CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: Young Tokyo Entrepreneur Looks Beyond Today

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IDN-InDepth NewsFeature by Taro Ichikawa

"No matter how much civilisation has advanced, we cannot move human minds mechanically," says Tsuneyoshi Sakuma with a tinge of the philosophical, and adds, "I believe that 'moving cargo with our whole heart' is 'moving clients' thoughts safely' and living up to their expectations."

Versatile and unorthodox, Sakuma has his feet firmly on the ground but sights set on the future. He presides over Shoun Service, a quality company with a staff of 40 women and men, and 38 vehicles. It transports consumer goods and industrial waste, provides packaging and storage services, and runs a 'vegetable factory'.

Sakuma was 22 when father Isamu suddenly fell seriously ill, leaving the company operations in son's hands. Sakuma had some hard nuts to crack before he could assert himself in the 'tough guys' world, a synonym for truck drivers those days.

Father Isamu died in 2004 and son Sakuma took over as company president. He wishes, his father -- who would have loved to live longer -- were still alive. But that was not to be. His mother also passed away braving for 14 long years the acute suffering caused by lung cancer.

"I consider myself lucky indeed to be able to live in good health, work for the company I inherited from my father, and have wonderful employees I can work with," says Sakuma.

Emulating the boss, workers and managerial staff have imbibed a deep sense of belonging and profound commitment to the company and its social ideals. This has enabled him expand and diversify the client base that now includes prestigious corporations such as Japan Railroad, Saitama Coop, Ginza Wako department store in Tokyo's posh area of Ginza, and Mon Chou Cho Co., Ltd which is famous for Dojima Roll, winner of grand gold quality award of Monde selection.

Shoun Service has been awarded since 2008 the prestigious 'G Mark' (renewed every two years) for the quality of its customer services -- quality backed by a close rapport between workers and the managerial staff, vigilance in maintaining the safe operation of vehicles and speed limits monitored by tacographs.

The company is also a member of the nationwide movers' network with some 430 centres, donning the Pigeon trademark.

Environment is close to Sakuma's heart: Shoun Service is partner in the Green Eco project administered by the Tokyo Trucking Association that aims to increase fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions. Each driver sets his fuel efficiency goal and verifies the performance with the aid of a non-digital tacograph.

The unorthodox in Sakuma comes to the fore when he explains his agenda as Youth Division chief of the Tokyo Trucking Association. In that capacity, he presides over the Youth Division of Kanto Trucking Association -- a regional organisation that covers Tokyo and seven adjacent prefectures including Kanagawa, Chiba, Tochigi, Saitama, Gunma, Ibaraki, and Yamanashi.

He also chairs the National Central Training Session for young chief executives of logistics industry -- a nationwide youth organisation made up of regional blocks of Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Hokushinetsu, Kinki, Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu -- affiliated to the Japan Trucking Association.

In his three-fold capacity, Sakuma has travelled around the country and found out that despite prolonged economic depression, transportation companies in Tokyo find it easier to do business than their counterparts in other cities and towns in Japan. What worries him is that there are fewer young people employed or heading such companies in cities and towns than in Tokyo.

"Very often the average age in local transportation companies is late fifties," Sakuma tells IDN, adding that companies like his in Tokyo are better off in that respect too. His feeling is that members in Tokyo have "rather a feeble sense of the crisis" confronting the national trucking industry.

The youth division of the Tokyo Trucking Association has 507 members. But very few take part in social and information events. He has therefore launched a concerted bid to encourage more members join such gatherings -- with increasing success.

The core of Sakuma's agenda is to sensitise the younger chief executives that the future of transportation companies lies in their hands. He is optimistic that "with increasing number of senior members of the Tokyo Trucking Association sharing the sense of crisis with us, the future activities of the youth division of the Tokyo Trucking Association will flourish."

The three-in-one boss is unrelenting when it comes to achieving social objectives. He has a story to tell: During his tenure as head of the youth division of Nerima, he approached an elementary school and offered to hold a reality near traffic safety class for children. The school principal refused to allow a truck to enter the school ground, arguing that this may be damaged by such a huge vehicle.

