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Billionaire Uniqlo CEO wants a woman to succeed him

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The founder of one of Asia’s biggest retailers has announced he would like a woman to succeed him as CEO.

Seventy-year-old Tadashi Yanai, who is at the helm of the Japanese-headquartered specialty fashion retailer Uniqlo – owned by Fast Retailing – has a very clear idea on what he wants for the company’s succession plan.

“The job is more suitable for a woman. They are persevering, detailed oriented and have an aesthetic sense,” he said recently in an interview.

Yanai is often asked about the succession plan of the company – which he expanded from his father’s modestly sized tailor shop into a global brand. A possible candidate could be Maki Akaida, who was appointed earlier this year to run Uniqlo’s Japan operations, it was reported by Bloomberg.

“It’s a possibility,” he said when asked whether Akaida could be anointed as his potential successor. She joined the company in 2001 and has managed Uniqlo stores in both China and Japan, in addition to working in the company’s HR division.

Yanai wants to significantly boost the company’s ratio of female senior executives. Fast Retailing currently has six women in senior roles, after reaching its 2018 target of having more than 30% of women in management positions.

Japan has long faced scrutiny over its lack of gender diversity at the top level, with just 4.1% of executive titles at its publicly listed firms held by women, according to a recent study. This is way down on the United States, for example, where women make up about 25% of executive ranks.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has also unveiled initiatives to promote women in the workforce, resulting from a chronic labour shortage triggered by the country’s ageing and dwindling population.

According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, due to Japan’s falling birthrate, the number of people will drop by an estimated 30% by 2060 – when about 40% will be aged 65 or over.

There is also a business payoff to boosting the number of women in senior roles, with investors assessing gender diversity in management ranks to evaluate their holdings.

This is particularly true for consumer companies – such as Uniqlo – where it may be essential to have executives who are more closely matched to the brand’s core customer profile.

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