Chairman, Suzuki Motor Corporation
Born: January 30, 1930, in Gero, Japan.
Education: Graduated from Chuo University, 1953.
Family: Son of Shunzo and Toshiki S. Matsuda; married Shoko Suzuki; children: three.
Career: Suzuki Motor Corporation, 1958–1963, various management positions; 1963–1966, director; 1967–1971, junior managing director; 1972–1977, senior managing director; 1978, president; 1978–2000, president and chief executive officer; 2000–, chairman.
Awards: Sitara-i-Pakistan award, Pakistan government, 1984; Middle Cross with the Star Order of Merit, republic of Hungary, 2004.
Address: Suzuki Motor Corporation, 300 Takatsuka-Cho, Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, 432-8611, Japan; http://www.globalsuzuki.com.
■ Osamu Suzuki spent 22 years as president and chief executive officer of Suzuki Motor Corporation, making him one of the auto industry's longest-serving leaders. During this time he turned Suzuki into a global powerhouse by producing rugged, low-cost minicars for the less wealthy but more populated areas of the world, such as India, China, and Eastern Europe. Known as a fiscally conservative hands-on manager, Suzuki involved himself in nearly every aspect of the business and was often seen inspecting the company's plants personally in search of cost-cutting measures. He once directed a factory to use white instead of yellow paint for floor lines, to save a few cents per can. Because of his close involvement, workers viewed him more as a father than a CEO. When Suzuki stepped down as president of the company in 2000, he stayed on as chairman. Friends and family urged him to retire, but Suzuki had other ideas. "I want to die in battle," he told Automotive News (November 6, 2000).
Suzuki was born in Gero, Gifu Prefecture, Japan, on January 30, 1930. He graduated from Japan's Chuo University in 1953 and then found work at a local bank. Suzuki once said he was more of a loan shark than a loan officer, noting that he made loans that paid him 30 percent interest. His entry into the business world came courtesy of his arranged marriage to Shoko Suzuki, granddaughter of the man who had founded Suzuki. The founder had three daughters, and his eldest daughter had five daughters. With no male heirs in sight, Osamu Suzuki, once Osamu Matsuda, took his wife's name, as is Japanese custom in this situation.
Suzuki began working at Suzuki in 1958, filling various management positions. He became the company's fourth president in 1978 and turned Suzuki, which was founded as a loom maker, into a major global manufacturer of small cars. Suzuki had a vision—instead of battling the industry giants, he focused on capturing buyers in the world's developing markets, such as India, China, and Hungary.
Suzuki built the company by working as a diplomat. He spent a lot of time traveling to other countries to forge partnerships, sometimes with government entities. Like a general, Suzuki marched across Indochina and the surrounding areas, setting up satellite assembly plants. In 1967 Suzuki opened a plant in Thailand and by 1974 had set up shop in Indonesia, where he had negotiated a joint venture for parts manufacturing. In 1975 Suzuki opened a production plant in the Philippines. By 1980 Suzuki was in Australia and in 1982 opened a plant in Pakistan. In the early 1980s Suzuki formed an alliance with General Motors to help get its foot in the door to Europe and North America.
One of the most successful ventures came in 1982, when Suzuki teamed with India's government-controlled manufacturer Maruti Udyog. By 1994 the Maruti Udyog plant in India was churning out 200,000 units, many for export to Eastern Europe, Nepal, and Bangladesh. In 1984 Suzuki hit New Zealand and in 1989 stretched into Canada. That same year total aggregate car production was 10 million units. Through the 1990s Suzuki expanded into Korea, Egypt, Hungary, and Vietnam. By 1993 the company had a 76 percent market share in India and a 66 percent market share in Pakistan and sold more cars in China than any other Japanese manufacturer, beating out even Toyota.
Suzuki's pint-sized, no-nonsense vehicles sold well in these regions because they were fuel-efficient and affordable. In places where gas could cost more than $4 per gallon and percapita income was measured in hundreds of dollars instead of thousands, Suzuki cars ruled. When other big-name automakers tried to break into the developing-world market, they found it hard to compete. As G. Richard Wagoner of General Motors told the Wall Street Journal , "I'm not sure there's anybody better at making low-cost cars. And it starts at the top with Osamu" (February 26, 1998).
Although Suzuki sold low-end cars at a nominal cost, the company still made a profit, thanks to Osamu Suzuki's fiscal conservatism. As chief executive, Suzuki was forever in search of cost-cutting measures. He visited each factory each year to check up on operations. After visits, Suzuki made suggestions. Once, a three-day factory inspection generated a list of 215 possible cost-saving measures from Suzuki, among them, getting rid of 1,900 of the plant's 18,000 lights to save $40,000 annually on electricity. He also saw receptionists as an unnecessary cost. Instead of being greeted by a person, visitors to Suzuki's headquarters were met with signs directing them to a lobby telephone to contact the person they wanted to see.
In other cost-saving measures, Suzuki employees traveling by bullet train to Tokyo for business had to purchase three separate tickets in stopover cities instead of one direct fare, saving the company $2 on the $60 two-hour trip. Suzuki also made efforts to design vehicles that used the same parts as its bigger competitors, because parts suppliers already had these items in stock. As Suzuki told Forbes , "We make small cars, so we worry about cutting costs by even one yen" (September 27, 1993).
Suzuki's formula was successful. By the early 2000s Suzuki was operating 60 plants in 31 countries while exporting its cars to 190 countries. In 2003 sales reached $16,815.7 million on the back of a one-year growth spurt of 33.7 percent. At the start of 2004 Suzuki was clearly Japan's number-one minicar producer. Its motorcycle line was third, behind Honda and Yamaha, and its outboard marine engines enjoyed brisk sales as well. Like his company, Osamu Suzuki showed no signs of slowing down either, vowing to work until he died.
See also entry on Suzuki Motor Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .
Eisenstodt, Gale, "A 4 Billion People Market," Forbes , September 27, 1993, pp. 48–49.
"'I Want to Die in Battle,' the CEO says," Automotive News , November 6, 2000, p. 32.
Reitman, Valerie, "Frugal Head of Suzuki Drives Markets in Asia," Wall Street Journal , February 26, 1998.
"Suzuki Motor Corp.: Cost Cuts, Strong Sales Abroad," Wall Street Journal , November 10, 2003.
Yamaguchi, Yuzo, "44-Year-Old Suzuki Moves to Boardroom," Automotive News , April 14, 2003, p. 31.