Keyence Chairman Retires After Decades Heading Keyence

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Keyence Corp. investors may miss founder Takemitsu Takizaki, who has handed them more than double the returns of Apple Inc. over the past three years.

Takizaki is retiring after four decades quietly building a Japan Inc. factory automation powerhouse, the Osaka-based company said Monday.

“The company’s success is based on Takizaki’s abilities,” said Yasuaki Kogure, chief investment officer at SBI Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “It will be interesting to see how his absence affects the company in two or three years.”

Takizaki, 69, built the globally dominant factory-automation company while amassing Japan’s fourth-biggest fortune. After founding the company in 1974, he kept the focus on devices and processes for automated manufacturing, steering Keyence away from the spotlight.

“He’s a very rare type in Japan,” said Mitsushige Akino, an executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “He valued profit margin over sales and grew the company steadily.”

Takizaki, who didn’t attend college, helped invent the precision sensors used on assembly lines to build cars for Toyota Motor Corp. and chips for Toshiba Corp. The company, where salaries average about 14.4 million yen ($123,000) a year, maintains high margins by having its products made at contract fabricators around the world and by combining automation-consulting work with device sales.

Margins, Pay

Profit margins averaged 46 percent over the past five fiscal years, helping more than triple market value since 2011, while paying employees triple-figure salaries on average.

Net income surged 49 percent from a year earlier in the three months that ended Dec. 20 to 30.8 billion yen, the company reported Monday. It was the biggest quarterly gain since 2011 and yielded an operating margin of 53 percent, compared with Apple’s 33 percent for the December quarter and about 10 percent for Toyota, Japan’s most profitable company.

Yuichiro Isayama, an analyst at Goldman Sachs Japan Co., raised his price target for the shares to 70,000 yen yesterday from the 66,000 yen level set in December and compared with the 48,500 yen target a year ago.

Takizaki’s net worth stood at $7.2 billion as of today, making him Japan’s fourth-wealthiest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s spent some of his fortune on a 350 million-year-old ammonite and displays some of the fossils and prehistoric items he collects at the company’s headquarters.

Keyence rose to a record today in Tokyo trading after the company reported third-quarter profit rose. The shares gained as much as 3.8 percent to 58,080 yen, before changing hands at 57,540 yen as of 1:10 p.m.

The company provided investors with a 224 percent total return in the three years ended Jan. 31, compared with Apple’s 90 percent in the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.