Japan's new richest person builds $51.3 billion automation fortune

Mr Takemitsu Takizaki is worth US$38.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Mr Takemitsu Takizaki is worth US$38.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.PHOTO: FORBES

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Takemitsu Takizaki, the founder of electronic-sensor maker Keyence Corp, has overtaken Uniqlo billionaire Tadashi Yanai to become Japan's richest person.

Mr Takizaki is worth US$38.2 billion (S$51.3 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after his company's shares almost doubled from the start of last year through Monday's (Sept 13) close. Fast Retailing's Mr Yanai, who has lost more than a fifth of his wealth in 2021, has a net worth of US$35.5 billion.

It is an example of how the wealth landscape is shifting amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as a factory-automation entrepreneur replaces a retail mogul at the top of the country's rich list. Keyence has also been boosted by its forthcoming inclusion in Japan's blue-chip equity index, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average.

"This positioning is likely to stay for a while," Mr Mitsushige Akino, a senior executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management, said of the wealth ranking. "The big factor recently was being added to the Nikkei 225."

Keyence declined to comment.

Mr Takizaki founded Keyence in 1974 and steadily built the company as a maker of sensors, measuring instruments, machine-vision systems and other equipment for industrial automation. The secretive Osaka-based firm is known for its high profit margins and for paying its staff well.

Keyence's shares have risen 96 per cent since the start of 2020 through Monday's close, giving the company a market value of about US$167 billion. By this measure, it is the second-largest firm in Japan after auto giant Toyota Motor.

The pandemic spurred demand for factory automation as governments around the world imposed social distancing measures, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Takeshi Kitaura. He pointed to the company's operating-profit margin of more than 50 per cent.

Keyence shares jumped last week after the company was announced as an addition to the Nikkei 225 in a major shake-up of the famous equity gauge. Nintendo, the maker of the Switch gaming console, was also among the three companies picked to be included from Oct 1.

Mr Takizaki, who owns 21 per cent of Keyence, has added US$5.9 billion to his fortune this year and is now the ninth-richest person in Asia, according to the Bloomberg index.

Fast Retailing's Mr Yanai, meanwhile, has lost US$9.7 billion in wealth in 2021, or about 22 per cent of his fortune, as shares of the maker of Uniqlo clothing fell 18 per cent through Monday's close. Fast Retailing lowered its full-year operating-profit forecast in July on weak summer sales in Japan and government measures to curb Covid-19 in the country and other Asian markets.

SoftBank Group founder Masayoshi Son is Japan's third-richest person with a net worth of US$26.9 billion.

Mr Takizaki, 76, who did not attend college, helped invent the precision sensors used on assembly lines such as those to build cars for Toyota. He is now Keyence's honorary chairman after stepping down as chairman in 2015.

Keyence trades at about 63 times estimated earnings. Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mr Kitaura said he remains positive about the firm's prospects. He pointed out that more than 40 per cent of its revenue still comes from Japan.

"Keyence has strong potential to grow overseas," he said.