Featured Profiles

Shaping the Future of Asian Beauty: Yoshiaki Hagiwara

We had the honor of interviewing Yoshiaki Hagiwara, a pioneering leader in the Asian natural cosmetics industry. Hagiwara is the president and CEO of Nature’s Way and the director of the Japan Cosmetic Industry Association, Aroma Environment Association, and Aichi Cosmetic Industry Association. In this exclusive interview, Hagiwara pulls back the curtain on his leadership journey. With captivating candor and sagacity, he reveals how he overcame obstacles, drove strategic vision, and fostered an inclusive workplace. 


  • As a prominent leader, what obstacles did you face in your career, and how did you overcome them?

I faced a unique obstacle early in my career – being perceived as the successor to my father’s role as president due to our family connection rather than my own merits. I am keenly aware that I attained this prominent leadership position through business succession. From the moment I joined the company, employees treated me as the next in line for leadership. Yet, with little experience navigating success or failure on my own, my decisions were often inadequate. 

To overcome this, I implemented an annual 360-degree evaluation where all 200 employees and their superiors – including me- assess each other. Although receiving negative feedback is initially frustrating, I embrace it as an opportunity to reflect and improve. I get constructive criticism and praise each year, spurring my continued growth. Obstacles persist in business, but by accepting I am an owner-president via family succession and not denying it, I avoid overestimating my abilities. This mindset enables me to solve problems better when they arise.


  • Could you walk us through the company’s journey and your role in shaping its landscape? 

My foremost role is to provide clarity of purpose and direction to all staff. I continually communicate where we are heading as a company – the goals and the means to achieve them. There is no single right answer; with a team of 10 people, there are 10 different perspectives. We cannot efficiently concentrate our collective efforts if we clearly define and align on desired outcomes and chosen methods. 

We share meeting minutes, conveying my stance so employees need not speculate. Though not infallible, I make the best call I can and course-correct as needed. I believe clearly setting direction, even in uncertainty, is central to my role as a leader.


  • What strategies do you employ to navigate challenges unique to leaders in your industry or region? How do you foster an inclusive and diverse workplace culture?

Navigating industry and regional challenges requires adaptability as solutions differ across cultures and values evolve. There are no unified right answers. This is why I hold individual interviews with all 200+ employees every six months – although exhausting; these conversations surface issues that otherwise go unseen. We then share anonymized feedback company-wide, highlighting problems and potential solutions.

What might be deemed acceptable in one context, like certain manga content when I was a child, can understandably offend elsewhere. Rather than prescribe top-down edicts, I foster an inclusive culture by encouraging open dialogue.  Making problems visible, not hiding them, is key. We can collaborate on answers by publicly airing grievances internally rather than burying them. I believe disclosing and demystifying issues, not concealing them, elicits the collective insight needed to move forward.


  • Can you share an instance where your leadership decisions have significantly influenced your organization’s or industry’s growth or direction? 

As a leader, I’ve significantly shaped our direction by setting clear priorities aligned with reality. Leaders must balance ambitious growth with pragmatism. We only have 24 hours a day, with about 8 for work. Despite many desires, our capacity is limited. Rather than chasing everything, I defined a few vital initiatives where we should invest our finite human, financial, and time resources.

Customer feedback is important, but we can’t meet every request. I set guiding policies, like only accommodating the top 10% of customers by purchase value. By deciding what not to do, I enable focus on priority growth. This discipline has made us resilient, sustaining operations despite COVID-19’s challenges. 


  • How do you envision the future of your industry, considering the rapidly changing economic landscape and technological advancements in Asia?

For two decades, starting in the 1980s, Japan led Asia in technology. But those days have passed; we recognize our former leadership is unfortunately no longer the reality. India and other countries make remarkable tech advancements, eclipsing Japan in many sectors. This is especially true in cosmetics, where the meteoric growth of China and South Korea is staggering. It’s no exaggeration to say these two countries will be the epicenter of Asian cosmetics for the foreseeable future.

Our company doesn’t chase short-term trends, so we aren’t directly impacted. Pursuing the majority market share is a “winner’s strategy” best left to big players. As a smaller firm, we succeed through a “loser’s strategy,” specializing in a niche. We focus on steadily providing products and services that passionately resonate with a targeted segment. So, while we monitor the competitive landscape’s macro shifts, our micro view focuses on fulfilling individual customer needs.


  • What would you advise budding leaders looking to shatter the glass ceiling?

I advise voracious learning from veteran leaders whose wisdom transcends eras. Conferring with senior industry peers grounds me in timeless fundamentals, though ideas spark change. Be open to lifelong, humble learning. Shattering ceilings requires bold vision yet honoring enduring truths. Keep listening to those further along the path whose focus on foundational principles can anchor innovation. Stand on the shoulders of giants who came before you.