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Steel Partners seeks support for director nominees from Sapporo

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Steel Partners Japan Strategic Fund (Offshore) has written a letter to fellow shareholders of Sapporo Holdings seeking their support for the election of its director nominees at the company’s general meeting of shareholders in March 2010.

“Our goal is to help Sapporo reverse its long-term decline in business and corporate value,” says Warren Lichtenstein of Steel Partners.

“Electing the shareholder nominees, who are among the most respected and experienced businessmen in Japan, together with the independent directors currently on the board, will maintain continuity while also bringing about the leadership change necessary to revitalise Sapporo.”

In the letter, Steel Partners outlines the qualifications of the director nominees and identifies how each will assist in the revitalisation of the Sapporo brand.

Yoshiharu Naito, former chairman and president of Pokka, will take the initiative in expanding the company’s beverage business, including Sapporo’s beer-type products and its business in the Southeast Asian market.

Yasuo Nakata, former representative director and president of Calbee Foods, will use his experience to grow Sapporo’s food business and private brand product development.

Hironori Aihara, former director/vice president of Mitsubishi, chief executive of Mitsubishi Americas and president of Mitsubishi International, will exercise his leadership as a corporate governance professional.

Shunichi Fujii, formerly representative director and president at Fujiya and president and chief executive at Nestlé Japan will pursue business alliances with overseas food and drink manufacturers necessary for Sapporo’s growth.

Shiro Hara, former representative director and president at CB Richard Ellis Investors Japan K.K. and current representative director and president at K.K. GIA Global Investment Advisory and Global Capital Management K.K., will work to maximise the value of Sapporo’s real estate business.

Steel Partners has also alerted other shareholders to various leadership failures that it says occurred while Sapporo was under the control of the current management team. They include:

• Repeated failure to meet sales and operating profit budgets, especially in Sapporo’s core beer business.
• Continued loss of market share in the domestic beer market and weak position in the domestic beverage market.
• Underutilization of real estate assets.
• Failure to address the evolving challenges and needs of the markets in which Sapporo competes.
• Poor profitability and opportunity loss from Sapporo’s restaurant business.
• Failure to deliver an annual eight per cent return on equity for three consecutive years – the minimum required by the Japan Pension Fund Association in order to receive its support for the re-election of incumbent directors.

“Sapporo has been a prominent brand for more than 60 years and has been a brewer for more than 100 years,” writes Lichtenstein. “Unfortunately, Sapporo has not kept pace with its competitors as the company’s management and board have been unable to reverse the deterioration of corporate and shareholder value that the company has suffered over the last five years.”

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