Currently I’m seconded to United Grain Corporation on the US West Coast. United Grain is a 100% subsidiary of Mitsui. It purchases wheat, soybeans and corn for export to Asia. Japan is our biggest market, followed by China, the Philippines, Korea and Thailand. United Grain is actually one of the biggest exporters in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve only been here for six months, but every day comes with a new challenge. There’ve been Mitsui people here before at the executive level, but I’m the first Japanese to be part of a regular 12-person merchandising team, working shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else. The structure here is very flat. I can easily discuss things with my colleagues or just knock on the boss’s door if I want to talk to him. Things are informal and quick-moving. You can go from discussion to action without lots of meetings and a drawn-out approval process.
The reason I’m at United Grain is to help broaden the company’s functions. Until now, United Grain has primarily been a logistics company. It bought grain from farmers inland, transported it by train to the coast and loaded it onto ships. Mitsui took care of everything after that-chartering the ships, selling the grain. The dividing lines were clear.
Recently though, Mitsui’s food business is evolving. We’re building a presence at every stage-upstream, midstream and downstream. As part of that, United Grain intends to expand its scope and take over some of the functions that Mitsui currently handles on its behalf. In future, United Grain will deal directly with customers, getting closer to the consumer end of things. The company should be able to provide products and services that more precisely reflect customer needs as a result.
We’re already making progress. For example, my team recently concluded the company’s first-ever direct deal with a Chinese customer. I flew to China together with some of my American colleagues. We met the potential customer, negotiated the contract, chartered the vessel and arranged for the unloading of the cargo. United Grain had never managed the end-to-end process before in its almost 50-year history. In the long term, my job is to build a team that can perform all these functions as a matter of routine.