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Seven & i to set presidential term limit following internal conflict: interview

Ryuichi Isaka (Mainichi)

Retail giant Seven & i Holdings is set to introduce a term limit for the company presidency following turmoil regarding appointments of executives, incoming president Ryuichi Isaka said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

Isaka, 58, blames holding company chairman and CEO Toshifumi Suzuki's longtime rule for the internal chaos and aims to improve fairness and transparency of group management by setting a term limit for the president.

The holding company's internal conflict surfaced in April when 83-year-old Suzuki announced his resignation after his proposal to replace Isaka was voted down at a board meeting. Seven & i president and COO at the time Noritoshi Murata, 72, also decided to step down over the matter. Isaka is expected to assume the office after a general shareholder meeting scheduled on May 26. The holding company will not appoint a chairman for the time being.

Isaka told the Mainichi that the corporate culture of Seven & i, which allowed Suzuki to stay at the top for over 20 years, was behind the internal turmoil, adding, "The problem lied within the decision-making process that lacked fairness and transparency." Isaka then said, "I'm looking to establish an in-house rule on the presidential term limit of a few years or so." Isaka says he will apply the rule starting from his term as president.

Many large companies set in-house rules on presidential term limits at two terms over four years or three terms over six years. Seven & i does not have such a rule, and its President and COO Murata has remained in his position since the holding company was founded in 2005.

In regard to Suzuki, whose position after stepping down as chairman has not been decided, Isaka told the Mainichi that he hopes for Suzuki to act as an adviser to the holding company as he has been "the psychological pillar of Seven & i." At the same time, Isaka said an adviser should give advice only when asked, emphasizing that he would refuse Suzuki's involvement in management. Isaka did not reveal whether Suzuki has accepted his proposal.

Isaka will be appointed as the president of the holding company for his accomplishments in convenience store management. However, concern has been raised within the company over the leadership of Isaka as his career is in the convenience store business and Seven & i also owns struggling supermarket chain Ito-Yokado Co. and department stores.

"Mr. Suzuki is a genius in managing businesses, but I am a regular person. I hope to find a breakthrough by holding meetings with top executives from each group company," Isaka said.

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