7-Eleven Co-Founder Masatoshi Ito Passes Away at 98. Masatoshi Ito, the Japanese billionaire who built 7-Eleven into a global retail empire, has passed away at the age of 98.
He was a renowned retail entrepreneur in Asia, and his death marks the end of an era. The operator of 7-Eleven, Seven & I Holdings, confirmed his passing, stating that he died of old age on March 10. Ito’s transformation of the US-born company into an international brand, especially in Asia, where 7-Eleven shops are readily available within walking distance in many cities, revolutionized everyday retail in Japan.
Today, Seven & I Holdings operates more than 83,000 stores worldwide, including 7-Eleven shops in 19 regions and countries, as well as the Speedway convenience store chain in the United States.
7-Eleven faces competition from other Japanese-owned convenience store franchises such as Lawson and Family Mart, but neither has been able to match the scale or global presence of the 7-Eleven empire.
Masatoshi Ito’s success as an entrepreneur was influenced by his close friendship with the late management consultant Peter Drucker, who described him as one of the world’s top business builders. In a 1988 interview with The Journal of Japanese Trade and Industry, Ito revealed that during a trip to the US in 1960, he was struck by how affluent Americans were compared to post-war Japan. He realized that people from different cultures had similar desires, assuming they were at the same level of development, and predicted that Japan’s distribution system would become more similar to America’s as the Japanese consumer society grew.
History of 7-Eleven
7-Eleven began as the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas in 1927, formed from the merger of several icehouse companies. The stores were renamed 7-Eleven in 1946 to reflect their extended hours of operation, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Masatoshi Ito is credited with making 7-Eleven a global brand that sells a wide range of products, including ready-made meals, medicine, and yogurt, through a series of acquisitions and expansions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Ito’s entrepreneurship began when he became the president of his family’s small apparel store in Tokyo in 1958. He started selling food and other daily necessities, renamed the company Ito Yokado, and began running the business like a US supermarket. Ito Yokado went on to open Japan’s first 7-Eleven in Tokyo in 1974 after forging a deal with 7-Eleven’s owner, the Southland Corporation.
His company acquired a controlling stake in Southland in 1991. However, Ito resigned as president of Ito Yokado in 1992 to take responsibility for alleged payoffs to racketeers by company officials. In 2005, Seven & I Holdings was established as the holding company of Ito-Yokado and Seven-Eleven Japan, and Ito remained its honorary chairman until his death. Reflecting on 7-Eleven’s success, Ito once stated in a 1988 interview that it was due to both hard work and luck.
Forbes on 7-Eleven Co-Founder Masatoshi Ito
Masatoshi Ito, the renowned entrepreneur who helped expand the 7-Eleven convenience store chain into a global powerhouse, passed away in March 2023 at the age of 98, leaving behind a net worth of $4.35 billion, according to Forbes.
At the time of his death, Ito held the honorary chairman position at Seven & i Holdings, a conglomerate with an annual revenue of nearly $80 billion and almost 80,000 stores located in 19 countries worldwide. In addition to its famous 7-Eleven stores in the United States, Japan, and China, Seven & i Holdings also owns Denny’s restaurants in Japan, several supermarkets, department stores, and financial services companies.
The company made a significant move in August 2020, purchasing Marathon Petroleum’s Speedway gas stations for $21 billion in cash.
According to the 2022 Forbes Lists, Masatoshi Ito was ranked #8 on Japan’s 50 Richest list and #622 on the Billionaires list. He earned his wealth through retail and was considered self-made. He held Japanese citizenship and had three children.
Early life of 7-Eleven Co-Founder Masatoshi Ito
Masatoshi Itō was born on April 30, 1924, in Tokyo, Japan. His parents, Senzo and Yuki Itō, owned a dry goods store called Yokado. After completing high school, Itō briefly served in the Japanese military and worked at a company that would later become Mitsubishi Materials, before returning to work at his family’s shop. In 1956, after his brother passed away, Itō assumed control of Yokado, which was then a clothing store. He soon changed the company’s name to Ito-Yokado.
Itō founded and owned Ito-Yokado, a retailing group with over 10,000 7-Eleven stores in Japan and North America, as well as other stores, restaurants, supermarkets, and superstores, making it the second largest retailing organization in the world with an annual revenue of more than $28 billion and a workforce of over 125,000. The company also franchised Oshman’s Sporting Goods stores, Robinson department stores, and Denny’s restaurants in Japan. Additionally, Ito-Yokado started to establish superstores in China.
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