Tomen Corporation History

6-7, Kawaramachi 1-chome
Osaka 530-91

Telephone: (06) 208-2211
Fax: (06) 3588-9980

Public Company
Incorporated: 1920 as Toyo Menka Kaisha Ltd.
Employees: 2,795
Sales: ¥5.4 trillion (US $41.9 billion) (1998)
Stock Exchanges: Tokyo Osaka Nagoya
SICs: 6799 Investors, Not Elsewhere Classified

Company Perspectives:

Applying its long-held and wide-ranging experience to trade, distribution, information, finance and investment, organizing and planning, and management operations, as well as to the creation of new business functions, Tomen views the current, fast-evolving business environment as a positive opportunity to achieve growth and to serve the needs of markets around the globe. Our goal is to develop as a distinctive worldwide enterprise with a highly competitive corporate structure. To that end, Tomen has developed as not merely a trading company, but as an integrated business with development, manufacturing, and service operations worldwide. The objective is to realize our vision of a "diversified yet highly integrated global enterprise."

Company History:

Tomen Corporation is Japan's seventh largest general trading company (or sogo shosha), Japan's 17th largest company overall, and the world's 40th largest firm in terms of sales volume. Tomen is an international power concentrating on four main areas: independent power production, agricultural chemicals, food processing, and telecommunications. The company, which began as an importer of raw cotton, has a global network of more than 100 branches and offices in more than 60 countries.

Early History

During the 1920s, as Japan became increasingly industrialized, spinning and weaving arose as an important industry in Japan. Among the most prosperous of Japan's industrial groups was Mitsui & Company. Tomen established itself as Toyo Menka Kaisha Ltd., or Oriental Cotton Trading, in April 1920, with capital of ¥25 million. It was formed to import raw cotton and sell textiles both domestically and abroad when Mitsui & Company spun off its cotton department. Mitsui did so because the cotton trade became very risky during the post-World War I era. Raw cotton is an internationally traded commodity, and the global postwar recession of this period made trading in such a market highly speculative.

The company's first years were troubled, especially during Japan's financial panics of 1922 and 1927. Nonetheless, the company captured ten percent of the Japanese cotton market within a few years. Before 1920 Mitsui & Company had served 30 percent of the market. By 1924 Toyo Menka had founded its first overseas arm, the Southern Cotton Company in Dallas, Texas. During the early 1930s Toyo Menka and Mitsui & Company had sufficient confidence in the textile market to offer to buy Brazil's entire cotton crop. The companies encouraged Japanese immigrants to Brazil to grow cotton, and the São Paulo cotton crop was nearly doubled by Japanese farmers. Despite the unstable economic climate and Japan's involvement in the Sino-Japanese War, Toyo Menka expanded quickly, increasing its capital to ¥35 million by 1940. By 1935 it imported nearly 20 percent of Japan's raw cotton and provided more than 20 percent of the country's cotton-textile exports to India. Indonesia and India were a strong market for Toyo Menka, which was able to import Indian raw cotton, process it, and sell the cotton textiles in India more cheaply than the Indians. The demand for processed cotton fabrics increased in the mid-1930s. Toyo Menka then gained markets in Europe and became Japan's largest importer of raw cotton. The company owed part of its success to its ability to exploit cheap labor in its colonies and in Manchukuo and China. Toyo Menka wielded considerable influence in China before and during World War II.

The outbreak of World War II had a severe impact on trading companies in Japan as distribution of their commodities was limited to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, those areas in East Asia over which Japan exercised at least some control. Toyo Menka's exports were limited to cotton-textile shipments to Manchuria and China, and even these were virtually suspended eventually. Toyo Menka was able to take over large cotton-textile operations in Shanghai and other occupied cities, however, and it thrived domestically. Trading activities were controlled further by the government's Trade Control Committee, established in 1942, which essentially made a government subcontractor of Toyo Menka. Toyo Menka worked closely with the Japanese government during the war and enjoyed a great deal of political influence. Some of Toyo Menka's Chinese branch offices were used by an undercover agency known as the Kodama Machine, for its leader, Yoshi Kodama. The Kodama Machine acted as a clearinghouse for looted valuables leaving China and black market goods entering China.

Postwar Recovery and Expansion

After the war business activities in Japan were regulated by the Allied occupation authorities. This period was marked by the dissolution of zaibatsu, business conglomerates, including Mitsui, of which Toyo Menka had remained a member. Between 1945 and 1949, Toyo Menka's operations were curtailed by its classification by authorities as a restricted company, but it began handling metals, machinery, and food products in 1947. Business dealings were eased when most of the responsibility for self-government was given back to Japan in 1949. Toyo Menka began to rebuild, with its staff halved.

