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Tributes pour in as PH motoring bids goodbye to Isuzu boss Koso and Nissan head Najima

Horst Dassler, the former chairman of sporting giant Adidas, once famously said that ‘business is all about relationships.’ The French-German tycoon is also considered the father of modern sports sponsorship, thanks to a monopoly of football and Olympics sponsorship during his time.

This adage is very much applicable to the motoring beat, where strong bonds of friendship that overlap above and beyond professional working relationships, melding seamlessly into family.

The motoring beat is rather sad these days to lose two very capable gentlemen who have made a huge impact not just in the automotive industry, but in the lives of people around them, and to us, the motoring media.

Outgoing Nissan Philippines head honcho Atsushi Najima is leaving to take up a far larger role as the head of finance in Nissan’s operations in India, a market many times larger than the Philippines. It is a sure sign to us that Najima-san, who is entering at the peak of his career, has bigger, better things lying in store for him. His last three years in our beloved shores allowed him to show his true mettle, and helped steer the current number three automotive company in the Philippines through very tough and turbulent times of COVID-19. Under Najima’s leadership, Nissan grew, introduced many innovative and truly desirable models. Towards the end of his tenure, Najima focused on providing a better customer experience both in sales and after-sales rather than simply chasing market share and growth, ensuring the Nissan brand enjoys a very strong long-term positive image and reputation, which as we all know, are the traits to truly endearing car companies with desirable products. It was a successful campaign for Nissan and the sales volume reflects it. Najima-san leaves Nissan Philippines in very good health under the capable stewardship of incoming NPI President Juan Manuel Hoyos.

Hajime Koso (left) and his successor as Isuzu PH president Noboru Murakami during the formal turnover rites at Okada Manila.

Hajime Koso, the outgoing President of Isuzu Philippines returns to his motherland in Japan after many years of dutiful service to Isuzu in many foreign markets. He also retires from Isuzu in December of this year if rumors during the turnover ceremony are to be believed, and that he will be returning to Japan as a grandfather for the first time. Under Koso-san, Isuzu grew its dealership network by 30% which now stands at 48 outlets, modernized its product line-up, and saw many milestones achieved by Isuzu Philippines Corporation during his stewardship of the brand such as the first time the company achieved 20,000 and then 30,000 truck sales, both firsts in the company’s history. Koso-san also modernized IPC’s logistics, warehousing and inventory programs and methods, increasing efficiency and improving service. Isuzu House was also Koso-san’s brainchild. Through Koso-san, IPC was heavily involved in many outreach and CSR programs that gave back to the environment and to the community. Koso-san frequently travelled around the country to get to know the local culture and understand the Filipino people far better than perhaps most of us, especially now in these politically turbulent and divisive times.

But for me, aside from their exemplary achievements and strong, steady leadership, their personality and demeanor outside of the professional working environment was disarming. Both are avid golfers, but dispel the notion that the Japanese value and are undyingly loyal to their profession until the very end. Najima-san, in a privileged encounter, once told me that he values work-life balance, which, coming from a high-ranking Japanese executive, was a totally mind-blowing and revolutionary admission. Family is first for him. He made a genuine effort to be a friend to many, not just friendly, as he tried to find a personal connection with us. In me, it was talking about Nissan’s sporting models, the GTR and Z, of my love for his homeland of Japan and talking about food, particularly Yoshinoya beef bowl (Najima’s college student -budget staple, and a must-eat for me every time I am in Japan) and really good sushi. Najima-san is also a sommelier, believe it or not, a connoisseur of fine wines. Koso-san on the other hand, was like everyone’s favorite ‘uncle’. Prior to Koso-san, all other previous IPC Presidents portrayed the stereotypical Japanese executive: stiff, formal, traditional and unyielding.

Koso-san on the other hand, charmed everyone easily with his warm, easy smile and a quick handshake or even hug. He made you feel very welcome, very much a part of the Isuzu family. He was Japanese in his politeness, but Filipino in his warmth and friendliness, a real genuine person who cared about you, how you felt, and took the effort to know what your thoughts were when he was sitting with you. Exchanging stories with him in our car rides during an event in Bohol cemented the fact that Koso-san was the coolest ‘uncle’ and mentor one could ever have in life. In his spare time, aside from playing golf, Koso-san is a real travel buff, always visiting and exploring new places and trying out local delicacies. Koso-san’s wife apparently gave very clear instructions for Koso-san to bring home some buko pie to Japan. His replacement, Noboru Murakami, incoming IPC President has much to live up to.

Farewell dear gentlemen, but not goodbye. Thank you for your loyal service to your respective companies, to the people who worked with you under your strong and steady, unwavering leadership especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, of giving back to society, and for the unforgettable memories, laughs and friendship. Cheers and good luck on your next adventures!

IN MAIN PHOTO: Atsushi Najima (left) turns over the symbolic key of Nissan PH leadership to Juan Manuel Hoyos during the handover ceremony at Okada Manila. Hajime Koso (left) and his successor as Isuzu PH president Noboru Murakami during the formal turnover rites at Okada Manila.

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