Sustainable Brands Japan
Published 1 year ago.
About a 10 minute read.
Image: Rodnae Productions/Pexels
As she works to transform the company's 130-year-old corporate culture and the implementation of Purpose, we talked with Group Chief Sustainability Officer Ryoko Shimokawa about her vision for sustainable growth for the company and society.
In Japan, human resources professionals with diverse backgrounds are being
appointed as "sustainability officers" to further societal transformation. One
such case is at Sompo Holdings — which provides
P&C insurance, life insurance, nursing care, and digital and healthcare services
under its corporate umbrella. In August 2021, Sompo Holdings appointed Ms.
Ryoko Shimokawa as its
Group Chief Sustainability Officer (CSuO) at the executive level. After working
for a foreign-affiliated securities company and a major restaurant chain, she
joined Sompo Himawari Life in 2016, working as an Executive Officer and
General Manager at our HR Dept.
company's 130-year-old corporate culture and aiming for the implementation of
Purpose, we talked with Ms. Shimokawa about her vision for sustainable
growth for the company and society.
RS: We view the "New Normal" and
declining birthrates and aging populations as major issues to be addressed. In
the "New Normal," uncertainty is becoming heightened in many ways — including in
intensifying climate change and natural
along with advances in digital technology — and this is all creating new risks,
etc. First, we must figure out how to deal with all this.
Then, we must think about declining birthrates and aging populations. Especially
here in Japan, the number of children being born is decreasing and the
population itself is aging; and this brings difficulty to public finances. Amid
such a situation, SOMPO has embarked on a nursing care business. Stepping into
that, various problems arose — such as a widening gap between demand and supply.
Besides the shortage of nursing care providers, there are many difficulties —
such as in the needs of nursing care recipients varying from person to person.
This is an issue that Japan must really tackle right now; and we, too, have to
work on it.
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While responding to challenges, we try to establish a means that is proper as a
business. And if necessary, I would like to work on appealing to the world to
raise the labor remuneration, etc, of people working in the nursing care field.
RS: Our purpose is to create a society in which every person can live a
healthy, prosperous and happy life in one’s own way via a "A Theme Park for
Security, Health & Wellbeing." Regarding such a "theme park," this has been set
as a vision since 2015. Now, in embodying purpose and making that visible to
everyone, we are now in the phase of gaining understanding. The point is that
the purpose is not expressed via phrases/words such as "nursing care" and
Together with our own purpose, we provide three areas of societal value
Rather than just being an "insurance company," the idea is to carry out business
in a way necessary to realize a society much like the one we are discussing
here. CEO Kengo Sakurada also wants people to see Sompo Holdings as a
company that was "once an insurance company" — but, not now.
Insurance is basically for "just in case." However, the truth is that we hope
that the situation involving "just in case" simply never occurs, or at least
that it occurs as delayed as possible. Rather than just sit back and wait for
the "just in case" and lean in when something unfortunate happens to people,
SOMPO is proactively expanding business toward becoming a presence that's always
at the ready with positive value in hand.
Then, for those using SOMPO or that have insurance, as well as for those that do
not, everyone can ensure their own "Security, Health & Wellbeing" by engaging
with SOMPO at its "theme park" — all so as to be able to enjoy their own life in
a healthy & prosperous way. We can provide such a "theme park" via real and
virtual means. By creating more and more "attractions," we aim to provide new
value. This is a big point of transformation for our company.
RS: There are two approaches for raising a "dissemination of purpose."
First, we must personalize; and then, we must turn what we personalized into
being usable as a company. We are working on both of these aspects right now.
The most-important thing is to "be yourself." The idea is that you are not
"working at the company"—you are "working at your life." Many people that work
for large Japanese companies, where lifetime employment has taken strong root,
sometimes lose sight of themselves or become strongly unaware of what matters to
them even if they started out knowing their own purpose. On the other hand, many
younger people already have an ability to "put themselves first."
There are three reasons why "being yourself" is important. One involves
"diversity & inclusion," which is one of the values that SOMPO aims to transmit
to society. In Japanese insurance companies, many women are employed. But simply
having a lot of women doesn't make clear sense. There are many ways that people
are diverse, including nationality and the company that they used to work for;
and it doesn't make much sense to talk about "diversity" unless those people can
actually express their ideas — not just their appearance. We can't just say that
it's great that a bunch of different people are sitting in a conference room.
