ASIA It’s a brave new world for Nippon Steel’s incoming chief

Mar 01, 2008 | 01:53 PM |

Not a great deal is known about the man who will soon lead the world's second-largest steelmaker.

Like many major Japanese companies, Nippon Steel Corp. is run conservatively and quietly, and precious little is known about the senior executives—including Shoji Muneoka, who will formally take over as president April 1, succeeding Akio Mimura, who will become chairman. Muneoka currently is vice president responsible for the group's marketing activities, and is said to be the man who leads Nippon Steel's thorny annual negotiations with Japan's major automotive buyers.

Although typically a carefully calculated, low-profile figure, the presidents of Japanese companies traditionally take a more hands-on role than their counterparts in Western companies, and Muneoka will play a key role in defining Nippon Steel's future. He will head a company that has come through some serious challenges and emerged in fairly robust shape.

The Japanese steel industry stumbled from crisis to crisis for the better part of two decades starting in the 1970s, but Nippon Steel and its largest companions—JFE Steel Corp., Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd. and Kobe Steel Ltd.—found themselves well-positioned to ride the China-fueled steel boom of recent years. Last year, raw steel output in Japan was the highest since 1973.....

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