On March 13, 2023, the world lost a true visionary and business icon, with the passing of billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, Toshifumi Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki, who was 89 years old, was the founder and former chairman of Seven & i Holdings, the parent company of the convenience store chain, 7-Eleven. His remarkable business acumen and leadership helped to transform 7-Eleven from a small chain of convenience stores in Japan into a global retail giant with over 70,000 stores in 19 countries.
Born in Tokyo in 1934, Mr. Suzuki started his career working for his father’s small retail business in the post-World War II era. After attending college and serving in the Japanese army, he returned to the family business and quickly became known for his innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. In 1961, he opened his first convenience store, which he named 7-Eleven after its operating hours (7 a.m. to 11 p.m.).
At the time, the concept of a convenience store was still relatively new in Japan, and Mr. Suzuki’s vision was to create a store that offered a wide variety of products and services that were accessible and convenient for customers. He introduced several innovative ideas to the convenience store concept, including longer operating hours, self-service, and a focus on customer service.
His efforts paid off, and 7-Eleven quickly grew in popularity among Japanese consumers. In the 1970s, Mr. Suzuki began to expand the business beyond Japan, opening stores in Taiwan and other parts of Asia. In the 1980s, he turned his attention to the United States, where he saw a huge opportunity to introduce the 7-Eleven brand to American consumers.
At the time, the convenience store market in the U.S. was dominated by local mom-and-pop stores and regional chains. Mr. Suzuki recognized that the market was fragmented and ripe for consolidation, and he began acquiring smaller chains and converting them to the 7-Eleven brand. By the end of the decade, 7-Eleven had become the largest convenience store chain in the U.S., with over 4,000 stores.
Mr. Suzuki’s success in the U.S. market was due in part to his willingness to adapt the 7-Eleven model to local conditions. He recognized that American consumers had different tastes and preferences than Japanese consumers, and he made sure that 7-Eleven stores in the U.S. offered products and services that were tailored to the local market. He also invested heavily in technology, such as point-of-sale systems and inventory management systems, to improve efficiency and customer service.
Under Mr. Suzuki’s leadership, 7-Eleven continued to expand globally, entering new markets in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Today, the company operates over 70,000 stores in 19 countries, making it one of the largest and most successful retail chains in the world.
But Mr. Suzuki’s legacy goes beyond his success as a businessman. He was also known for his philanthropy and commitment to social causes. He established the 7-Eleven Foundation, which supports charitable organizations in areas such as education, disaster relief, and environmental conservation. He was also a strong advocate for corporate social responsibility, and under his leadership, 7-Eleven was recognized as one of the most ethical companies in the world.
In many ways, Mr. Suzuki’s life and career are a testament to the power of vision, innovation, and perseverance. He took a small retail business and turned it into a global powerhouse, creating jobs and opportunities for thousands of people around the world. He also demonstrated that it is possible to build a successful business while also being a responsible corporate citizen and making a positive impact on society.