15 Minutes With… Machiko Miyai, Director, Managing Executive Officer, Morinaga Seika Co., Ltd.
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (June 6, 2023)
Ms. Machiko Miyai has broken through barriers to become a managing executive officer for Morinaga Seika Co., Ltd. This achievement has been celebrated as an example of the transformation created by diversity and the new perspectives it brings in promoting organizational change and growth. And Morinaga, which was founded in 1899 as a confectionary manufacturing company, has come a long way in its promotion and support of women in executive roles.
Ms. Miyai, who will present about the transformation created by diversity at next week's Women in Agribusiness Japan event, June 13 in Tokyo, started on her career path in 1983 at Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. She is credited with the development of several products, including the first automatic bread baking machine, rice cooker, and tilt-drum washer/dryer. By age 40, she had become the first female head of Panasonic's research institute, and later became the first female director, division manager, and executive officer of Panasonic.
Having served on several administrative committees, such as the Industrial Technology Strategy Council of Wakayama Prefecture, and with her present focus on sustainability, Ms. Miyai is now serving as chairman of the NPO Sustainability Japan Forum.
WIA Today asked a few questions of Ms. Miyai.
1). How has the movement for more diversity and inclusion changed the opportunities for women in business roles in your country?
I believe that the D&I movement has had an extremely significant impact on expanding opportunities for women in Japan. In the past in Japan, women were often not given the same opportunities as men, or women were often handicapped against continuing to work due to childbirth or childcare.
D&I seems to have been the most popular measure for Japanese companies to regain their ability to change as they experienced “the lost 30 years”. Today, it is no longer unusual to see women in decision-making positions. The number of female board members is also steadily increasing. However, when we look around the world, we must take seriously the fact that Japan still lags behind other developed countries.
I also think that D&I was a major achievement in changing the mindset of Japanese men. Especially in corporate management, the fact that many managers have positioned D&I as an essential measure for corporate reform has also encouraged the promotion of women's activities.
2). What have you found to be the most challenging in your rise to top positions?
This is a very difficult question because my goal in business was never to be at the top in the first place. However, as my job became more and more interesting, I was drawn to the thrill of being the chief decision maker in management because it was the position closest to realizing my vision. My focus has always been on achieving results and increasing the number of people who share the same vision as me. In particular, I was very focused on achieving results. Because I am a minority woman, I felt the importance of achieving results more than men, so made this one of my top goals [to achieve results]. I also felt that I needed more people who understood me because I am a minority woman, so I actively communicated with people in various positions, regardless of their ranks.
3). Please tell us more about your sustainability efforts within the business and beyond.
My former employer, Panasonic, made an environmental declaration in the 1990s and has since then managed its business by placing the environment at the center of its management strategy. I have been waving that flag as the person in charge of the Panasonic Group's environmental policy. Morinaga Seika shifted to sustainability management upon the 120th anniversary of its founding, identifying materiality and formulating action plans to resolve issues. In particular, as a food manufacturer, Morinaga is taking more in-depth measures than ever before to address food loss, to focus on packaging materials, and to resolve issues in the supply chain, and is implementing these measures.
Outside of the company, I am involved in activities to support corporate sustainability as chairman of the NPO Sustainability Japan Forum. Sustainability is my life's work, and I would like to continue to work on it in the future.
4). How have you seen agriculture change and adapt during your executive tenure?
I have been an executive director of Morinaga Seika since 2014, and it seems that "sustainability" has been at the center of change in food and agriculture as well. I feel that the food industry was somewhat behind in addressing sustainability compared to the electronics industry, but has made rapid progress in the past 10 years or so. I believe that the food industry has come under increased scrutiny with sustainability as a pivotal factor and influence from the risks of climate change, which are getting bigger every year, the problem of food shortages, changes in consumer awareness, and the demands of stakeholders on companies, etc. I feel that the trend of technological innovation, such as what is called "food tech," and ethical consumption is also increasing more than ever in response to various issues.
Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has strengthened the movement to review food and agriculture from the perspective of food security. The challenges facing Japan's food and agriculture industry are becoming clearer and more pressing than ever before, and I feel it is necessary to take a step forward as a matter of national policy.
5). What do you think the future holds for women in agribusiness?
I believe that the future of agribusiness will offer more opportunities for women than ever before. I believe that the future of agribusiness is more attractive to women than other industries because women's sensibilities as consumers have a high affinity for food and agriculture. Additionally, the way of working is changing with the evolution of IT, making work easier, and there are possibilities for a variety of business development opportunities in the food and agriculture industry. Above all, I hope that more women will be active in the world of food and agriculture.