Interview with CEO Masakazu Nakamura published on L’AGEFI

11 December 2015

Founded in Japan in 1932, Sunstar is an international enterprise with subsidiaries in 30 countries and with approximately 1.3 billion Swiss francs in sales. Sunstar flagship products include toothpaste, toothbrushes, and dental rinses. The fact that Sunstar established its headquarters in Etoy (Vaud) in 2002 is anything but ordinary. The main reason for this? To promote the globalization of the Group that did not intend to remain focused solely on Japan. Today, Sunstar has two buildings in Etoy which are noticeably visible from the Lausanne-Geneva motorway and has nearly a hundred employees of diverse nationalities. It was at the “bonnenkai” (end of year celebration in Japan) held by the Chamber of Commerce of Switzerland-Japan in Zurich that L’Agefi (daily newspaper of the Economic and Financial Agency in Geneva) interviewed Masakazu Nakamura, the CEO of Sunstar Suisse S.A., the world headquarters of Sunstar.

You have been living in Romandie (French speaking Swiss area) for eight years. What changes have been the most prominent for you during this period?

I live close to the EPFL campus where I regularly take walks. I am impressed by the growth of the “Innovation Park “which houses many innovative companies including a subsidiary of the Japanese company Nitto Denko. I also admire the support that Nestlé brings to this initiative.

For the headquarters of a worldwide group like Sunstar, what are the key strengths of Switzerland and, in your opinion, how are these changing?

Two factors are particularly positive in Switzerland. In the first place, the Swiss national flag brings real value as a brand; in addition, brands of Swiss companies – including watch brands – are carriers of genuine “emotional branding”. For a company like Sunstar who targets the high-end, this is very important. The second key factor is labor, and I am referring equally to Swiss employees and also to the capacity of Switzerland to attract talents from overseas thanks to the pleasant living environment. Finally, I would also like to emphasize that it is not adequate to rely too much on taxation to attract foreign enterprises. Taxation is of course also an element that counts, but it is only one among other more important elements.

One goal of the presence of Sunstar’s global headquarters in Switzerland was to speed up your globalization. Are you satisfied with the results?

Absolutely. We are increasingly international; between 2002 and 2014, the sales attributable to Japan has gone from 80% to 56%. In addition, over 80% of our sales now come from global brands like GUM. We also acquired companies in Switzerland and Germany in 2011.

Together with JTI, Sunstar is the only large Japanese company that has its global headquarters in Switzerland. Why, despite your success, have other Japanese companies not followed suit?

I know that many Japanese companies are observing our development in Switzerland and hopefully they will soon follow our steps.

Does Sunstar intend to strengthen, maintain or decrease its presence in Switzerland?

We wish to strengthen our presence in Switzerland to achieve new international development opportunities. In 2015, we completed our second building. We do not rent our buildings, we own them because we are here for the long term.

(Original French article by: Philippe D. Monnier)