Morita, Tomijiro 1941–
President, Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company
Education: University of Tokyo, 1964.
Family: Married (spouse's name unknown).
Career: Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1964–1996, various positions; 1996–1997, vice president; 1997–, president.
Address: Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1-13-1 Yuraku-cho, Chiyodku, Tokyo, 100-8411, Japan; http://www.dai-ichi-life.co.jp.
■ Tomijiro Morita spent his career with Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company, becoming its president in 1997. Morita joined the firm in 1964 after graduating from the University of Tokyo, and he developed a reputation as one of the toughest salespeople in the insurance industry in Japan. He revitalized Dai-ichi's sales division and proved to be a strong negotiator for insurers with the Japanese Ministry of Finance during difficult financial times in the early 1990s. As Dai-ichi's president he steered the company through insurance deregulation, forming a series of strategic alliances and partnerships with other companies to maintain and improve his company's financial position.
BEGINNINGS AT DAI-ICHI MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY
Morita studied karate at the University of Tokyo, where he graduated in 1964. He joined Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company after graduation. During his second year with the company, he was appointed to the company labor union's executive committee. The chairman of the union at the time was Takahide Sakurai, who later became president of the company. Sakurai served as a mentor to Morita as Morita continued his career at Dai-ichi.
For a number of years, beginning primarily in 1970s, Japan enjoyed phenomenal economic success. By the late 1980s Japan was maintaining what was commonly referred to as a "bubble economy," with the country experiencing optimum growth over a period of several years. During this period Morita stood out among his peers as a fierce sales competitor. In 1990, however, Japan's bubble economy burst, leading to a major economic downturn. Morita once again distinguished himself in the sales and marketing aspects of Dai-ichi's business when the company focused, in part, on realignment of asset portfolios.
JOINING DAI-ICHI'S BOARD AND RISING IN MANAGEMENT
Based largely on his performance in the sales sector, Morita earned a seat on Dai-ichi's board in 1991. The board placed him in charge of fund management for the company. He assumed the position as the lead negotiator for the insurance industry with officials from the Ministry of Finance in a major dispute involving Japanese housing lenders, known as jusen. By the mid-1990s, seven of the eight leading mortgage companies had neared insolvency, with the lenders suffering from debt of approximately ¥65 trillion. While the insurance industry was only one of several interested parties involved as the Ministry of Finance sought to find an acceptable bailout plan, Morita's service in this capacity earned him respect within the insurance industry.
Morita and Sakurai maintained a strong partnership throughout Morita's career with Dai-ichi. Like Morita, Sakurai had joined Dai-ichi following his graduation from the University of Tokyo in 1955. Sakurai rose through the ranks to become president of Dai-ichi in 1987. The partnership between Morita and Sakurai was one "which rival firms came to fear as the driving force behind Dai-ichi's aggressive marketing strategy" (March 7, 1997).
Morita was groomed for a leadership position in Dai-ichi when he was promoted in 1996 to the position of vice president. In 1997 the company announced that Sakurai would become chairman of Dai-ichi, replacing Shinichi Nishio. Sakurai said he chose to move aside as president with the hope that new management could steer the company through expected and forthcoming financial changes in Japan. The company then selected Morita as its new president.
TAKING OVER AS PRESIDENT OF DAI-ICHI
Dai-ichi had long been Japan's second-largest insurance company, behind Nippon Life Insurance Company. Reflecting what newspaper accounts referred to as a "rather pugnacious business personality," Morita immediately challenged Nippon, saying that one of Dai-ichi's goals was to overtake Nippon for the top position in the industry (March 7, 1997). Dai-ichi's selection of Morita, with his background in sales and marketing, was consistent with a trend among Japanese insurance companies. Like Dai-ichi, Nippon and Mitsui Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1997 selected presidents known for their marketing skills.
The expected radical reforms in Japan's financial markets began to take place a year after Morita assumed the role of president at Dai-ichi. The Japanese legislature enacted the Financial System Reform Act of 1998, which deregulated the insurance, banking, and securities industries. Insurance companies were permitted to set their own prices on policies, a situation that was unprecedented. Similar reforms allowed foreign competitors to enter Japanese business, thus increasing competition among firms. Known as Japan's financial "Big Bang," the new reforms were intended to encourage greater private investment in Japan.
At the press conference where he was introduced as Daiichi's new president in 1997, Morita maintained that the company would focus its business on insurance sales and assets investments, expressing caution about the company's entering new businesses. Following deregulation, however, Morita directed Dai-ichi to form a series of strategic alliances with other insurance companies and businesses. The first of these alliances took place in 1998, when Morita announced that Dai-ichi had agreed to a partnership with the Industrial Bank of Japan. The two companies agreed to increase their investments in each other in an effort to strengthen each company's finances. Morita conceded that reform had progressed more quickly than he had expected. Referring to the company's initial caution regarding the effect of deregulation, Morita said, "We had been considering a new strategy at our own pace, but we realized we would miss a partner if we stuck to our own schedule" (Asahi Shimbun, October 3, 1998).
CONTINUING AGGRESSIVE BUSINESS STRATEGIES
Morita introduced a number of momentous changes at Dai-ichi in order to steer the company through deregulation. Part of the company's new approach, Morita said in 1999, was to overhaul its marketing strategy. The company had previously centered its focus on indemnity against death. Under the new vision, however, the strategy focused on a plan for the insured's life, including planning for old age. In an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun (May 4, 1999), Morita observed, "As people grow older, the issue of life during their old age becomes more important to them, even if they took out insurance policies in their 20s and 30s. Therefore, it has become all the more necessary for us to present our clients with a clear image of what life in their senior years will be like financially."
Alliances and partnerships remained an important part of Dai-ichi's strategy as well. In 2000 the company announced the formation of alliances with two major insurance companies. Dai-ichi and Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company agreed to join their sales focuses and mutually develop their products. Shortly thereafter, Dai-ichi announced an alliance with American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus, Ohio, whereby the companies agreed to market and develop their products jointly. While analysts considered many of these moves to be defensive measures, the company in 2004 remained the second-largest life insurance company in Japan.
LEADER WITHIN THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY
Morita's respect within his industry was represented in 1999, when he was appointed chairman of the Life Insurance Association of Japan. During his term as chairman, he was vocal about pertinent issues affecting the insurance industry, maintaining that life insurance played an enhanced social role in Japan with support from both the private sector and the public sector. He was also critical of certain governmental actions, such as the development of state-sponsored term and whole life insurance policies.
sources for further information
"Analysis: Dai-ichi Mutual Buckles Down Revenues Through Tie-Ups," Nikkei Report, January 7, 2004.
"IBJ, Dai-ichi Mutual Life Form Strategic Alliance," Asahi Shimbun, October 3, 1998.
"Japan Life Insur Chief: Insur Companies Still Under Pressure," Dow Jones Interactive News, March 17, 2000.
Kurokawa, Shigeki, "Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Faces Big Bang," Yomiuri Shimbun, May 4, 1999.
"Morita to Take Charge of Japan's Dai-ichi Mutual Life," Asia Pulse, March 7, 1997.
—Matthew C. Cordon