In order for a company to transform itself, it is necessary to make the best use
of diversity; and it is important to recognize this and make the best use of the
existence of these different people. You see, insurance companies are not home
to special technology such as at automobile companies; so, products can be
imitated immediately. Thus, "people" are an important asset. So, it doesn't make
much sense if people can’t be themselves or if they are homogeneous in thought.
It is because everyone is an individual that they fight for their opinions,
resulting in innovation.
Secondly, this all has to be intrinsic. Purpose is not decided externally — it
is something that we ourselves as a company want to embody. Therefore, too, if
each one of us is not acting organically, we can't become motivated or powerful.
"Do XYZ like this because that's how XYZ is" — absolutely not. It should be: "I
want to do XYZ like this; so for that to happen, I have to do ABC in this way."
Thirdly, because our purpose is aligned with "everyone living their own life,"
we realize that everyone simply has to be "themselves." Otherwise, we can’t
stand close to where that sense of oneself is.
For these reasons, we value "MY Purpose." However, if "purpose" is perceived in
the same way as the missions of the company that have been set so far, or if it
is perceived as simply "company policy changing again," it will not help — and
the company will not grow.
RS: We are working top-down, bottom-up, vertically (organizational line),
and horizontally (community/grassroots).
As for the transmission of top management, CEO Sakurada has been participating
in our Town Hall Meetings via Zoom since September 2021. These meetings have
been held seven times so far (as of December 2021), with a total of 10,000 employees participating.
The speakers are CEO Sakurada himself, outside facilitators, and four
representative employees; and people from all our group companies in Japan
participate. We ask them to think about why they are doing what they do and what
they want to do.
At the meetings, we don't talk about the company's purpose — we talk about the
individual participants and their own purpose. CEO Sakurada brings up such
topics, and then relates them by talking from the point of "in my case." When a
person in the P&C insurance business hears views from a person in the nursing
care business, a different way of thinking can be generated, and different
stimuli can be received. And you can also begin to think about yourself.
How can one connect with Sompo's Purpose? In that situation, managers and their
staff can hold 1-on-1 dialogue toward achieving personal purpose through their
work. We ask them to reconsider their source of motivation; and then, we can
inquire how they can use the company to do what they want. In this way, we work
on ideas of "how things should be."
In terms of trying things out, this tends to mean that people think of their
work quite narrowly. By having a manager, etc., standing nearby, we can support
people in thinking about how what they want to do can be achieved or how a job
could be worthwhile. Then, if you're a middle manager, you might use this
information to assign some new project to a certain person. In including such
things, middle management can help to provide for such synergy and is an
Finally, we do measure the progress of how this "dissemination of purpose" is
resonating. We conduct a questionnaire every time we hold our Town Hall
Meetings, measure engagement twice a year, and proceed forward while grasping
the situation quantitatively. In a survey of 10,000 employees, 99 percent said
that they sympathized with this "dissemination of purpose."
RS: Well, if you don't connect these things organically, even if you have
these Town Hall Meetings, things cool down after a while. Therefore, on-site
efforts are important. Although, even if you go 1-on-1 at a specific site, it's
easy to start talking about business only; so, in the sense that the person
himself/herself always keeps in mind what he/she wants to do as much as
possible, it is important to see exactly how the worksite connects to this.
"Dissemination of purpose" regards changing the company and its culture. At an
insurance company, where people are assets, it is important to regard how to
evolve people in a favorable way. Insurance companies have a lot of operational
parts. It is important to conduct operations correctly without making mistakes;
but we need to consider how to upgrade our business while connecting the
business with data, digitalization and new services — which can only be realized
through people. So, against that backdrop, how many such capable people can be
nurtured becomes an important factor.
However, it is not possible to do things related to one’s own personal culture
overnight. These initiatives must be continued. While doing something to the
extent that one's spark can light a fire in the mind of another, it is necessary
to continue to develop people that understand the culture as much as possible.
In this way, we must change our culture and become a growing organization where
RS: To say it strongly, it's "servant leadership." But doing it is kind of natural. Originally, the promotion of
sustainable management is a team effort; and it can only be achieved via a team
As an individual, I always think about how to enjoy my work. After all, work
takes up a lot of our time — it’s painful if it's not fun! It may not always be
fun, but the question is: How can you regard the work as fun, or position the
work so that you find fun? I think it's interesting and very important to take
on the challenge of promoting sustainable management — in what is now the first
such undertaking at our company.
Published Jul 29, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST