Suntory Said to Name Lawson Chairman Niinami as President

Suntory Holdings Ltd., the Japanese company that bought U.S. whiskey maker Beam Inc., plans to hire Lawson Inc. Chairman Takeshi Niinami as president in October, a person familiar with the matter said.

Suntory is turning to Harvard-educated Niinami, who’s headed the second-biggest convenience store chain in Japan for 12 years, to help it expand globally, the person said. The maker of Yamazaki whiskey and Premium Malt’s beer will hold an extraordinary board meeting in July to make the plan final, the person said.

Niinami, 55, would be the first person outside Suntory’s founding family to serve as president. His experience driving Lawson’s international expansion may help Osaka-based Suntory as it pushes to accelerate overseas growth amid a shrinking domestic population. In April, Suntory completed the purchase of Deerfield, Illinois-based Beam for $16 billion, its biggest acquisition abroad.

Suntory’s current chairman and president, Nobutada Saji, will remain chairman of the company, the person familiar with the matter said. The 68-year-old, who took over as president in 2001, has said he wants to give up his position to a successor suited for global business.

The Nikkei newspaper reported the plan earlier.

Ming Li, a spokesman for Lawson, declined to comment or to say whether Niinami plans to stay on at the convenience-store company. Suntory said in an e-mailed statement it wasn’t the source of the report.

Overseas Expansion

Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd., the listed soft-drink unit of closely held Suntory Holdings, rose 2 percent to 3,925 yen as of 1 p.m. in Tokyo trading, while Japan’s benchmark Topix index gained 0.1 percent. Lawson added 1.4 percent.

Niinami, who started his career at Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp., became president of Tokyo-based Lawson in 2002 and pushed the internationalization of the company by adding overseas outlets and hiring more foreign staff. About 30 percent of Lawson’s new hires are non-Japanese, Li said, and the company operates overseas stores from Thailand and Indonesia to Hawaii.

Nobutada Saji himself eyed opportunities in overseas expansion more than three decades ago. In 1980, when he headed the company’s U.S. division, Suntory bought a PepsiCo Inc. bottling company serving the East Coast for 20 billion yen. In 2009, Saji bought French soda maker Orangina and New Zealand’s Frucor.

Niinami became chairman of Lawson in May, when Genichi Tamatsuka, former chief operating officer, succeeded him as president.

Lawson increased its operating profit under Niinami for 11 consecutive years through the year ended February 2014, according to Li.

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