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Masatoshi Ito passed away at 98, Seven & I Holdings confirmed

Masatoshi ItoJapanese billionaire Masatoshi Ito died last week at the age of 98.

Ito was a driving force behind the internationalization of 7-Eleven convenience stores.

His death puts the saga of one of Asia’s most successful retail entrepreneurs to a close.

The news

Seven & I Holdings (SVNDF), which owns 7-Eleven, revealed Matasoshi Ito’s death in a statement made on Monday.

They announced that Ito died of old age on March 10.

“We would like to express our deepest gratitude for your kindness and friendship during his life and respectfully inform you of his passing,” the statement reads.

The business

Masatoshi Ito was the entrepreneur who revolutionized Japanese retail and turned a US-based firm into a global brand.

With his involvement with the corporation, 7-Eleven stores have become a norm throughout Asia, with a store within a few minutes’ walk in many cities.

Seven & I Holdings today has over 83,000 locations worldwide.

Their influence extends to 7-Eleven outlets in 19 different states and countries.

The company also controls the Speedway convenience store network in the United States.

Japanese-owned convenience store chains Lawson and FamilyMart are among Seven & I Holdings’ key rivals.

Yet, they have not acquired the same degree, scale, or global reach as the 7-Eleven empire.

Ito’s influence

Masatoshi Ito’s business potential would not have been appreciated if he had not known the late management consultant Peter Drucker.

Drucker described Ito as one of the world’s top entrepreneurs and business founders.

Masatoshi Ito revealed in an interview with The Journal of Japanese Trade and Industry in 1988 that he visited the United States in 1960.

He expressed surprise at how prosperous everyone seemed, especially given that Japan was still recuperating from the tragedy of World War II.

“I became particularly conscious of the sheer size of America’s consumer society and the distribution techniques that made it all possible,” he said.

“It then occurred to me that people in different cultures still have basically the same desires, assuming that they are at the same stage of development.”

“[And] I thought that Japan’s distribution system would become more like America’s as the Japanese consumer society grew bigger.”

“Ever since, I have visited America every year without fail, learning as much as I possibly could about distribution,” Ito continued.

“There were even years when I made several trips to America. These business trips reinforced my belief that Japan and America are moving in the same general direction.”

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The chain’s origins

The company that is now known as 7-Eleven began humbly.

Jefferson Green, often known as “Uncle Johnny,” began selling milk, bread, and eggs from the ice house of Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas, in 1927.

He noticed a need to carry the items for customers in need, so he started selling them on weekends and evenings when grocery shops closed early.

According to Joe C. Thompson Jr., a co-founder of The Southland Company, Uncle Johnny’s concept has promise.

They started selling the same things at several ice-dock sites, establishing the framework for convenience commerce.

Because of its extended hours of operation, the company was known as 7-Eleven, and it was open from 7am to 11pm

7-Eleven and Japanese Culture

Despite its American origins, Masatoshi Ito has identified 7-Eleven with Japanese convenience shop culture.

Masatoshi Ito is the postwar entrepreneur most responsible for the chain’s success in selling anything from yogurt to ready-made meals and medications.

Between the 1970s and the 1990s, he was able to do this through a series of purchases and expansions.

According to NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, Masatoshi Ito began his career in 1958.

He ascended to the presidency of his family’s little Tokyo clothes store.

Ito eventually began selling food and home supplies.

He finally renamed the firm Ito Yokado and operated it in the manner of an American supermarket.

The first 7-Eleven opened in Tokyo, Japan, in 1974, following a contract formed between Ito Yokado and 7-Eleven owner, the Southland Corporation.

Masatoshi Ito’s company obtained a controlling stake in Southland in March 1991.

Ito resigned as president of Ito Yokado, according to NHK, to assume responsibility for alleged payoffs to racketeers of company executives.

In 2005, Seven & I Holdings was established as the holding company for 7-Eleven Japan and Ito Yokado.

Until his death, Ito served as the company’s honorary chairman.

In an interview in 1988, Masatoshi Ito was cited as saying regarding 7-Eleven’s success:

“I am frequently asked if I succeeded because of hard work or because I was just lucky. The answer is some of both.”

Image source: People

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