Masatomo Sumitomo, the founder of Sumitomo, is said to have been born into a samurai family in 1585 in Maruoka of Echizen Province (now Fukui Prefecture). He later opened a store in Kyoto, selling books and medicines, which marks the start of Sumitomo’s history. Masatomo, who was also a Buddhist monk, wrote a document in his later years entitled Monjuin Shiigaki (Founder’s Precepts) in which he describes how a merchant should conduct business.
The other person who along with Masatomo Sumitomo created the foundation of today’s Sumitomo Corporation was Riemon Soga. Living in Osaka, Riemon endeavored to learn technology for copper-refining and copper-processing. In 1590 he started a copper-processing business in Kyoto under the trade name Izumiya. Obtaining knowledge from abroad he established the copper-refining technology known as Nanban-buki (Western Refining).
Sumitomo’s business operations continued to grow and develop, with copper mining, refining, manufacturing, and finance as central activities. With the spirit of contributing to society and of enterprising as expressed in slogans such as expressed as "Benefit for self and others, private and public interests are one and the same" and "Farsighted planning," Sumitomo entered into diverse fields, developing into a one of Japan’s representative corporate groups.
The Founder’s Precepts (Monjuin Shiigaki) are the origin of Sumitomo’s business philosophy. The preface contains the statement: "Not only in matters of business but in all situations, make efforts with deepest gratitude in every aspect." This describes the mental attitude of all persons for all life situations.
On the back of development of Japan’s copper industry, Sumitomo advanced from copper trade to operation of copper mines. In 1690, Sumitomo found an excellent copper ore vein in the mountain village of Besshi located in Iyo (now Ehime Prefecture). The next year (1691) marked the start of mining there. For nearly 200 years, throughout the Edo Period, the Besshi Copper Mines left its mark on the copper industry in Japan and the world as one of the most outstanding sources of copper mine.
The roots of Sumitomo Corporation can be traced back to Osaka Hokko K.K.(Osaka North Harbour Company Limited), which was founded by Sumitomo and other partners in December 1919. This company was established with the aim of developing Osaka Harbor as well as the entire surrounding district. It engaged in creation of the Osaka North Harbor area, development of surrounding areas and real estate operations.
In September 1945, in view of the looming crisis of zaibatsu (large and powerful corporate group) dissolution, one of the policies for transfer of operations of the Sumitomo home office was the decision to create a trading division in Sumitomo Real Estate Building Co., Ltd., which was established based on Osaka Hokko K.K. (Osaka North Harbour Company Limited) and had merged with Sumitomo Building Co., Ltd. In November 1945 the company was renamed Nippon Engineering Co., Ltd. and simultaneously "trading" was added to the business aims listed in its articles of incorporation.
The initial period of the trading division, which had started in the devastation of postwar Japan, was a succession of trials and tribulations. During this period Shunya Toji, who had directed the trading division and became president of Sumitomo Corporation in 1947, addressed employees by saying that "enthusiastic amateurs outperform professionals," and continued to inspire them by saying, "If you engage in your activities with passion you will definitely catch up with the competition even if you were initially the last participating trading company."
In 1956 Hisashi Tsuda succeeded Shunya Toji as president. In May 1966 the company had announced its slogan of "Big Three in the Industry" as its aim to be ranked among the top three in the industry. The company engaged in expanding business dealings while strengthening its sales structure. Thanks to these efforts, in the ten-year period of Tsuda’s presidency up to 1970 the company’s sales volume rocketed from 53.4 billion yen to 496.4 billion yen. Sumitomo climbed rapidly from a ranking of 11th to a ranking of 6th in the industry.
In June 1952 Nippon Engineering Co., Ltd. changed its name to Sumitomo Shoji Kaisha Ltd. The corporate name "Sumitomo," whose use had been forbidden after dissolution of the zaibatsu, witnessed a rebirth. Thanks to this change in the company name, Sumitomo Shoji literally got off to a flying start as the general trading company of the Sumitomo Group.
In January 1965 President Hisashi Tsuda wrote the Business Principles acting as the foundation of Sumitomo’s business philosophy. An English translation was included. Even today these principles remain the foundation of the sales activities for all Sumitomo Corporation Group companies.
Aiming to amplify its distribution functions while increasing sales strengths, Sumitomo entered the supermarket business. The year 1963 saw opening of an initial food product supermarket by Keihin Shokai Inc. (predecessor of present-day Summit Inc.). Committed to community-based service, it has grown into one of the top supermarkets in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
In the 1950s, export of tubular products began. In the 1990s, long-term contracts with oil majors were evolved into supply chain management systems.
