May 15, 2021

Japanese CEO describes Filipinos as global people

Tsunenori "Lee" Sawaki, an author and business leader who has headed various Japanese companies in Asia, sees the Philippines entering a golden age that will last 40 years, thanks to its demographic window.

"In Asia, the Philippines has the best opportunity. That is why I can emphasize that the Filipino people are very lucky now. Many Filipinos do not notice how lucky they are," Sawaki says in an interview in Makati City.

Sawaki is a co-founder, chairman and chief executive of Jasean Co. Ltd., which stands for Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Jasean is a private consulting organization that helps Japanese businessmen explore opportunities in Asean countries.

Jasean Co. Ltd. chairman and chief executive Tsunenori Sawaki

He says while other Asian markets such as Japan and Taiwan are now shrinking because of their aging populations, the Philippines is just beginning to take off, given its massive and young productive labor force.

"The Philippines is just starting now and it will last 40 years. Among the Asean countries, the Philippines has the longest population bonus," Sawaki says, referring to the demographic dividend that is expected to lead to a period of rapid economic growth.

"This is a very big advantage. I don't know if Filipinos notice it or not. During the period of population bonus, the country grows. Unfortunately, Japan's population bonus was finished 20 years ago," he says.

Sawaki defines population bonus as the period when the productive segment, or those in ages 20 to 65 years, is growing faster than the whole population. "The Philippines is now in that stage. In such situation, the economy is growing. Japan, until 20 years ago, had been growing. Now, it is no longer growing," he says.

The Philippines has one of the youngest populations in the world, with a median age of 23.5 years, compared to Japan's 46.1 years, Hong Kong's 43.2, South Korea's 40.8, Taiwan's 39.2, Thailand's 36.2 and Singapore's 33.8, according to CIA's World Factbook 2014.

"Population bonus occurs only once in each country. If the economy is growing, income is also rising. People spend more money in beauty, health and education. Naturally, people's lives become longer. Before, Filipinos were spending only on food and they did not care about health or beauty. Now that people's income is rising, people also start thinking about health such as organic food. As the economy grows, people's lives also become longer," he says.

Expenditures in other items propel the growth of various industries such as healthcare, education and other services, resulting in better circulation of wealth.

"After 40 years, Filipinos will also become an aging society or once population bonus is finished. But that is still 40 years from now. That is the longest population bonus period for any country. Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand had finished their population bonus," says Sawaki.

Sawaki, who is married to a Filipino woman, says aside from the population bonus in the Philippines, the country's global culture will enable it to thrive over the next decades. "Filipinos are a global people. My wife is Filipina. I am proud of the Philippines. Filipino people are a global people, naturally, because they can speak English and 10 million Filipinos are working all over the world," he says.

Sawaki is based in Tokyo, but his family lives in Bel Air, Makati City. He first came to the Philippines as a 26-year-old tourist during the Martial Law and witnessed how the country transformed economically over the past 30 years, including the rise of the business process outsourcing sector that now employs more than a million Filipinos.

"The Philippines is a global country. Japan is not a global country. So I think the Philippines-Japan collaboration is very important. I strongly recommend that for Japanese small and medium enterprises to sell products globally, they come to the Philippines," he says.

Sawaki says Jasean helps small and medium enterprises in Japan explore other markets, because the Japanese market is shrinking. "We are a consulting firm. We are supporting Japanese SMEs to come to Asean market and help them succeed," he says.

Jasean, which is headquartered in Tokyo, has offices in Metro Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong. Its Philippine office is located at GC Corporate Plaza in Legaspi Village, Makati City.

Sawaki says Jasean promotes the concept of global marketing hub in the Philippines among small and medium enterprises in Japan. "Many Japanese companies are now interested in this concept. So my dream has come true. My home country Japan and my second home Philippines collaborate and help each other," he says.

"Japanese companies understand that the Filipino is the best. They want to hire them and they bring them to Japan and train them for one month or two months. After that, they can come back to Manila to our office. This is a win-win situation. Many Filipinos also want to work under Japanese companies because they pay nice salaries," he says.

"This global marketing hub concept opens the door to Japanese companies. The Philippines is the best country to do the BPO," he says.

Sawaki served top positions in the life insurance industry, among them being president of Prudential Philippines, president of Tokyo Marine Thailand Life Insurance, director of China Life Insurance and president of Sony Life Philippines.

Sawaki and Kunitake And?, former president and chief executive of Sony Corp. and the founding chairman of Sony Prudential Life Insurance Company established Jasean three years ago. "When Mr. Ando retired from the life insurance industry, he said to me let us help Japanese small and medium enterprises. We have already revolutionized the Japanese life insurance industry and with our mission done already, let us move on to the second stage, which is to help Japanese small and medium enterprises," Sawaki says.

"What this means is that in Japan, there are at least three million small and medium enterprises. As you know, Japanese people are good in manufacturing and there are many, many nice companies. But as you know, Japan is now shrinking population-wise. So it means the market is also shrinking. Let us say the Japanese market is not good now and for small and medium enterprises targeting only the Japanese market, their future is not good. That is why they must come to Asean market, like the Philippines and Indonesia," he says.

"If Japanese small and medium enterprises can come to Asean market, eventually they can succeed. That is why I established Jasean organization to help support Japanese small and medium enterprises," says Sawaki, who wrote a book on how to succeed in Asia.

"We have a very unique concept. The weakness of Japanese small and medium enterprise is very, very clear. Even though they have nice products, they have no human resource to sell these products to the global market. Japanese people cannot speak English, cannot speak Chinese. Even though they have nice products, they can only sell in Japan. They don't know how to go to other countries," says Sawaki.

Vanessa Yabut, the senior executive partner of Jasean Philippines, says Jasean helps Japanese companies set up offices in Asean countries, from selecting their business name, incorporating the company, selecting the right people and advising them on the right ways to do business.

Yabut says Sawaki set up Jasean to help small and medium enterprises in Japan. "He saw the state of small and medium-sized companies in Japan that they have very good products but they do not know how to expand. It was that strong desire to be able to help the Japanese businesses. That is the reason why we have assisted several companies also in putting up their businesses here. We have assisted a printing shop already. We have assisted another Japanese company in the food sector. We are in the process of helping even a solar construction company to set up their business," says Yabut.

Yabut says Jasean has more than 700 members in Japan and many of them are interested in expanding overseas. Jasean Philippines has already assisted more than 40 Japanese companies, including five that have tapped the global marketing hub concept.

Yabut says Jasean's business matching activities between Japanese and Filipino companies have also contributed to the growth of bilateral trade. "We met a company that wanted to distribute sake. We introduced them to local companies that have already purchased from them. We have also assisted quite a big company in Japan that wanted to purchase virgin coconut oil. We assisted by introducing to them reliable suppliers," she says.

"We refer to Jasean as a bridge that puts these two markets together, being able to help both countries," Yabut says.

Yabut says more Japanese companies are expected to come to the Philippines, which offers more competitive labor cost than China.

Sawaki says this is because the Philippines offers good opportunities to both local and foreign companies. "My wife is Filipina. I first came here when I was 26 years old, under Martial Law. That time was terrible. But the situation of the Philippines has changed very much and the economy has been growing. It is now very nice here. You should be proud of it. They only problem is the traffic jam," he says.

Sawaki says Jasean will continue to introduce opportunities in Asean countries to more Japanese companies. "I encourage company owners and individual Japanese that now is the time to take action," he says.

Source: The Standard