The Japan News“Right shooting always results in a hit.” This philosophy has deeply impressed Jerome Chouchan, chief executive officer of Godiva Japan, South East Asia. Learning wisdom from practicing the ancient Japanese martial art of kyudo (a form of archery) and applying it to business activities, the French entrepreneur published in February 2016 a business and cultural book in Japanese called “Target” that was released in English this past April. The book transmits the essence of his thoughts and experience in Japan. The Japan News recently sat down with Chouchan to ask about his lasting trials in business as well as in life.
The Japan News: You have been practicing kyudo for 25 years.What drove you to write “Target”?
Chouchan: In business, as an organization in the world economy, you have to deliver financial results, which we call our budget or sales target. The target is a clear focus. In Japanese archery, the target is also a clear focus. You have to hit the target with a bow and arrow. I happen to be a businessman from Monday to Friday, and on the weekend I do kyudo. I have a business target and also my kyudo target of paper. Naturally, the way to look at, aim at and think about the targets in business and in kyudo started to blend in my management style of thinking. That’s why I wrote this book. [Its subtitle] “Business wisdom from the ancient Japanese martial art of kyudo” is about how to aim and how to reach the target.
One thing which is very unique to Japanese archery and different from Western archery is they look first at the shisei [posture], the mind-set and the proper form, the process, and if you do this right you will hit. But the Western approach is, we don’t care how you do it, we care only about the result, whether you hit. [The Japanese concept of] seisha hicchu means “right shooting always results in a hit.” This means your mind-set should focus first on the right shooting — and you can say in business the right managing — and as a result of this you will hit the target.
Q: Your book also says, “You don’t reach a target; a target reaches you.” Could you explain that?
A: It is the thinking that when you are in the archery pose, you do your best to grow your body and mind, and you become one with the target. Suddenly, the release happens, and you hit. You cannot control or plan it. That’s called ataru [hit]. In business as well, when you create a best seller, you cannot control or predict it. That’s what I mean by the target reaches you. You see the target’s direction, you just do your best, and something happens that you cannot calculate. It’s beyond the mental. Just do your best, and something will happen — that’s the target reaching you.
For example, a few times in my career I have created some best sellers. One time was [a boy’s festival doll] Wakamusha for [Spanish porcelain brand] Lladro. Nobody believed in it at first. When I asked the artist in Valencia [in Spain] to make the designs, I didn’t push him. I just said, do your best. He made a face that when it arrived in Japan, it was exactly what the Japanese love because it was a little bit cute, and a little bit pathetic. That was a hit.
But if I would have told him, this is the Japanese style, do this, do that, and controlled him to try to make it a success, it perhaps would have never happened.
I can see also in Godiva, when we do a new product like new chocolate for Valentine’s, or cookies, or drinks, sometimes we have best sellers that just happen. We do our best, and something happens. We don’t calculate.
Q: It sounds quite ideal, but it is difficult to realize. You have to wait for a result to come. How can you do so when your boss is asking you for more results?
A: It always comes back to the consumers, and also to the meaning. Yes, sometimes I’m under very strong pressure. But then I think, OK, just calm down. They ask me my numbers, and they may be good or bad. Then I think, why am I doing this? Why do we do this at Godiva? It’s to give moments of happiness to consumers. When I think of consumers, it’s to give them happy moments, because when you receive a box of chocolates you’re happy and smiling. When I sit back and forget the boss’s instructions on the number and just think about making the consumers happy, my mind becomes relaxed.
It’s to go back to the meaning of what you do. The numbers have no meaning, to be honest. It has meaning as a result, but like a professor at Harvard Business School said, sales and profits are the reward for doing the right things, not the goal. The target is important to tell you if you’re doing a good job, but the goal is just to do the best thing for the consumer. It’s very easy to say, but very difficult to do.
Q: During your time in charge, there have been many hits including putting famous artists on products or bringing Godiva to convenience stores.
A: With these, we were also thinking of the consumer because when you are busy you don’t have time to go to the department stores, or you want to buy at 8 p.m. when the shops are closed.
Q: Were you worried about corrupting the brand image, because people think Godiva should be in department stores?
A: Yes, some people in the company had this worry. But first of all, we didn’t put our Gold Box into it. It’s a different product with a different price point. Another kyudo teaching is to think illogically. In business, you only think logically. We have a meeting and we just talk logically in PowerPoints. But if you go to the store, the consumer is just feeling, it’s not logical.
“I want to go to the department store but it’s far and it’s maybe not open, and if I have a good Godiva ice cream at the convenience store, I’m very happy. I will not take my car.”
That’s why we started with ice cream. Ice cream, it’s clear, you will not take your car, but if you eat it in the convenience store, it’s delicious and you’re happy, and our mission is to make the consumer happy. Our products’ quality is always at the top — on this we never compromise. Even the product in the convenience store is top quality.
Two different images
Q: You first visited Japan in 1983. What was your first impression of the country at that time?