In the 1950s, a ship export business was launched, followed by expansion into ship trade and chartering, and more recently into ship owning and operating.
In the 1960s, business operations began in the office building sector, with later development into condominiums, retail facilities, and large-scale complexes.
In the 1960s, export of crop protection products began. Wholesaling operations were developed in each of the export markets later on, with an agricultural input and service business added in recent years.
In the 1960’s we received overseas orders for construction of large-scale electric power plants and transmission/substations. From that point, the Company started to take on ownership of power plants as an independent power producer. Currently, we are also focusing on the renewable energy business.
In 1962, we moved into the New Sumitomo Building—the biggest building in West Japan at the time—together with ten of other Sumitomo affiliate companies. In 1970, when construction of the New Sumitomo Shoji Building in Takebashi, Tokyo, was completed, the "Tokyo Branch" was renamed the "Tokyo Headquarters," and we converted to a dual-headquarters system with the Osaka Headquarters.
December 24, 1969 marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of out original company, The Osaka North Harbour Company Ltd., the predecessor of Sumitomo. Foundation anniversary ceremony took place in the large conference room of the New Sumitomo Building. President Hisashi Tsuda expressed our gratitude toward our predecessors at Sumitomo while also expressing our determination to all employees for the next 50 years.
From the 1970s, we expanded the scale of the steel service center business along with overseas expansion of our customers. With the main focus in Asia, these centers enhanced the processing and supply of steel products on a just-in-time basis.
"During his time in office, President Yukio Shibayama coincided with a major transition period for the Japanese and world economy, including the August 1971 Nixon shock, the 1972 boom in plans to remodel the Japanese archipelago, and the first oil crisis in 1973. He announced that the most important thing was to make the most of the great energy and abilities of all executives and employees. His human resources development system concept was launched to achieve comprehensive systemization of personnel."
Mitsuo Uemura, who assumed the presidency in 1977, took the company's existing goal of "Big Three" and added a second goal entitled "Best One" in a comprehensive evaluation of factors such as earning capacity and equity capital strengths. This led to a new vision entitled "Big Three and Best One."
In order that we could continue to soar in the 1980’s, a period known as "the age of uncertainty and opacity," the company emphasized flexible thinking and fresh new ideas as essential elements. The company used its 60th anniversary as an opportunity to solicit slogans in-house that expressed two basic concepts of "All Priority" and "Do our Best." Of the 1,580 suggestions submitted, "Open Eyes on All" was selected.
Upon becoming president in 1990, Tomiichi Akiyama aimed at realization of the Integrated Business Enterprise vision proposed by former President Ito. He embarked on drafting and implementing an action plan. This forwarded reforms of organizations and systems so as to promote investments and increase comprehensive strengths and sales capabilities.
During the 1980’s with the simultaneous global recession and the rapid decline in oil prices, not to mention yen appreciation following the September 1985 Plaza Agreement, our corporate profits suffered a major decrease. In 1988 company president Tadashi Ito set his sights on a radical shift in the company’s earning structure, announcing the "Integrated Business Enterprise" vision with trading activities and business activities as the two main pillars.
In June 1952 the company English name was changed to Sumitomo Shoji Kaisha, LTD. However, in order to expand our trade business it was important to change to an English name that would emphasize that we are a trading company, which led us in July 1978 to change the name to Sumitomo Corporation.
In September 1988, a new slogan, "Seeing Tomorrow, Innovating Today," was chosen from among over 2,000 suggestions, uniting employees in their goal toward achieving an integrated business enterprise.
President Tomiichi Akiyama, in moves to strengthen globally linked management, announced the new slogan "Global Mind, Global Reach" so as to bring out the total strengths of the Sumitomo Corporation Group while training and promoting national staff locally. Overseas trade and businesses featuring local initiative were strengthened.
In the 1980s, Sumitronics was established in Singapore as a specialized trading company dealing in electronic parts. Today, Sumitronics has expanded into Asia and North America as a provider of an electronics manufacturing service for office equipment, home appliances, and automobiles.
In the 1980s, we launched its first industrial park business in Indonesia. Since then, seven industrial parks have been developed in five different countries (as of August 2019).
We expanded from export and financing of construction and mining equipment to sales & marketing business, and subsequently progressed into the rental business. Currently, businesses extend to more than dozen countries around the world.