In 1950 Toyo Menka turned the corner into real growth, aided by postwar economic stability and especially by the Korean War, begun in June 1950. The war stimulated rapid economic recovery in Japan. Industrial plants and the textile industry thrived. Toyo Menka's capital increased to ¥150 million, and the company was listed on the Osaka and Tokyo stock exchanges in 1950.

As world trade volume soared during the 1950s Toyo Menka expanded its overseas network, beginning with the establishment of Toyomenka (America) Inc. in 1951. Toyo Cotton Company opened in Dallas, Texas, in 1952. A Bangkok branch was opened in 1954--the first Japanese trading company posted there--followed by a London branch in 1956. Toyo Menka had 33 branches and offices internationally by 1955. Toyomenka (Australia) Pty., Ltd. was founded in 1957. Japan was working toward integration in the international community at this time; it joined the United Nations in 1957 and established the Japan External Trade Organization in 1958.

Concurrent with its international expansions, Toyo Menka sought to increase its offerings by merging with specialized trading companies. In 1955 it absorbed Kanegafuchi Shoji and increased its textile activities. Toyo Menka acquired Honcho Real Estate in 1956. Toyo Menka's real estate division eventually grew into an international urban development group, emphasizing residential developments, with more than 20 affiliated companies. Activities included urban renewal projects and recreational facilities. The division oversaw the development of residential subdivisions, shopping centers, condominiums, and golf courses.

With the sustained economic boom of the 1960s, Japan became a world power, exporting in enormous quantities and widening its product range. Toyo Menka's merger with Taiyo Bussan in 1961 expanded its food products divisions. The absorption of Nankai Kogyo in 1963 brought Toyo Menka increased iron and steel activities. Toyo Menka was importing about 70 percent of Japan's machine tools. This merger boosted Toyo Menka's exports of steel and iron to the United States, and exports of plant, machinery, and ships to Asia. In the early 1990s, Toyo Menka's iron and steel division handled products that ranged from iron ore and other raw materials to finished products. Company capital more than doubled between 1960 and 1973. Toyo Menka also began importing hard coking coal from Australia. Other ventures begun in overseas subsidiaries in the 1960s included a fabric processing mill in Thailand, a cottonseed oil manufacturer in Brazil, and a manufacturer of synthetic textiles in Indonesia. Toyo Menka celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1970 and changed its Japanese name from Toyo Menka to Tomen, although its English name remained Toyo Menka Kaisha, Ltd.

As the oil crisis of the mid-1970s spawned recession in the United States and Europe, Toyo Menka reviewed its internal organization and expanded its product line. In the late 1970s, Toyo Menka began issuing a variety of bonds in Europe and the United States to strengthen its financial and capital structure. Bond issuance continued through the 1980s. The recession stalled Toyo Menka's growth; sales only inched up between 1973 and 1978. The company worked on establishing joint overseas ventures and projects. These included forklift trucks in West Germany and sheet glass production in Malaysia. The 1973 oil crisis prompted Toyo Menka to establish new ties to petroleum at home.

Just as the economic climate began to improve, the 1979 oil crisis occurred. During the late 1970s, Toyo Menka continued its overseas activities, establishing more companies in Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia. In 1979 Toyo Menka was active with orders for construction machinery, desalination projects, ships, and offshore drilling equipment.

Diversification Continued in the 1980s

Toyo Menka's energy division separated from the chemicals and fuels division in 1981, as the company's energy-related transactions escalated. This division's main activities were the import of crude oil and liquefied gas as well as offshore dealings, the import and export of petroleum products, and uranium imports. It also supplied lubricating oils and fuels to vessels in major ports around the world. Domestic affiliates within this division included many gasoline stations. Toyo Menka also expanded into fields of electronics and data technology in the early 1980s. Tomen Information Systems Corporation was established in 1982, and Tomen Electronics Corporation was founded the following year. Company sales went from US $18 billion in 1980 to US $25 billion in 1984. Another diversification at this time included apparel retailing.

With attention being drawn to the trade imbalances favoring Japan in the mid-1980s, Toyo Menka focused on expanding its domestic activities, and by 1989, domestic transactions had increased dramatically. Toyo Menka became Japan's leading importer of wine, taking advantage of that fast-expanding market. In the fall of 1990, Toyo Menka Kaisha, Ltd. changed its name to Tomen Corporation. Tomen had been Toyo Menka's nickname since its founding. That spring, it spun off its own cotton department as Toyo Cotton (Japan) Company.

