The interview: Motoharu ‘Max’ Yoshimasa, President and CEO, Satake USA Inc.
Motoharu Yoshimasa was born in Hiroshima, Japan. He joined Satake as a sales representative for grain processing plant. After a series of successful projects, in 2010, he was promoted to the Head of Sales Planning Office in the Plant Division, becoming a major player in leading corporate sales strategy. In 2018, he was appointed as Deputy Head of the Corporate Planning Office, followed by Executive Vice President of Satake's US subsidiary, Satake USA, Inc. He became President & CEO of Satake USA, Inc. in January 2020.
How did you come to join Satake?
After graduating from high school in Hiroshima, I went to Kyushu University in Fukuoka prefecture. I chose to study agricultural chemistry because biotechnology was in the limelight at that time. I was leaning towards continuing my research, but something that had huge impact on my life happened.
Right before graduating, my university senior Mr. Koichi Wakata began his career as an international astronaut. That really inspired me. I thought it may open the door to a new world, being a player in global stage like him if I got out of the lab and jumped into an international company.
When I looked for a job in my hometown there was Satake, a company with a long history, dedicating to both agriculture and food industry, with a large market share in both the Japanese and international market. I immediately thought I wanted to be a part of it.
What has been your proudest achievement during your time at Satake?
There are two memorable achievements in my career at Satake. One was forming the project for the rice cooking production line. We worked very hard, which eventually led to an order of a rice cooking system, a quite big one, from one of the largest companies in Japan. Since then, we were able to gain share in the industry and start turning it into profit for the company. I would say that was the start of the nowadays rice cooking plant business we are now implementing all over the world.
Another is the development of the non-chemical Continuous Rice Seed Disinfection System. Since it was a new concept and no one else in the industry was doing it, we had to design it from the scratch. It was, again, not easy, but I foresaw the needs in non-chemical environmentally friendly seed disinfection systems and believed we could overcome any difficulties. I truly believed that the system was good, not only for rice consumers, but also for the farmers who were now able to grow truly chemical-free rice, which added value to their product.
Satake began as Japan's first powered rice milling machine manufacturer and is renowned in the industry for innovative rice processing machinery. How are your time-proven solutions utilised and innovated with current projects?
Our company started its business milling rice to produce Sake (Japanese rice wine) nearly 130 years ago. It was a dramatic change not only in cutting down the intense labour but also improving the taste of the product. Since then, we have been heavily involved with grain producers and processors. It can be safely said that our company contributes to both the agriculture and the food industry.
I believe this is the basis of our company that we should always remind ourselves. As a profit-making corporation, we must make profit in order for the organisation to survive, however, we also have to benefit the society, the consumers, and the industry, in order to exist for a long period of time. In other words, we will be successful if we contribute to the society and they see us as beneficial. With machines such as our rinse-free rice machine or non-chemical Continuous Rice Seed Disinfection System, many first though they would not sell, yet they became major successes because machines benefited the industry by providing safety and added value.
What major challenges do you foresee for the food industry over the next five years and how will Satake face those changes?
As a machine manufacturer, I would like to comment on two topics, hardware and software.
Technological advancements occur at much quicker speed than we think. Day by day, technology is advancing. It is a must for us to incorporate these advancements in order to design our equipment and systems as best we can, to stay a leading manufacturer in the industry. However, we also have to think differently from others to provide innovative solutions to the customers. In other words, we must provide not only the best machines in the market, but also provide best solutions to benefit our customers.
In terms of software, somewhat similar to the hardware I mentioned, added value will be the key. For example, an optical sorter will not be just a sorter. It will be a data collecting device. The sorter will collect incoming product quality data and analyse it for quality improvement. Also, artificial intelligence will be incorporated into many of our systems, resulting in improved output. We are in an exciting era in that we will be able to see something new tomorrow that we did not expect to see yesterday.
How do you see the issue pf sustainability evolving in the food industry and how does this affect Satake?
This industry provides the most important living necessities: staple food for human society. I have a huge respect for the industry and people who are involved in our sector. We, Satake, have been involved in not only machine development but also many continuous projects that contribute to the sustainability of the agriculture, food, and relating industries.
Development of environmentally friendly machines, building more efficient grain processing facilities for depopulated country areas, funding colleges for youth education or obtaining various related ISOs and other industrial standards, are just part of it. We always consider the economic well-being of the industry because that is the key for sustainability.
Do you have any comments in regard to Satake in the USA, and your role as president of this division?
When I first came to the US, I visited one of the oldest rice milling plant in the country. There, I found Satake machines, built in the 1950's, still being used. I don't know how to explain the exact feeling I had, but I was moved, thinking about the extraordinary efforts of my predecessors who brought them here, and the customer who trusted us and continued utilising our equipment for over half a century.
I know, as part of both agriculture and food industry, that we are facing many challenges now. Hunger, climate changes, and of course, disease. Not just the industry but also the entire population is going through this difficult time. However, I am positive and confident that we will be able to overcome those issues if we all work together as one. Bringing in all the knowledge, wisdom of our forefathers, and all other resources we have, to come up with solutions is the key to the continuous advancement of the industry, and I am proud to be a part of it.
At last, I want to appreciate my family for their full support. They still are unable to join me in the US due to the situation, but they stay positive and take care of each other including my elderly parents. That really keeps me encouraged and motivated.