Shigeru Nomura

Back to Contents of Issue: July 2001

This editor in chief is heading up a how-to magazine for Japan's ever increasing number of entrepreneurs.

by Kyoko Fujimoto

From the outside, Recruit looks like any other big Japanese corporation. Visitors to the oversized Tokyo headquarters are greeted by bowing, uniformed receptionists on several different floors, and one couldn't be blamed for assuming there's a typical, hierarchical pecking order behind the lobbies. Instead, Recruit -- known primarily as a publisher but involved in a bewildering array of other activities -- is brimming with entrepreneurship. New business divisions are constantly in bloom, and employees rotate through different departments to experience new jobs. As a result, "Recruiters" are accustomed to trying new things. (Mari Matsunaga, one of the prime movers behind i-mode, worked at Recruit.)

Shigeru Nomura, now editor in chief of Recruit's Entre magazine (tied up with Entrepreneur in the US), also loves doing new things. He joined Recruit in 1989, when the company was mired in a nationally infamous bribery scandal involving a powerful politician, because he was attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit. Nomura's first job at Recruit was in the legal department, a position made all the more interesting by the ongoing scandal. But Nomura was secretly hoping to learn all he could from the company and then become an entrepreneur -- inevitably a common ambition at Recruit. Instead, he became editor in chief of a how-to magazine helping others become entrepreneurs. Though a salaryman in a big company, Nomura has an entrepreneurial air about him, probably because he's surrounded by entrepreneurs. Associate editor Kyoko Fujimoto met with him at Recruit HQ (after innumerable friendly greetings by an army of receptionists) to talk about his background, the magazine, and entrepreneurship.

Being in Recruit, I'm sure you have experienced many positions in the company. What were those?
When I joined the company in 1989, I was assigned to the legal department. It was the time of the Recruit scandal, so I got to experience a lot of things that I could never have done anywhere else. It was an exciting experience. Then after two years, I saw an ad in the company -- there was a new project starting up, so the new department was recruiting people. I felt so attracted to the "starting up a new project" part, I applied for it, even though I didn't know what it was. It turned out to be Gaten, a job-search magazine for physical labor jobs, such as construction or cooking. Recruit had job-search magazines like B-ing and Torabayu (the latter from a French word, "travail," and the name of a job-search magazine for women, where Mari Matsunaga was the editor in chief), but there were no magazines that targeted this type of work. So I got involved in starting up the new magazine, and was in charge of marketing. It was fun -- I got to meet so many people in this field, which I didn't know much about, and learned that even though some people refer to physical labor as the 3Ks -- kitsui (hard), kitanai (dirty), kiken (dangerous) -- it's not. I've met many who are proud to do such jobs, and I felt those people were so cool.

After a while, the bubble burst and the marketing cost was cut down. The marketing team was then dismissed, but the editor in chief of Gaten magazine wanted me to join the editorial team because I'd met a lot of readers through my marketing career. That was the start of my editorial life. It was just a coincidence, but since then I've always been involved in the editorial side.

After a few years, in 1996, I was moved to another job- search magazine, B-ing. But then a new project, Entre, started, and I was again moved, this time to the new team, in early 1997 right before the magazine launched.

How did Entre come about?
At around the time the magazine was launched, what's been called the third venture business boom was taking place. The first one was in the early '70s, before the oil shock had come. Many government-run VCs had started around that time, such as the Small & Medium Business Investment & Consultation Company. The oldest VC in Japan, JAFCO, was also established at that time. There was also the Datsu-sara ("escape from salaryman") boom, and many thought about starting their own business at that time. But the oil shock came around, and it fell apart.

The second boom was in the early to mid-'80s, when the Japanese economy was at its peak. There was some change in the Jasdaq, and some famous VCs like Softbank and H.I.S. were established around that time. But after a while, many companies that were thought to be attractive to venture capitalists crashed, and the boom went away.

The third boom came around in the mid-'90s, when business use of the Internet had just started in Japan. When new technology arises from a new source, it means that traditional companies or big corporations aren't necessarily strong in that area and there are equal chances for startups. HyperNet is a prime example of the venture companies that were established at that time. In Recruit, there are many people, including myself, who are very susceptible to words like "startup" or "entrepreneur," so it was natural for us to catch that boom. The Entrepreneurship Promotion Division was established, and the magazine Entre -- to support entrepreneurs -- was born.

Changing jobs was not so common in Japan some time ago. But Recruit published several magazines for changing jobs, promoted Japanese companies to hire people who are not new grads, and established that market. The phrase "lifetime employment" is becoming obsolete; many young people now don't think they'll stay in one company forever. Entre goes one step further. When people think about leaving the company, we want them to think about starting their own business as another choice. We try to provide information on that field, and hope to promote entrepreneurship.

Entre has a special section for women entrepreneurs. Do you see any special characteristics in them?
From my personal point of view, I see many men becoming entrepreneurs because they were thinking about starting up something on their own someday, even though they don't know what that "something" is. On the other hand, I see many women entrepreneurs who start up their own business because they have a particular thing in mind that they want to do. For example, say, a woman was working for a company and felt she could do something much better than her boss; then she would think about doing it on her own. Those people weren't thinking about becoming entrepreneurs from the beginning. I don't mean to categorize women/men entrepreneurs, but it seems like there are more women entrepreneurs who weren't thinking about becoming entrepreneurs. But I want them to feel more comfortable in starting up their own businesses. Actually there are many support systems in Japan to promote women entrepreneurs -- the National Life Finance Corporation, for example, has better interest rates on its loan for women. Many local incubation centers have entrepreneur schools for women, and business plan competitions for women are happening everywhere. I get invited as a judge in those competitions, and I'm surprised to see so many women who have their own plans. They are usually shy in submitting their plans for regular competitions, but I realize they actually are quite active.

What do you think about entrepreneurship in Japan? Hasn't the image of entrepreneurs changed?
Definitely. The success story for typical Japanese people has been to enter big corporations and stay there until they retired. Many thought entrepreneurs were the ones who couldn't get into that success model. But now, not everyone thinks being a salaryman is the most stable way, and many have started to think being in a big corporation isn't the happiest thing. But then, many in the media have recently tried to picture entrepreneurs as greedy ones who just want to be rich, or exaggerate the story about unsuccessful startups who have gone from heaven to hell. But many entrepreneurs are just honestly working hard to get things going. I hope people understand that.

Speaking of big corporations, there has been a phenomenon in which many salarymen working in big corporations went to work for venture companies last year, and now there is another phenomenon in which they are moving back.
Right. We call that B2B and B2C -- that is, "back to bank" and "back to consultant." Somehow there were many people from banks and consulting companies who wanted to work for venture companies. One entrepreneur told me that when he interviewed a candidate from a big company and asked why he wanted to work for his small startup, the candidate answered, "because big corporations are not stable anymore." So he had to explain that the venture companies are much less stable. Those people just want to be safe, so they look for companies in which they feel safer, not for the things they want to do.

Since you've become knowledgeable about business startups and entrepreneurs, don't you want to become one?
Well, (being a loyal salaryman) I shouldn't say I do, but I'm sure many people in Recruit and in our team feel that way. And as I told you, that's one reason why I joined this company. But I think this magazine became successful because of this entrepreneur-minded team. I think we should never lose the entrepreneurial spirit.

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