1990s Difficulties Led to Radical Restructuring

The bursting of the late 1980s Japanese economic bubble led to prolonged difficulties for Tomen in the 1990s. Nearly all of the sogo shosha had diversified aggressively into financial investments during the speculative bubble years, in large part because their traditional activity of marginally profitable commodity trading had been in a deep decline for years, a development compounded by a trend toward Japanese companies handling their international operations themselves. In desperation the trading companies built up large stock portfolios and became hooked on the revenues they could gain through arbitrage (or zaiteku, as it is known in Japan). Once the bubble burst, the sogo shosha were left with huge portfolios whose worth had plummeted; all of the trading companies were forced eventually to liquidate much of their stock holdings.

Tomen waited until fiscal 1998 before making its largest write-down of portfolio losses, ¥25 billion (US $194 million). The write-down led to a net loss of ¥19 billion (US $147 million)--the first in more than 40 years--and to the company not paying a dividend, again for the first time in more than 40 years.

Simultaneous with the March 1998 announcement of this dismal news, Tomen said that it would begin a radical restructuring (at least by Japanese standards), which had at its heart three main components. First, Tomen would abandon the soup to nuts approach that has been traditional for all sogo shosha in favor of a concentration on four main areas, from which the company hoped to generate 80 percent of its profits: independent power production, agricultural chemicals, food processing, and telecommunications. Managing director Takeshige Yuzo told the Financial Times: "The era in which trading companies handle everything from ramen [noodles] to rockets is over." As part of this major change, Tomen planned to divest or integrate up to 50 affiliated companies over a two-year period, as well as streamline its sales and administrative departments with a concomitant reduction in staff by 400. Second, Tomen aimed to reduce its liabilities by ¥200 billion (US $1.55 billion) through liquidating securities, real estate, and other investments. Third, to improve and speed up the company's decision-making process, Tomen's entire organizational structure was to be streamlined, by cutting the number of directors in half, by forming a management committee with fewer than ten members, and by using locally hired experts to run overseas offices rather than Japanese managers.

All told, these changes represented a significant departure from tradition for a Japanese company. Much of the plan was designed to turn Tomen into more of an Anglo-American-style company, where shareholder value is the prime measure of success. Tomen picked a particularly challenging time to take this type of large risk, as the Japanese economy continued in stagnation, and as the Asian financial crisis had seemingly only just begun. It was quite possible that if Tomen succeeded in its efforts to reshape itself, many other Japanese firms would follow its lead.

