First Business Idea of Japan’s First Self-Made Woman Billionaire Could Have Sent Her to Jail

The first self-made female billionaire in Japan is Yoshiko Shinohara. Shinohara revolutionized her country’s workforce on her way from divorcee to business titan.

Because the value of her shares of the temporary staffing agency she started, Temp Holdings, have been climbing steadily higher, according to Forbes, Shinohara just crossed the billionaire threshold.

When Shinohara upset her family by divorcing her husband, her journey began.

“Soon after my wedding, I realized that I would rather not be married, that this was not the right person for me. So I decided I had better divorce as soon as possible,” says Shinohara in a 2009 interview with Harvard Business Review.

“After the divorce, I said, ‘I have to do something with myself,'” she says.

Shinohara left Japan and moved to Europe as she was uninspired by the “boring jobs” that most women in Japan had at the time. And the the notion of “temporary workers” was observed by her for the first time.

And this was the beginning of the business idea that made her a baroness.

“Mistakes are the sea of opportunity,” she tells the Harvard Business Review.

Shinohara decided to start her own temporary staffing agency after she realized that she was not interested in any of the jobs available to her and hence went back to Japan in 1973. According to HBR biography, she launched her company out of a one-room apartment in the middle of Tokyo.

Back in the 1970’s, it was a risk introducing temporary employment in Japan.

“Lifetime employment was the norm in Japan, and temping by private companies was banned under law, so I was often summoned by the ministry,” she says. “I used to say to myself: ‘I wonder what it’s like in jail. How big are the rooms? Is there a toilet or a window?'”

However temporary employment became legal as the the law changed eventually.

Bringing men into the office was her second push against the tidal wave of public opinion. Her company, Temp Holdings, was all women until the 1980’s,

“So in 1988, I said, ‘How about if we put some men in here?’ The managers said, ‘No, thank you, we don’t need any of those creatures.’ But we did need them,” says Shinohara.

“A branch happened to hire a man as a part-timer, and wow, did sales increase! That was the turning point. The trick was achieving the right mix of men and women.”

According to the company’s corporate masthead, today she is the chairman emeritus of Temp Holdings. The company website also shows that there are 21,000-plus part-timers and 16,542 full-time employees.

Being very busy throughout her business career, it had hardly occurred to he to even give a thought to wonder whether she would have found it easier to grow her business if she was a man. However, she does concede that the question has been posed to her often enough.

“People often ask me that. My answer is ‘How would I know? I have never been a man,'” Shinohara says. “Starting a business is always difficult.”

(Adapted from CNBC)


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