opportunity Recognition – Tadashi Yanai does not believe in luck, instead he believes that effort will always bear results. When building his empire, he focused on providing user needs rather than their wants. Hence, Uniqlo’s apparels were always focused on its functionality. In Tadashi’s perspective, opportunities are always around it is a matter of seizing them. Having differentiated himself from his competitors by being a “technology company” Uniqlo has thrived based on its innovations. Having quoted “Oxford street to be the center of the center, it is a location that attracts many tourists. Hence it was important for Uniqlo to establish the best store there to establish Uniqlo’s brand to the world.”
Possessing good judgement skills – To Tadashi, it is important to know when to pull out should the business take a turn for the worse. Uniqlo suffered heavy losses in its first expansion into the Western Markets as he did not consider their focus on ‘trends’. However, upon reconsidering his options he realized that he had to tweak and adapt his strategy differently beyond the borders of Japan. Since making the choice to pull out from the United Kingdom, Uniqlo has established itself stronger than ever back in London, alongside other flagships outlets in New York City US.
From Tadashi’s point of view in the 4 relative fields, I have gained a better clarity towards the Key Entrepreneurial Skills such as the importance of leadership, Human Resource Policies, and Ongoing Trainings to ensure standards. Despite failing in its initial expansion into the Western Markets, Uniqlo was able to pick itself up through the efforts and determination by Tadashi, as he was ready to start over from scratch and to go slower to reach his international ambitions.
Having conducted a detailed research on Mr. Tadashi Yanai I have been inspired by his drive and tenacity to succeed as an entrepreneur. His willingness to accept failure as a learning process has been truly inspirational. Alongside his positive outlook on society to give more than to receive has been truly heart-warming as he believes that for a business to succeed it must contribute towards the betterment for the lives of others. By understanding Tadashi’s Key themes and values for success I have gained a better understanding on the concepts of entrepreneurship. Mr. Yanai’s determination has sparked my desire to make a change in my surroundings and to strive to be the best person I can to the best of my ability. Through studying his endeavors, I have gained clarity over the key concepts within my study of the Principles of Entrepreneurship. All in all, Mr. Tadashi Yanai is a highly respectable individual whom I aspire to be when I decide to start my own business.