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Career Success
JUL 25, 2018

From McDonald’s to Mercari (Part 2 of 3)

By Shunsuke Karasawa

Moving on from successes and failures alike is an important part of professional growth. Mayuko Hashida continues her interview with Shunsuke Karasawa, delving into how he helped McDonald’s turn a bleak 2015 into 17 consecutive months of growth…and then made the decision to move on.

Hashida: Last time, you told us about the struggle at McDonald’s in 2015, a year that saw the company’s worst losses ever. But behind the scenes you were working very hard with the management team to put things right. What happened next?

Karasawa: When I graduated GLOBIS, my kokorozashi (personal mission) was to be a professional manager specializing in bringing companies with poor performance back to financial health. That’s why I worked so hard on turning McDonald’s around. If I couldn’t fix a company where I had worked for ten years, how could I fix other companies?

In the end, 2015 was our last year in the red. From January 2016, I went back to marketing, this time as Director of National Marketing. At the end of 2016, we reported ¥5 billion in ordinary income—a ¥30 billion turnaround on the previous year. I felt like I had truly developed my skills, network, and kokorozashi!

Collaborating with Pokémon GO

Hashida: I heard you also worked with Pokémon GO. Could you tell us a little about that?

Karasawa: In July 2016, we had an exclusive launch partnership with them. We began discussions in March and made the decision to collaborate in May. I guess being able to make a decision about something so big before the world even knew about it also had something to do with my time at GLOBIS.

I was always impressed by the leaders who were invited to speak at ASKA and other GLOBIS conferences. They were always willing to try new things—often before anybody else. They all said that there was return only where there was risk. If Pokémon GO had flopped, it would have been a huge setback. However, I saw enormous potential in combining the Pokémon brand and the new technology. The timing was perfect. I was ready to take another big risk to change the company, so I didn’t hesitate.

Hashida: How did you want to change the company?

Karasawa: When I went back to marketing, I was going back to what I do best. Something else I learned at GLOBIS: when things aren’t going well, people tend to look at their weaknesses. If you’re spending all your time trying to fix your deficiencies, you can’t effect change.

The strengths of McDonald’s are fun and energy, but we were in a more somber and serious mood because the world was questioning our food safety. We couldn’t let that go on forever. We had to do something fun and a bit wacky. Pokémon GO is a good example of that. Even if I failed, I wanted to create a culture that affirms failure, saying “OK, we failed, but let’s move on to the next thing.”

Hashida: How did you tackle the project?

Karasawa: I didn’t put together a big project team. Normally, if you build a team of people from related departments, everyone tends to say why something cannot be done, rather than what can. This makes it difficult to take on new challenges. For example, a finance person might see that profitability is not going to be high enough, or somebody in operations might be concerned about how disorganized things are. So I just decided to carry things forward myself and discuss with the CMO or CEO directly when needed. I learned the mentality for bringing about such innovation from speakers at the ASKA Conference and GLOBIS Innovation Club.

We launched the Pokémon GO project and also finally made a profit in 2016. 2017 was also a great year, as we continued to do well and win back customers. The only thing that seemed left for me to do there was develop the people. My goal in 2017 was to prepare the manager below me to take over my position. In the end, I decided in August 2017 that it was time to move on and face a new challenge. More than supporting others, the desire to grow myself was getting stronger. I was very used to the environment at McDonald’s, but it was time for a change, so I handed in my notice.

Mr. Karasawa left McDonald’s on a high, having recently received the GLOBIS Alumni Award for Innovation. Next time, we will learn how a message from a friend led to an encounter that would send his career in a new and exciting direction.

Top photo credit: tupungato