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CEO of Japan beverage giant Suntory calls for age-45 retirement

Suntory Holdings Ltd. President Takeshi Niinami (Mainichi/Emi Naito)

TOKYO -- People should have to retire at age 45 from their company as part of post coronavirus pandemic economic recovery plans, Japanese beverage giant Suntory Holdings Ltd. CEO Takeshi Niinami stated recently, sparking a swift and furious social media reaction.

    Japan needs "age-45 mandatory retirement, and a system that makes sure individuals aren't dependent on companies," Niinami declared on Sept. 9. He rowed back on the comment somewhat the following day, saying, "It might have been clumsy of me to use the term 'retirement age.'"

    The Suntory president was participating in the Japan Association of Corporate Executives' summer seminar when he made the comments on both days. On Sept. 9, he was arguing that Japan needed to rid itself of its lifelong employment and service time-based salary models, and used mandatory retirement at age 45 as a concrete example of how to do this. Niinami sought to demonstrate that the measure would spur workers to move into growth industries and rejuvenate corporate organizational structure.

    When his comments were reported, however, social media users poured scorn on the Suntory head, with responses including, "It's impossible for regular people to change jobs at age 45," and "This is just a lay-off scheme."

    When asked at a Sept. 10 press conference about what he meant, Niinami said, "45 years old is a turning point, and it's important for people to rethink their lives then. A system for society to offer a multitude of options such as going to a startup should be created. I didn't mean that people should just be fired."

    Niinami is also a private sector member of the government's Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy.

    (Japanese original by Atsuo Yamaguchi, Business News Department)

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