Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) has unofficially named Hitachi Ltd. Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi, 71, as its next chairman. This leading business executive, who is renowned for his management ability and extensive international experience, has been viewed as the top candidate for the position. He will now take center stage as Keidanren chairman, who is said to be the “economic prime minister” of Japan. While Keidanren will continue to build its relationship of trust with the Abe administration, there are also concerns about its being too close to the administration. Nakanishi’s skills will be put to the test right away on how well he can unite Japan Inc., which plays the key role in accelerating Japan’s economic growth.
In a news conference on Jan. 9, incumbent Keidanren Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara, 74, stated: “(Mr. Nakanishi) is a leading business executive of Japan. He is a person of great integrity, wisdom, outstanding management skills, and extensive overseas experience. He is the most suitable person to become the next chairman.”
Sakakibara has long had Nakanishi in mind as his successor. Nakanishi became Hitachi’s president after the company booked an enormous deficit of 787.3 billion yen in the third quarter of 2009. He received high praise for his efforts to rebuild the company, including the decision to end Hitachi’s in-house production of TV sets.
As a member of the business community, he promoted the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), advocated the need for a growth strategy through infrastructure exports, and championed other issues. He has played a leading role in Keidanren in the past few years.
In addition to his skills and leadership, Sakakibara also attached great importance to Nakanishi’s relations with the Abe administration.
Relations with the Abe administration deteriorated under Sakakibara’s predecessor Hiromasa Yonekura, resulting in the business community’s failure to achieve the policies it championed. After Sakakibara took over, he promoted the strengthening of relations in his belief that politics and economics are inseparable.
In this regard, Nakanishi is a member of a group of business leaders supporting Abe and is close to the Prime Minister. He is expected to carry on Sakakibara’s policy line.
However, there is also discontent with Keidanren’s honeymoon with the administration.
For example, in the government-led spring labor offensives, in which the government has taken the lead in demanding wage increases, the business sector has agreed to increase wages by at least 2% for four consecutive years since 2014. Abe reiterated his demand to the business sector for a 3% wage increase on Jan. 5, and Keidanren plans to respond by taking the unusual step of asking its member companies to raise wages, citing the 3% figure.
Many are concerned about political interference in determining wage levels, which ought to be decided through labor-management negotiations.
Keidanren also decided last November to accept Abe’s call for the business sector to shoulder the 300 billion yen cost of improving childcare support. There was criticism in Keidanren that this was “moving too close to the administration.”
Nakanishi told reporters on Jan. 9 that he intends to enhance dialogue (with the administration). However, he also said that “Keidanren should voice its opinion more actively” on energy policy and other issues.
Can Keidanren become an organization that is capable of cooperating with the administration when warranted and speaking up when necessary? Under Nakanishi, Keidanren will bear a heavy responsibility.