A: The first time I came, I came as a student. I was going to Fukui Prefecture by hitchhiking in the evening. The person who welcomed me was [Japanese rally driver Yoshimasa] Sugawara. He picked us up at 8 p.m. and we spent many hours in his car, and then he invited me for the first time to sukiyaki in a ryotei [Japanese inn]. I had a very wonderful welcoming impression. After that, I went to practice zen in Fukui Prefecture, at Eiheiji and also Tenryuji, and people were very welcoming. The language was not very good, but the feeling was very welcoming. My first impression was going directly to nature.
Eiheiji is very much in the mountains among very beautiful nature, very quiet, and it has a long history. There were very beautiful trees. After that, when I came back to Tokyo, I arrived in Shibuya and I still remember the intersection with so many lights and people and crowds and noise, so this peacefulness of Eiheiji and the Shibuya intersection were the two images I got. They were very different, very opposite.
Q: Getting back to Godiva, what is your opinion of the confectionary industry today?
A: First of all, the quality is top in the world. The quality of wagashi [Japanese confectionary] and yogashi [Western-style sweets] is very well done because the consumer really enjoys new products and you have many players. Secondly, unfortunately these companies do not export much. I think there is potential in Asia with some brands from yogashi and wagashi to go from Japan to China, Singapore and even India. There is big potential. The quality, the ingredients, the know-how and the craftsmanship are very good.
Q: Does the super-aging society in Japan affect your industry?
A: Yes, because when you get older you eat less, so it may affect it in the long run. That’s why I think Japan should also be a trendsetter for the whole region. I firmly believe that what is successful in Japan can be adapted to other countries. I don’t think Japan is an island anymore. For example, we manage Asian countries and have started from scratch in [South] Korea and Australia from Japan, and I can tell you that Korean and Australian people are very happy to work with the Japan team. They are very complementary, so I think there is a lot of opportunity. To be honest, some foreign companies put their Asian headquarters in Hong Kong, but I think Japan makes more sense because the consumer market is bigger and what is successful here can be translated in different ways to other markets. I could see that when we did our business for Godiva. All the teams from Asia, Korea, Australia came here and were very happy to learn from Japan.
Q: What’s the next step in terms of business and for yourself?
A: For Godiva, we think that even if Japan is a mature market, we can grow much more. We are very ambitious. As you know, we have tripled our business over the last seven years and we think we can continue to grow strongly.
How? We have three drivers. One, in terms of gifting, we can go beyond Valentine’s and White Day into what is called everyday gifting. Everyday gifting could be birthdays, could be oiwai [celebratory] gifting, could be Christmas, could be small gifts. There are a lot of occasions for gifting in everyday life. We want to develop more everyday gifting with different types of products, not only chocolate but cookies and so on.
Second, Godiva is very famous for gifting, but we think there is a big opportunity for self-treats. This means gifts for yourself, or enjoying Godiva yourself. What could it be? It could be a drink, a small snack — not a box of chocolate but a premium snack at ¥300, a small tablet that you would buy maybe at a convenient store at very high quality. We think there is a very big, untapped market for enjoying yourself, not only for giving.
Third is Cafe Godiva. We think there is a way to create a space where you can relax and enjoy yourself in a cafe. We plan to open Cafe Godivas in places around the country that we have a specific position in. These Cafe Godivas would not be for sweets only. You can also have breakfast in the morning, or lunch, all during the day. This is a new business avenue because we don’t have it now.
Regarding my personal beliefs, this seisha hicchu in business and in kyudo is an ideal. You always can improve. You try to go closer to the ideal shot, or the ideal rinen [principles]. In business, you always have pressure over targets and results, so my goal is to try to go closer to this approach, where the target is nothing to worry about and to focus on the seisha [form]. In the end, when you succeed at that, your work becomes play and your play work, meaning your hobby becomes your work and your work becomes your hobby. You put meaning into what you do.
Secondly, I personally would like to communicate more and more this kind of message about business wisdom from the art of kyudo or from ancient tradition, because I think business needs more wisdom in it. That’s my goal.
This inteview was conducted by Japan News Assistant Editor Takeshi Nagata in early September.
Chouchan has more than 25 years of experience in luxury brand management, including with the LVMH group and Lladro, in international markets and particularly in Japan and other Asian countries. Assuming his current post in June 2010, he manages the markets of Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore and the franchise business in Asia. One of the few foreign trustees of the Keizai Doyukai (Japanese Association of Corporate Executives), he is also a board director of the Kyudo International Federation and holds a 5th dan degree. He has a master’s degree in management from HEC Paris, a leading French business school.
■ Corporate information / Godiva Japan, Inc.
Founded in 1994. The global premium chocolate brand, which was established in Brussels in 1926, opened its first shop in Japan in 1972. Currently, the Japanese arm has nearly 300 sales outlets including shops in department stores and street-level stores around the country. Its headquarters is located in Minato Ward, Tokyo. Since 2007, Godiva has been under Turkish food giant Yildiz Holding. Speech