Monitor talks with Hideki
Odaka, president of Mitsubishi Gas Chemical.
Chemical is a world leader in producing methanol from
natural gas. Your product portfolio also includes commodity
chemicals, such as ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and xylene,
and specialty chemicals, such as BT resin for printed
circuit boards. Your Ageless oxygen absorber is a market
leader in products for keeping packaged foods fresh.
Where do you go from here? What kind of company do you
want Mitsubishi Gas Chemical to be in 5 or 10 years?
We are concentrating on two
main strategic priorities. One priority is to focus
our business on product categories where we can differentiate
our offerings advantageously from competitors'. The
other priority is to coordinate management better among
the companies in the Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Group to
strengthen our overall competitiveness.
Does your emphasis on differentiation
mean exiting markets for commodity chemicals?
It means focusing especially
on fine chemicals, on materials for the electronics
industry and on other high-value-added products. Commodity
chemicals will remain an important part of our product
portfolio. But our business will grow more rapidly in
What do you mean by coordinating
management better among group companies?
Until recent years, Japan's
business media and Japanese shareholders were interested
mainly in nonconsolidated, parent-company financial
performance. Consolidated, group results were a secondary
consideration. That has changed as escalating competition
has obliged managements to employ assets more efficiently
and as globalization has obliged us to adopt more-transparent
accounting practices. At Mitsubishi Gas Chemical, we
are working to optimize our operations in the context
of overall, group performance.
What technological strengths underlie
the Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Group's performance in the
The president exhibits two examples of food packaging
that contains Mitsubishi Gas Chemical products.
High-tech nylon from the company helps retain the
fizz in carbonated beverages. And Mitsubishi Gas
Chemical's oxygen-absorbing Ageless appears as a
thin laminate in a growing range of food-packaging
Our strengths are highly distinctive
and highly competitive. A very fundamental strength is
our technological momentum as the industry pioneer in
producing methanol from natural gas. Another important
strength is our expertise in electronics-related technologies,
such as garnet crystals, printed circuit boards and semiconductor
The Ageless product line evidences another
technological pillar of our business. Based on the oxygen
affinity of iron powder, Ageless preserves freshness by
preventing oxidation and by preventing the growth of fungi
and aerobic bacteria. It originally appeared as packets
in packages, and that remains the most common application.
But we also have begun supplying Ageless as a laminate
for food-packaging bags. I should mention that we supply
Ageless for packaging electronic components, too.
Geography is another
strength for you, isn't it?
We have built plants outside
Japan for three very different reasons. One reason is
proximity to supplies of natural gas. We own equity
stakes in plants in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela that
convert natural gas into methanol. And we participate
in methanol production ventures in a nonownership capacity
in other nations where natural gas is plentiful.
A second reason for globalizing production
is cost-competitiveness. Japan's high-cost environment
is unsuited to production of some commodity products.
Our customers have shifted some of their production
to other Asian nations. And we have built plants in
Southeast Asia and in other regions to serve them with
high-quality, cost-competitive raw materials.
Our third main reason pertains to technology
and product strategy. We are making the most of our
strengths in selected high-value-added products by producing
those products locally in principal markets. A good
example is MX Nylon. That material offers excellent
strength and good formability. It also offers superior
gas barrier characteristics. In bottles for carbonated
beverages, that helps retain the carbonation. We are
the only producer of MX Nylon in the world. And we are
building a plant in the United States to complement
our MX Nylon plant in Japan.
Your company has an interesting
Yes. Mitsubishi Gas Chemical
arose through the 1971 merger of Mitsubishi Edogawa
Chemical and Japan Gas Chemical. The former had been
established in 1918 to supply barium to a Mitsubishi
company that made paper, and it subsequently had developed
various chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide. The
latter was founded in 1951 as the first Japanese company
to produce methanol from natural gas. Both of our founders
were highly technology-intensive enterprises.
We are proud to add an important facet
to the vast range of services and products available
from the Mitsubishi companies. And we are grateful for
the benefits that we enjoy by virtue of bearing the
Mitsubishi name. Mitsubishi Gas Chemical is a smallish
company by the standards of the global chemical industry.
But wherever we go in the world, we can dispense with
self-introductions. The name says it all.