Principal Subsidiaries: NORTH AMERICA: Tomen America Inc. (U.S.A.); Chickasha Cotton Oil Co. (U.S.A.); Toyo Cotton Co. (U.S.A.); Casio, Inc. (U.S.A.); Goldtex, Inc. (U.S.A.); Tomen Power Corp. (U.S.A.); Techno Steel Corp. (U.S.A.); Trans-Aqua International Inc. (U.S.A.); Tomen Agro Inc. (U.S.A.); Tomen Canada Inc. CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA: Tomen de Mexico, S.A. de C.V.; Tomen Corporation do Brasil Ltda. (Brazil); Oleos "MENU" Industria e Comercio Ltda. (Brazil); Hokko do Brasil Industria Quimica e Agro Pecuaria Ltda. (Brazil); Kanebo Silk do Brasil S.A. Industria de Seda (Brazil); Superfine Industria e Comercio Ltda. (Brazil); Tomen Panama, S.A.; Tomen Latin America, S.A. (Panama); Ecuatoyo Cia, Ltda. (Ecuador); Centragas-Transportadora de la Region Central de Enron Development & Cia, S.C.A. (Colombia). EUROPE: Tomen Deutschland G.m.b.H. (Germany); Tomen Textilmaschinen G.m.b.H. (Germany); Casio Computer Co., G.m.b.H. Deutschland (Germany); Tomen France S.A.; Nutri-Tomen S.A. (France); Yangtzekiang-Tomen S.A. (France); Tomen Europe Ltd. (U.K.); Tomen (U.K.) PLC; Tomen Power Corporation (U.K.) Ltd.; Tomen Netherlands B.V.; Tomen Finance Nederland B.V. (Netherlands); Feedadex B.V. (Netherlands); Tomen Corporation Espana S.A. (Spain); Tomen Italia S.p.A. (Italy); Budapesti Eromu Rt. (Hungary); Salgotarjan Glass Wool Ltd. (Hungary); Agroferm Hungarian-Japanese Fermentation Industry Ltd. (Hungary). NEAR AND MIDDLE EAST: Tomen Iran Ltd.; Alexandria National Iron and Steel Co., S.A.E. (Egypt). ASIA: Sheng Yu Steel Co., Ltd. (Taiwan); Grand Biotechnology Co., Ltd. (Taiwan); Taiwan Chao Yang Chemical Co., Ltd.; Ton Yi Industrial Corp. (Taiwan); Toyo Cosmos Enterprise Co., Ltd. (Taiwan); Young Sun Chemtrading Co., Ltd. (Taiwan); Tomen Korea Corp.; Korea Fine Chemical Co., Ltd.; Korea Polyol Co., Ltd.; Tomen (Thailand), Ltd.; Tomen Enterprise (Bangkok) Ltd. (Thailand); Eastern Chemical Co., Ltd. (Thailand); Lohakit Steel Service Center Co., Ltd. (Thailand); Sukosol & Mazda Co., Ltd. (Thailand); Sukosol & Mazda Motor Industry Co., Ltd. (Thailand); Thai Chemical Terminal Co., Ltd. (Thailand); Tovecan Factory (Vietnam); Quang Ninh-Tomen Gum Rosin Industry (Vietnam); LMG-Chemicals Co. (Philippines); Norgate Apparel Manufacturing, Inc. (Philippines); Sakamoto Orient Chemicals Corp. (Philippines); Northern Mindanao Power Corp. (Philippines); Growchem Trading (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.; Tomen Petroleum (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.; Tomen Construction & Leasing (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.; Tomen International (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd.; Alpha Industries Sdn. Bhd. (Malaysia); Hino Motors (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd.; Kohno Plastic (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd.; Toyo Plastic (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd.; P.T. Tomenindo Lestari (Indonesia); P.T. Canvas Industry Indonesia; P.T. Indonesia Petroleum Industries; P.T. Kanebo Tomen Sandang Synthetic Mills (Indonesia); P.T. Karka Nutri Industri (Indonesia); P.T. Styrindo Mono Indonesia; P.T. Teijin Indonesia Fiber Corp.; P.T. Tembaga Mulia Semanan (Indonesia); P.T. Tomenbo Indonesia; P.T. N.G.K. Busi Indonesia; TDT Copper Ltd. (India); Ghandhara Nissan Ltd. (Pakistan); Kohinoor Energy Ltd. (Pakistan); Dalian Huaqi Fashion Co., Ltd. (China); Huaxing Stone Industry Co., Ltd. (China); Tianjin KDS Corp. (China); Dalian Advanced Chemical Co., Ltd. (China); Nantong Hui Shou Di Fashion (China); Shanghai Kunimi Fashion Co., Ltd. (China); Zhong Shan Zhonglong Aguatic Co., Ltd. (China); Tomen (H.K.) Co., Ltd. (Hong Kong); K&T Foods Co., Ltd. (Hong Kong); Tomen Finance (H.K.) Ltd. (Hong Kong); Tomen (Asia) Hong Kong Ltd.; Tomen Hot-Line (Hong Kong) Ltd.; Yuen Long Textile Co., Ltd. (Hong Kong). OCEANIA: Tomen Australia Ltd.; Oakbridge Ltd. (Australia); Dyechem Industries Pty. Ltd. (Australia); Tomen (N.Z.) Ltd. (New Zealand); Polymers International Ltd. (New Zealand).

Principal Divisions: Steel Products & Raw Materials Division; Nonferrous Metals Division; Housing & General Merchandises Division; Power & Utility Projects Division; Information & Communications Division; Industrial Project Division; Electronics & Automobile Division; Produce Division; Foodstuff Division; Organic Chemicals Division; Specialty & Inorganic Chemicals Division; Plastics Division; Energy Department; Textile Materials & Fabrics Division; Industrial Textiles Division; Apparel Division; Media & Telecommunication Business Office.

Further Reading:

  • "Continental Cable Plans Joint Venture with Tomen in Japan," Wall Street Journal, March 15, 1995, p. C10.
  • Harbrect, Douglas, and Hiromi Uchida, "For Japan Inc., a Kentucky Whipping," Business Week, November 8, 1993, pp. 56-57.
  • Iwao, Ichiishi, "Sogo Shosha: Meeting New Challenges," Journal of Japanese Trade & Industry, January/February 1995, pp. 16-18.
  • Nakamoto, Michiyo, "Directors Cut in Tomen Shake-Up," Financial Times, March 16, 1998, p. 26.
  • ------, "From Noodles and Rockets to Shareholder Value," Financial Times, March 20, 1998, p. 30.
  • Roberts, John G., Mitsui: Three Centuries of Japanese Business, 2nd ed., New York: Weatherhill, 1989.
  • Rosario, Louise do, "Lose and Learn: Japan's Firms Pay Price of Financial Speculation," Far Eastern Economic Review, June 17, 1993, pp. 60-61.
    Toyo Menka Kaisha, Ltd., Osaka: Toyo Menka Kaisha, Ltd., [1988].
  • Yonekawa, Shin'ichi, ed., General Trading Companies: A Comparative and Historical Study, Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1990.
  • Yoshihara, Kunio, Sogo Shosha: The Vanguard of the Japanese Economy, Tokyo: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Young, Alexander K., The Soga Shosha: Japan's Multinational Trading Companies, Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 24. St. James Press, 1999.