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A material world: Shigekazu Suenaga

When Shigekazu Suenaga started working for Toray Industries straight out of university in 1981, he couldn’t have predicted that he’d remain with the same company for his entire career. But an intense passion for what it does, coupled with respect for a company culture that aligned seamlessly with his own core values, meant that once he joined the team, he never looked back.

Shigekazu Suenaga, Chief Representative for India of Toray Industries

“Our brand and company reputation are extremely important to me and my colleagues,” Shigekazu tells The CEO Magazine. “Toray’s corporate philosophy is to contribute to society through the creation of new value – with innovative ideas, technologies and products. We strive to offer customers consistently high-quality products, as well as provide meaningful work and fair opportunities for employees, while practising sincere and trustworthy management for shareholders. I try to act according to these principles in all that I do.”

Shigekazu goes on to explain that much of this philosophy stems from Toray Industries’ CEO, Akihiro Nikkaku, who encourages the employees to “stay focused on the basics, search for ideal approaches, identify the right steps and then carry them out – all solutions can ultimately be found in the workplace”.

Shigekazu says that from the moment he starts his day, these tenets are foremost in his mind. And with a people-first attitude that encourages open and transparent dialogue between all employees, Toray Industries ensures that no staff member loses sight of this powerful ethos.

“In the morning when I wake up, I consider the progress of the current projects as well as the future plans, and that’s what drives me – knowing and understanding what the goals are, and working towards achieving them,” he says.

“Our corporate culture has evolved over nearly a century. Teamwork is vital to business success, and these values and priorities are instilled through daily conversations with employees. Toray has a very strong environment of communication.”

While the company was born out of Japan, Toray Industries now employs more than 48,000 employees, operates out of 26 countries, and is worth around US$20 billion.

Since its inception in 1926, Toray Industries established itself as the frontrunner in the manufacture and production of a wide variety of materials, renowned across the world for high-quality products.

Our brand and company reputation are extremely important.

And with good reason too – from fibres and textiles to functional chemicals and carbon fibre composite materials for use in automobiles, aircraft, apparel and IT products, Toray Industries has always prided itself on its offerings and innovations. “Our long-term corporate vision is the continuous creation of advanced materials and advanced technologies,” Shigekazu says.

“We’re pursuing the highest level of innovation and investing on a long-term basis to help benefit the wider community. We also believe in corporate social responsibility. Last year, in India, we provided financial support to fund classrooms in nearby villages, and recently we’ve contributed to combatting COVID-19.”

Toray Industries first started its India branch in 1960 and has subsequently opened a number of new manufacturing plants and offices across the country. “In India, we are well known in the automotive, textile and engineered plastics industries particularly,” Shigekazu reveals.

“Toray differentiates itself from its competition by supplying premier-quality advanced materials with remarkable batch-to-batch consistency. We believe in differentiated value through superior product performance and quality, engineered in-house by a large pool of scientists and researchers. We have a complex network of manufacturing assets and business units across three continents, and can supply to just about anywhere in the world.”

From his early days as a mechanical designer to a managing director and chair, and since 2015 as Toray Industries’ Chief Representative for India, Shigekazu’s extensive experience across the organisation has resulted in a comprehensive and widespread knowledge of both the company and the industry as a whole.

“I’ve experienced all facets of the business – from product design and development, to designing the equipment that creates the product, production management, sales and technology and licensing. It’s been so valuable to gain expertise in all these functions.”

Now, after four decades with Toray Industries, Shigekazu admits that the most significant lesson he’s learned about being a leader is actually a simple one. “Listen to the people around you very carefully,” he smiles. “And never, never give up.”

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