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    Suntory Beverage’s first female CEO wants more women managers, global business

    Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd.'s next chief executive Makiko Ono speaks during an interview with Reuters at the company headquarters in Tokyo, Japan December 15, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato

    Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd’s incoming CEO Makiko Ono, one of only a handful of women to lead a big Japanese company, wants to see more opportunities for women in management and more business for her company in overseas markets, where she defined her career.

    When Ono takes the helm early next year, Suntory Beverage, Japan’s second-biggest domestic soft drink maker, says it will become the largest listed Japanese company by market value with a female CEO.

    Ono acknowledged that her company still remains far from its broader target, however, for 30 per cent of managers to be women by 2030, compared with just 13 per cent now.

    “There’s still a gap in reaching that goal, but we just have to keep fighting,” Ono told Reuters.

    “Career opportunities are now becoming more fair, so I hope that women will not give up and will seize whatever chances come their way.”

    Ono’s rise through the ranks to a top corporate position is rare for women in Japan, which lags its peers on numerous gender equality measures.

    Out of 1,802 companies on the prime section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, fewer than 1 per cent list a woman as their chief executive, according to Tokyo Shoko Research.

    Ono also saw potential overseas opportunities for the company, a Japanese partner of PepsiCo. It already derives half of its revenue overseas, with Asia and Europe its biggest foreign markets.

    “In our existing regions, there are categories we haven’t tested yet, in particular the growing popularity of energy, coffee and tea drinks in Europe,” said Ono, who once ran Suntory’s Orangina business in France.

    “So we are looking to expand in those markets, as well as countries where we don’t have a presence yet.”

    Ono joined Suntory in 1982 and helped to arrange the purchase of a French winery and of Britain’s Lucozade brand.

    Suntory Beverage's first female CEO wants more women managers, global business

    While Suntory Beverage is majority-owned by and closely aligned with privately held Suntory Holdings, Japan’s largest whisky maker and owner of brands Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, it is also listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which Ono said gives it more flexibility in financing.

    The conglomerate made a major push into European soft drinks in the 2000s, buying the Orangina and Schweppes brands in 2009 and the Britain-based Lucozade and Ribena properties in 2013.

    Ono’s appointment comes a decade after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed a “womenomics” policy of raising female participation in the labour force, and in recent years, companies including Suntory and staffing agency Recruit Holdings Co have announced numerical targets for women in management.

    Japan nevertheless ranked only 116th among 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report this year, and last among the Group of Seven nations.

    “There are so few women in manager-level positions at major manufacturers like Suntory,” said Akiko Kojima at the Japan Research Institute.

    “So the fact that one has risen all the way to chief executive, that could have a major impact on similar companies.”

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