Mazak’s rising son

Tomohisa Yamazaki is poised to take over from his father as head of the Yamazaki Mazak machine tool company. But, as Paul Carslake discovers, his approach to the family firm promises to be different

Tomohisa Yamazaki created a minor stir at the international machine tool show in Paris in May. It was he, rather than the president of the company – his 70-year-old father Teruyuki – who made the presentation on behalf of his company, Yamazaki Mazak. When Tomohisa sat down, a reporter asked: `Does this mean that Mr Teruyuki Yamazaki will be spending more time on the golf course and less time running the business?’ Teruyuki Yamazaki smiled. `I haven’t decided yet.’

Few insiders doubt that Tomohisa, 45, will be the next boss of Yamazaki Mazak. But when it does happen – and it is when, not if – he looks set to present a rather different approach to that of his father.

`My father is a very talented person,’ says Tomohisa. `He can do everything by himself.’ He describes his father’s all-round involvement in the company, ranging from engineering through to marketing and management. Tomohisa, by contrast, is not an engineer by training nor by aspiration. `I am rather different. I need to use other peoples’ capabilities,’ he says.

Yamazaki junior will be inheriting a £16m turnover family business, which has a reputation for technical excellence in the global machine tool market, and a commitment to organic, not acquisitive growth.

Then there are the extraordinary Yamazaki hobbies. Teruyuki has spent millions on his interests: a formidable private art collection, for example, and the restoration of a traditional Japanese merchant’s house which he transported piece by piece to a new site. He has also developed a private golf club near one of the factories for entertaining clients, with an access road which alone is rumoured to have cost £1m, built through a hillside.

Despite all this, his son is no wealthy young playboy. Modest and unassuming, he gives the impression that life is about hard work, with enjoyment a rare, hard-won pleasure.

Operating in the fiercely cyclical machine tools business, the Yamazaki family has found real wealth relatively recently, and it is ingrained in the family culture that business can bring hardship as well as bounty.

Tomohisa remembers as a child watching the fortunes of the business through his father’s demeanour when he came home from work. `The machine tool business was always up and down. When I was small my father didn’t talk about business but I could feel from his face how it was going.’

The family lived in a modest apartment above the shopfloor, an experience which has marked him – literally. `There was a metal staircase connecting our house with the factory. One day, I fell all the way down. I still have the scar,’ he said, pointing to a weal just to one side of his right eye.

Circumstances for all the Yamazaki family are rather different now. His father drives a Rolls-Royce (`his dream for a long time,’ says his son).

Tomohisa has indulged in a more modest Caterham Seven, a basic two-seat roadster made in Surrey, selling in Britain for less than £13,000. This is his weekend fun-car. For work, he drives a sleek but unostentatious Lexus LS400.

Tomohisa Yamazaki’s studies in business management and administration took him to the US for a number of years in his early twenties, where he has learned to speak English fluently.

His career through the Mazak machine tool company – where he is known as `Tom Junior’ – has included international sales and marketing as well as work on the factory floor and the planning and implementation of the company’s most advanced factory operations.

He is now heading the administrative side of the company, including personnel, labour relations and computer systems – seen as a final induction course to company procedures before he takes the reins.

This present job is perhaps not his favourite. Yamazaki’s day starts at about 5.30am, and he begins work at 8am after a one-hour drive.

Most days start with reading a stack of e-mail, and are divided up with meetings. `Too many meetings, long meetings, some lasting all day,’ he says ruefully. `There’s not enough time to walk around the factory any more.’

His day finishes at about 8pm, when he often dines with customers, or politicians. `I do like the job,’ he says. `But this is now an internal job. Before I was in charge of sales teams in the US and Japan. Going outside is more exciting.’

Tomohisa is married with two children, and lives in a spacious (by Japanese standards) 2,100sq ft condominium near his father’s house. In his spare time he works out, plays tennis and skis in the winter.

The only excess he admits to is wine – though not just to drink. `I like wine,’ he says. `It is my dream to have a winery, perhaps in California.’ With ambition like that, Tomohisa is clearly the son of his father.

Tomohisa Yamazaki at a glance

Age: 45

Education: MBA, Xavier University, Cincinatti: Master of International Management, Arizona State University.

Key appointments: Trainee in Mazak engineering department, followed by involvement in setting up new Japanese manufacturing facility. US sales operation head, 1984-87, then head of Japanese sales in early 1990s.

Current job: Senior managing director, finance and admin.

Interests: Tennis, skiing, wine, motorsports.