Sakuma pointed out that the school premises were designed to accommodate a large fire brigade vehicle at a time of emergency. The principal would not give in but agreed to leave the final decision to parents and the teachers association. They endorsed Sakuma's proposal and he could hold the safety lesson, with the backing of the local traffic police. Similar safety classes followed in several other schools, and Shoun Service was awarded a letter of appreciation in November 2009 by the Shakujii Police Department.

Encouraged by public appreciation for such lessons, Sakuma is exploring ways of organising countrywide traffic safety lessons by instituting October 9 as the national 'Truck Day' with the support of the trucking association and local police stations.

He has set himself yet another ambitious target: to bring the social status of truck drivers on par with that of aeroplane pilots and ship captains. The truck drivers are after all the backbone of road transportation which is critical for sustaining the industrial society. The youth division of the trucking association has a significant role to play in achieving the goal.

"Let's go back to the starting point and connect with the future our bonds and determinations" is the slogan the annual meeting of National Central Training Session for young chief executives gave itself in January 2011.

"Going back to the starting point" means that "each of us should remember the time when we entered the transportation business with hope and dream," Sakuma explains. "Connecting with the future" means connecting with the next generation. "Our bonds" means that "we must build on precious human relations cherished by our predecessors through the association."

"Determination means never giving up and shaping our company so that our children will take pride in it. Under this slogan, I would like to move forward with youth members for the betterment of transportation industry," says Sakuma affirming his agenda.

As president of the youth division of Kanto Trucking Association, he was looking for a new sustaining activity as he wanted it to be a leading regional association. "I was looking for low budget projects, which may easily attract supporting members, and help to create some social impact. I was happy to hit upon a project that has acorn (or oak nuts) at its core," Sakuma tells IDN.

He explains how it happened: At a cosmetics company in Yamanashi prefecture, which happened to be the venue of an annual event organised by the Youth Division of Kanto Trucking Association, he learned that their employees in cooperation with local residents pick up acorns (or oak nuts), make saplings and plant them.

Sakuma's employees have meanwhile collected 1890 pieces of acorns -- a vital food source for squirrels -- and are now growing saplings. He plans to propose this as a sustaining project for the Kanto Trucking Association at the next general assembly.

"This is something all association members can do easily throughout the year without incurring any costs …they can pick up acorns when they go to a golf course or mountains and easily grow saplings. As the Kanto Trucking Association, we could present saplings as an environmental CSR project on the 'Truck day' on October 9, for example."

Acorns saplings take two years to grow, and as an adage has it, 'great oaks from little acorns grow'.

Acorns served an important role in early human history and were a source of food for many cultures around the world. For instance, the poorer Ancient Greeks would eat acorns in their food and in the Jōmon period of Japan, acorns were harvested, peeled and soaked in natural or artificial ponds for several days to remove tannins, then processed to make acorn cakes. But for modern societies acorn is not a significant source of calories.

In November 2010, Sakuma embarked on a new business called the 'vegetable factory'. "We set up a factory in Nirasaki City, Yamanashi prefecture, under a partnership contract with Agri Fresh Company, which has developed a cutting edge technology together with Tamagawa University team led by Dr. Hiroyujki Watanabe. We have commissioned our partner to manage the factory and market the products while we carry these to the clients."

Sakuma owes his taste for vegetables to his father. And, the vegetable factory allows growing vegetables free from pesticide year-round under eco-friendly conditions. Also, the crop yield per unit square is much bigger than that of outdoor cultivation as vegetables are grown independent of weather, season, and soil conditions.

"We are, for example, growing Basil and selling by bulk to markets and growing Malabar Red Spinach (a perennial vine found in the tropics where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable) and distributing it to a large Japanese franchise chain, which serves café and Italian dishes," says Sakuma with visible pride.

While Malabar spinach (Basella alba) is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium content, it is low in calories, but high in protein per calorie.

The vegetable factory is important from yet another point of view: it holds the prospect of diversifying business operations and enhancing job security. "If economic situation gets worse and I am forced to reduce the number of (truck) drivers, I will be in a position to offer them jobs at the vegetable factory," explains Sakuma in line with his approach to looking beyond today.

*This is the seventh in a series of special IDN-InDepthNews features and articles on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility'.

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