Meet The Elite: Seisaku Okafuji

Hankyu Hanshin Express’ Chairman and CEO looks back on his career and forward to a successful year

Tell me about your career

I started out in this company in 1974, so I have been here a long time. In my second year, I was assigned to work in our New York representative office, and I worked there from 1975 to 1982. I came back to Osaka and then worked mainly for our Western cargo region until 2005. This is actually my second appearance in Cargo Clan. I featured before when I was branch manager in Kyoto in 1989/90. At that point we were handling a lot of cargo with Cathay Pacific, mainly for Nintendo products.

I moved to Tokyo in 2005, and I was in charge of the corporate planning office, looking after the Eastern sales division from 2006 to 2010, when I became President and CEO. This year, I became Chairman and CEO at the start of April.

Hankyu Hanshin Express’ Chairman

Main markets and commodities

In terms of air cargo, our main commodities are semi-conductor products and automotive machinery and materials from Japan. The major lanes are mostly to Asian markets – Bangkok, Shanghai, Taipei and Hong Kong. In terms of the US, our biggest market is Chicago, followed by New York. In Europe, our top four are Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris and London. We are the fourth biggest importer and exporter of air cargo from Japan. We do a lot of exports and imports from all over the world.

We have also expanded and now have 123 offices in 28 countries.

In terms of imports, the main shipments are textiles, clothing, electrical components and pharma from Europe and the US.

Career highlight

This year is very much a highlight. We are celebrating our 70th anniversary, and I became chairman and CEO. We have 1,000 employees in Japan and 2,000 employees overseas and we are trying to collect photos of everyone so that we can make a artwork with all their pictures.

In the beginning, we were an air cargo and air passenger agent. We did not start our seafreight business until 30 years later, but our main business is still air cargo.

Challenges and opportunities

We are very optimistic about the future, especially the next six to 12 months, both in Japan and worldwide. The global economy is undergoing substantial growth. The air cargo industry is looking positive as far as we can tell, and we are hearing this from our customers. However, the Japan market is mature, so we do not expect very high growth, but we are aiming to expand our network in Asean countries, along with India and Bangladesh. In Japan, we will focus on higher yielding shipments. Compared to five years ago, the Japanese economy is becoming very strong.

In terms of challenges in Japan, the market is volatile and rates fluctuate a lot, so we need stability and sustainability to maintain a healthy market. To manage this, particularly in Japan, we make sure that we pay a lot of attention to and place a lot of importance on our customers’ needs. In addition, quality is really important for our business. This is something we instil into all our employees. It means numerous visits to customers to hear about their current and future needs. This can help shape our long-term company policy.

Hankyu Hanshin Express Chairman SEISAKU OKAFUJI

What next?

We are exploring opportunities in the African market, with one employee currently in Johannesburg and another in Nairobi. Between them, they have already visited 30 countries to look for opportunities, and have prepared some very useful research documents for us and our customers. India and Sri Lanka are also big potential markets, so we may open an office in Colombo soon. We already have eight offices in India, but this is a great expansion opportunity.

Overall, the most important thing is the market, and we – us, airlines and shippers – must do more to make the industry sustainable in the long term. It is not all about cost.

Why Cathay Pacific?

Our relationship with Cathay Pacific is important and long-standing, and has given me some good memories. When I moved to New York after a year in the company, one of the cargo managers in Osaka gave me a black pilot’s case, which I still have. He was a lovely guy, and I respected him. Since then, I have always had a very good impression. Beyond that they offer essential services to us. They are reliable and the people are good.

What do you do outside of work?

Outside of work I like to play golf – I probably play 30 to 40 times a year – and I have good memories of playing on some famous courses. I also like to spend time with my wife at weekends. We sometimes go to museums, concerts occasionally, and I also go shopping with her – this is one of my important tasks. If we have more time, we go abroad and travel in Europe. We also would like to go to New York, to visit the places we used to go. That is on the agenda, also as an important task!