A Grateful Leader Gives Back

By: Sherrie Negrea
A Grateful Leader Gives Back

Amane Nakashima, MBA ’89

Amane Nakashima remembers feeling shocked when he arrived at Johnson and began taking classes in the summer of 1987, after spending five years working at the former Industrial Bank of Japan.

“It was very eye-opening,” says Nakashima, who is president of Nakashimato Co., a food distribution company based in Tokyo, and chairman of Kewpie Corp., the leading manufacturer of mayonnaise in Japan. “The professors were very easy to access. It was like an open-door policy, and the professors welcomed students at any time.”

That close relationship with the faculty stood in sharp contrast with his undergraduate education as an economics major at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he says the professors did not meet with students after class and were primarily focused on their own research. One memory at Johnson that stands out is an entrepreneurship course with (the now late) Professor David BenDaniel, who invited potential investors to the class to evaluate students’ business plans.

Nakashima says he would not have been able to lead two major Japanese food distribution and manufacturing companies without the skills he learned in the MBA program. In appreciation for the education he received at Cornell, he is endowing a professorship at Johnson.

“I’ve been grateful for my opportunity and my MBA education here,” said Nakashima, while visiting campus for his first Trustee Council Annual Meeting in October. “And I just want to show my gratitude in some sense.”

While Nakashima leveraged the skills he learned at Johnson to oversee his companies, he notes there are clear differences in the way that American and Japanese firms operate. American companies are focused on making a profit, while Japanese firms are more interested in helping their employees achieve their potential, he says.

Nakashima has encouraged employees at both Nakashimato and its affiliated company, Kewpie, to embrace the three guidelines included in their corporate philosophy: act on moral principles, strive for originality and ingenuity, and look after one’s parents’ well-being.

Kewpie has been expanding outside of Japan, but Nakashima says the cost of building market share is not always feasible. While Kewpie products have been sold in the United States for 30 years, Nakashima says, “We cannot absorb the kind of big investment in the U.S. overall as a company,” he said. “It’s too big of an investment.”

At the same time, Nakashimato, which distributes a more diverse range of products, continues to grow by focusing on what Nakashima calls tail-end products, characterized by high price and small market volume. One example is wine, and in 2013, Nakashimato bought one of Paris’ most famous wine shops: Legrand Filles et Fils. “We’ve been selling wine for more than 25 years, but I’m trying to expand that business,” he said.

In his spare time, Nakashima enjoys serving as president of the Johnson Club of Japan and the Cornell Club of Japan. Both regularly host business executives and Cornell professors at their events. “I like to be the one who organizes the events and sees some happy faces,” he says. “Cornell happens to be a good community for me, and we share memories of spending time in Ithaca.”

Over the past decade, Nakashima has also devoted himself to taking classes in the ancient ritual of conducting a Japanese tea ceremony, an elaborate custom in which the server bows up to seven times to the guests. “It’s nice to take some time away from some very busy moments and know the manners,” he says. “There is something very Japanese in learning this.”