In the 1980s, we advanced into overseas sales and distribution of automobiles. Since then, we has expanded its business to financing, leasing and manufacturing of parts and vehicles to create a value chain from upstream to downstream.
In the 1990s Sumitomo Corporation established Jupiter Telecom (J:COM) while developing a variety of businesses, starting with cable television business. While other trading companies developed their businesses with communications satellites as the core, we concentrated on downstream fields centering on media business.
The 1990s saw the launch of the Tomod’s chain, which pioneered the format of a drugstore with an integrated dispensing pharmacy. Operations have now expanded to Taiwan.
Kenji Miyahara, who became Sumitomo president in June 1996, acted to prevail over the unlawful copper trading incident with newly established operating principles and action guidelines unique to the Sumitomo Corporation Group while also acting ahead of competitors to introduce a new risk-adjusted return ratio.
In 1996 an unlawful copper trading incident came to light, shaking Sumitomo Corporation at its foundations and leading to loss of more than 300 billion yen. A strict internal control system was put in place to prevent the recurrence of similar acts. It took about 10 years from discovery of the affair until a final settlement.
From the 1990s, we invested in copper mine businesses in Indonesia, with initiatives taken by the Company’s Japanese operations. The experience gained from this served as the foundation for our business managing the San Cristobal Mine and other nonferrous metal mines.
Motoyuki Oka, who became Sumitomo president in June 2001, created and implemented a medium-term management plan that proposed regular objectives after every two years. He believed that the important management strategies become activated when they seep down into the job sites. This led him to go actively to the work-sites while pursuing the goal of "Strategies on the frontlines" and "Frontlines feedback in the boardroom."
From August 1996 construction was well underway of Harumi Island Triton Square featuring commercial facilities, halls, residences, and four office wings(X, Y, Z, W). This complex opened in April 2001. After reorganization that included centralization of head office functions in Tokyo, the head office moved to Harumi in May 2001.
Assuming the presidency in June 2007, Susumu Kato urged securing, training and appointing outstanding human resources at our overseas companies and local organizations to bring about a strengthening of the company’s global consolidated management. In April 2012 the company newly established the Sumitomo Corporation Global HRD Center in Tokyo’s Ginza district. The goal is to create a place where interaction is possible that transcends barriers of country, workplace and age group.
Kuniharu Nakamura, who assumed the presidency in June 2012, created a vision for Sumitomo Corporation in preparation for celebration of its 100th Anniversary in 2019. The company also announced a new slogan "Be the Best, Be the One (BBBO)" to express its conviction for sustained growth in the next 50 to 100 years.
In October 2011 Sumisho Computer Systems Corporation (SCS) merged with CSK Corporation to launch SCSK Corporation. This new company presently engages in joint promotion of the Sumitomo Corporation Group’s digital transformation (DX).
In September 2014 we participated in the Myanmar telecommunications business. Initiatives are now on track to expand our footprint into other Asian countries as well as to develop a platform that provides value-added services to enrich the lives of subscribers.
In February 2017 we acquired Fyffes Ltd, which operates a fresh produce business across wide areas of Europe and the Americas, thus expanding the business portfolio in this sector.
Following the earthquake and tsunami disaster on March 11, 2011, Sumitomo Corporation provided support such as securing and shipping relief goods and donations. Also, as an expression of concern for the afflicted people and our wish to be an organization that provides ongoing support, we announced a plan for sustained reconstruction support in the two areas of humanitarian support in the stricken areas and support of industrial recovery. These support activities continue at present.
In 2017 Sumitomo Corporation identified six material issues to achieve sustainable growth with society as based on its corporate ideal of being an enterprise engaged in wide-ranging social contribution. We have promoted sustainability management.
In April 2018, as Masayuki Hyodo assumed the presidency, Sumitomo Corporation Group set forth a growth strategy, " Medium-Term Management Plan 2020" with the theme of " Unceasing Challenge for New Value Creation."
In September 2018, our head office moved to the Otemachi district of Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. While increasing convenience, we conducted a fundamental reassessment of employee working styles to create an office environment that is both efficient and highly creative.
In May 2019 on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, Sumitomo Corporation Group announced "Enriching lives and the world" as its new corporate message. As the result of two years of discussion among global ambassadors of the Next Century Project, this message was filled with passion and determination.
On December 24, 2019 the Sumitomo Corporation Group will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding.