People: Junki Yoshida, Yoshida Group
Having a joke, an antic, or a light-hearted observation for every occasion is trademark for Junki Yoshida, chairman and CEO of the Oregon-based Yoshida Group, parent company of OIA Global Logistics.
On his conglomerate’s web page, he pops up as a smiling Uncle Sam, an improbable Elvis, even a lasso-swinging cowboy. At Yoshida’s Wine Bar and Bistro, his trendy enterprise in Portland, he’s likely to be found in samurai garb, entertaining patrons and friends.
“Sometimes I don’t know who I am anymore,” Yoshida jokes. He wears a wide array of hats: family man, business leader, visionary entrepreneur, karate whiz, and class clown.
Although humor gets him through his hectic days, anger has proved the defining ingredient behind some of his best business ideas.
It was anger, in fact, that led to the 1988 birth of OIA Global, the Portland-based international transportation, third-party logistics, and supply chain management company that is Yoshida Group’s largest subsidiary.
Until then, Yoshida was widely known as the eccentric, quick-with-a-quip tycoon behind Mr. Yoshida’s Original Gourmet Sauce, a teriyaki concoction derived from a family recipe and introduced to the market in 1982.
The popular gourmet marinade spawned a successful food-products company and earned Yoshida a lasting nickname, the Boss of the Sauce.
The boss’ combustible anger first began simmering when he started shipping his products to Asia.
“I always had problems transporting goods,” Yoshida says, revisiting his early forays into overseas markets and the “don’t-care” attitude that characterized many freight forwarders he worked with.
On one occasion, an entire shipment of seafood was spoiled when it wasn’t handled properly. That was the boiling point for Yoshida. “I was upset,” he recalls, “and a voice came from somewhere: ‘Junki, do it yourself.'”
Together with Steve Akre, now chairman of OIA Global, he began arranging shipments, warehousing, and deliveries for Yoshida products and for other mid-sized companies in need of customized services. OIA Global quickly acquired a reputation for careful handling and timely deliveries.
Based on that reputation, Nike approached the company in the early 1990s with a formidable challenge: transporting its temperature-sensitive Air soles to factories in Korea. Because the perishable Air soles are rendered useless if they are not installed within two weeks of manufacture, speedy delivery is imperative.
Deciding to ‘Just Do It’
To audition for the role, fleet-footed Nike asked OIA Global to deliver a small shipment of Air soles to Puson, South Korea, within three days. Oblivious to the hurdles that awaited him, Yoshida gave a one-word response: “Sure.”
To make good on his promise, he borrowed a guiding principle from Nike’s own game plan. “Just do it,” he told his image in the mirror.
It wasn’t easy. To ensure Nike’s satisfaction, Yoshida boarded a flight and hand-delivered the boxes to the Puson factory.
In the years since, OIA Global has opened 29 offices around the world—from New York and Hong Kong to Brussels and Beijing. A decade ago, OIA Global was one of the first logistics companies to launch operations in Vietnam, and today it specializes in Asian markets. That means keeping up with a wide array of government policies, rules, and regulations.
“Every day is a drama,” Yoshida says. “The rules change constantly.”
With 400 employees and more than 2,000 customers worldwide, OIA Global projects 2006 gross sales of $200 million, up from $160 million in 2005. Revenue, however, is not how Yoshida measures his company’s success.
“Judge us by who we are and our philosophy,” he says.
The core of Yoshida’s philosophy—forged by anger and refined by personal experience—is to provide one-stop, attentive services for his clients.
With that in mind, OIA Global selects executives based on their customer service skills rather than their operations/logistics experience. That’s largely because Yoshida himself remembers the frustration of working with logistics companies that didn’t fully understand his needs or products.
“Our executives all have a 24-hour cell phone,” Yoshida says. That means they are poised to address any emergency that arises. After all, as he knows, a shipment of seafood left unrefrigerated, or a box of shoe soles gone astray, can have drastic consequences.
Yoshida’s goal is for OIA Global “to accommodate and nurture mid-sized companies that need day-to-day care,” he adds.
Yoshida’s notion of client care is driving OIA Global’s latest venture—a package-design service crafted to cut waste and reduce costs. Yoshida’s team of tech-savvy designers and engineers is devising product packaging that better withstands handling, shipping, and storage to help prevent the millions of dollars shippers lose to damage and breakage.
In addition, the company helps shippers connect with materials suppliers upstream, so they can secure vendors offering the most durable cardboard and plastics.
OIA Global’s transformation from upstart start-up to major logistics player reflects the same themes that characterize Yoshida’s own rags-to-riches story: Adapt to challenges. Seize opportunities. Just do it.
Born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949, Yoshida was the youngest of seven children. His parents operated a restaurant that generated just enough revenue to keep the family together. At 19, and against his family’s wishes, Yoshida boarded a plane to Seattle, where he hoped to achieve American-style success.
Upon arriving in Washington, he cashed in his return ticket and bought a used Plymouth Valiant. For several months, the car’s license plate doubled as his home address. Short on cash and down on his luck, he was hospitalized for starvation on two occasions.
Over the next few years, Yoshida worked as a gardener and kitchen employee. He studied English and met his wife, Linda, at a community college. Eventually, the couple capitalized on his childhood training in martial arts and opened a karate school.
One year, eager to give his karate students a holiday present, he resurrected a 60-year-old family recipe for a cooking sauce, preparing and packaging vats of it in the karate studio basement. In no time, the students wanted refills, and a business was born.
Since then, Yoshida has dished up new ventures and product lines with the fervor of a short-order cook. The Yoshida companies include Array Corp., a line of jeans, jackets, and work shirts; a fine art gallery; and Jones Golf LLC, a manufacturer of lightweight golf bags.
The diversity of Yoshida’s business interests reflects his spirit as an adventurous entrepreneur who is unafraid of new challenges, says Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port of Portland and Yoshida’s friend since 1995.
The American Dream
“He is someone who has developed his instincts and learned to trust them,” Wyatt says, explaining that Yoshida personifies the American dream. “He has done things with his life that most people could only dream about because he doesn’t accept no—at least not at first—for an answer.”
Yoshida’s enterprises and his Horatio Alger story have earned him national and international attention. He was profiled in Inc. magazine; OIA Global ranks No. 32 among DiversityBusiness.com’s minority-owned firms; and in 2005, Japanese Newsweek named Yoshida one of the 100 most respected Japanese men in the world.
That same year, a documentary filmmaker from Tokyo followed Yoshida around Portland to chronicle his many identities. “Junki has a tremendous following,” Wyatt notes. “When we travel together to Japan, he’s treated like a rock star.”
Entrepreneur. Celebrity. Problem solver. Boss of the Sauce. And, perhaps most important, anger-management innovator. When Junki Yoshida gets mad, new businesses are born.