Masatoshi Ito, Japanese billionaire behind the rise of 7-Eleven, dies at 98
Masatoshi Ito, the Japanese billionaire who turned 7-Eleven into a global giant, has passed away at the age of 98.
Seven & I Holdings, the parent company of the global convenience store chain 7-Eleven, confirmed Ito’s death on Monday, stating that he died of old age on 10 March.
“We would like to express our deepest gratitude for your kindness and friendship during his life and respectfully inform you of his passing,” the company said.
Ito’s remarkable career spanned several decades and had a significant impact on the retail industry in Japan and beyond.
He is widely credited with transforming 7-Eleven into a household name in Asia, where the convenience store chain has a ubiquitous presence, with thousands of outlets across the region.
Seven & I Holdings now operates over 83,000 stores worldwide, including 7-Eleven shops in 19 countries, about a quarter of them in Japan, and the Speedway convenience store chain in the United States.
Ito over a small Tokyo apparel store business that had been run by his uncle then half-brother and named it Ito-Yokado. He travelled to the United States in 1960, where he was struck by the size of America’s consumer society and the distribution techniques that made it possible.
During this time an executive at Ito-Yokado, Toshifumi Suzuki, spotted a 7-Eleven store during a visit to the US.
Ito-Yokado later forged a deal with 7-Eleven’s owner - the US-based Southland Corporation - and opened Japan’s first 7-Eleven in 1974.
Ito’s business savvy and relentless drive to expand the company through a series of acquisitions and expansions in the 1970s and 1980s cemented 7-Eleven’s position as a leading retail brand in Japan and beyond that sells a wide range of products, from food and medicine to ready-made meals and yogurt.
Reflecting on 7-Eleven’s success in a 1988 interview, Ito said: “I am frequently asked if I succeeded because of hard work or because I was just lucky. The answer is some of both.”
“I was fortunate to have started out in business right after the war - the same time that a broad-based consumer society was beginning to develop in Japan.”