Masatoshi Ito, Japanese billionaire behind 7-Eleven boom, dies at 98

Hong Kong/Tokyo (CNN) Masatoshi Ito, the Japanese billionaire who built 7-Eleven convenience stores into a global empire, has died at age 98, ending the chapter of one of Asia’s most storied retailers.

Seven & I Holdings (SVNDF)The operator of the 7-Eleven confirmed the death A statement On Monday, Ito died of old age on March 10.

“We express our deepest gratitude for your kindness and friendship during his lifetime and respectfully inform you of his passing,” the company said.

Ito transformed everyday retailing in Japan, turning an American-born company into an international brand, especially in Asia where 7-Eleven stores are just a few minutes’ walk away in many cities.

Seven & I Holdings now operates 83,000 stores worldwide, including 7-Eleven stores in 19 regions and countries and the Speedway convenience store chain in the United States.

A 7-Eleven convenience store in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan on January 9, 2023.

Major rivals include Japanese-owned Lawson and Family Mart convenience store franchises, but neither has the sheer size or global reach of the 7-Eleven empire.

Ito’s business acumen was influenced by his friendship with the late management consultant Peter Drucker. described Ito is “one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and business builders.”

In 1988 Interview With The Journal of Japanese Commerce and Industry, Ito said he traveled to America in 1960 and “experienced a kind of culture shock at how rich everyone seemed” as Japan recovered from World War II.

“I was particularly conscious of the sheer size of America’s consumer society and the distribution techniques that made it possible,” he was quoted as saying.

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“People in different cultures still have the same desires, they think they are in the same development, and I thought that as the Japanese consumer society grows larger, Japan’s distribution system will become similar to America’s.”

7-Eleven hike

The convenience store chain traces its origins to 1927, when several icehouse companies merged. Southland Ice Company In Dallas, Texas.

To reflect their extended hours of operation, the stores were renamed 7-Eleven in 1946: open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

So how did 7-Eleven become synonymous with the Japanese convenience store culture we know today?

Ito was a post-war entrepreneur who through a series of acquisitions and expansions between the 1970s and 1990s turned it into a global brand selling everything from yogurt to prepared foods and pharmaceuticals.
According to state broadcaster NHK, Ito Got his start In 1958, he became the head of a small clothing store in Tokyo that was run by his family.

He then ventured into selling food and other daily necessities. Ito renamed the company Yokoto and began operating the business like an American supermarket.

Ito Yokato then made a deal with Southland Corporation, the owner of 7-Eleven, and opened Japan’s first 7-Eleven in Tokyo in 1974.

His company then Acquired controlling stake March 1991 in Southland. A year later Ito Ito resigned as president of Yokoto, according to NHK, to accept responsibility for alleged payments by company officials to fraudsters.

In 2005, Seven & I Holdings was established as the holding company for Ito-Yokato and Seven-Eleven Japan, and Ito remained its honorary chairman until his death.

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Looking back on 7-Eleven’s success, Ito was quoted as saying in a 1988 interview: “I’m often asked if I succeeded because of hard work or because I was lucky. The answer is some of both.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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