US Reporter

A Tribute to Masatoshi Ito: The Visionary Who Built 7-Eleven into a Global Business Empire

Masatoshi Ito

On March 11, 2023, Japanese billionaire Masatoshi Ito, who was responsible for 7-Eleven’s global expansion, passed away at the age of 98. His passing signifies the end of an era for the business he helped develop into a global business empire with more than 83,000 locations worldwide.

Ito’s legacy is impressive, having taken over a small clothing store in Tokyo run by his uncle and half-brother in 1956. He later renamed it Ito-Yokado and grew the business into a chain of one-stop stores selling almost everything from groceries to clothing, and went public in 1972.  

In the early 1970s, Toshifumi Suzuki, president of Ito-Yokado, saw a 7-Eleven while visiting the United States. After that, the two companies signed a contract, and in 1974, Japan’s first 7-Eleven store opened. In March 1990, Ito-Yokado acquired control of Southland Corporation of the United States, which owns the 7-Eleven brand. 

Ito’s success is a result of his tenacity and vision. He was aware of the possibilities of the one-stop shop idea and the expansion of Japan’s consumption culture.

In a 2003 interview, he reflected on his success, saying, “I am frequently asked if I succeeded because of hard work or because I was just lucky. Actually, the answer is some of both. I was fortunate to have started out in business right after the war – the same time that a broad-based consumer society was beginning to develop in Japan.”

Important Part of People’s Lives

Today, 7-Eleven stores are a common sight in many countries around the world, and Ito’s vision helped make the 7-Eleven name famous. With quick access to a variety of goods, from groceries to household items, shops have become an important part of many people’s daily lives. 

Ito’s passing is a loss not only for his family and loved ones but also for the business world. His contributions have left an indelible mark, and his legacy will continue to inspire many generations to come. As Seven & i Holdings expressed in a statement, “We would like to express our sincere gratitude to him for his kindness during his lifetime.”

In 1992, he resigned from his position as chairman of Ito-Yokado, the predecessor to Seven & i Holdings, over allegations of illegal payments made by three executives to yakuza gangsters to maintain order at a shareholders’ meeting.

The scandal rocked the Japanese business world, tarnishing Ito’s reputation and leading to a shakeup at the company. Despite the setback, Ito remained a prominent figure in the business community and continued to make significant contributions to the industry.

In 2005, Ito-Yokado was renamed Seven & i Holdings, with the “i” in its name as an honor to Ito-Yokado and Mr Ito, who was the honorary chairman of the company. Ito’s legacy lived on, with Seven & i Holdings becoming one of Japan’s largest retailers and a major player in the global convenience store market.

Read also: ZED Studio’s Zane Erickson Brings Empathetic Design to Life

A Chain Ito Built

Ito’s success was not only due to his business acumen but also his relationships with influential figures, such as his friendship with Austrian-American management guru Peter Drucker. 

The two would discuss the world economy, the Japanese economy, and the direction of Ito’s plans, according to the Drucker School of Management, which counts Ito as a major donor. Drucker himself called Ito “one of the world’s outstanding entrepreneurs and business builders.”

Despite the controversy surrounding his resignation, Ito’s impact on the business world cannot be overstated. He was a visionary who recognized the potential of the one-stop-shop concept and helped build 7-Eleven into a global powerhouse. His contributions to the industry and the global economy will still be felt for years to come.

7-Eleven is a convenience store chain that has become a ubiquitous part of life, with over 71,000 stores located in 17 countries worldwide. 

The company was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1927 by Joe C. Thompson Jr. and was initially called Southland Ice Company. In 1946, the company changed its name to 7-Eleven to reflect its extended hours of operation, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The brand’s signature logo, with the red, green, and orange letters and the green and orange stripes, has become instantly recognizable around the world. 

The chain is known for its wide selection of products, from snacks and beverages to household items and personal care products. 7-Eleven has also become known for its Slurpee frozen drink, which has become a cultural icon in its own right.

Read also: Coyote Ugly Saloon Owner Joanna Olsen Shares Her Secrets in Achieving Industry Success


In Japan, 7-Eleven has become so ubiquitous that the phrase “conbini,” short for “convenience store,” has become synonymous with the chain. In fact, Japan has the largest number of 7-Eleven stores in the world, with over 21,000 locations. The stores in Japan offer a wide range of products, including freshly made meals, toiletries, and household items.

7-Eleven has also been at the forefront of the convenience store industry’s move towards digitalization. The company was one of the first to introduce mobile payments and self-checkout kiosks in its stores, allowing customers to make purchases quickly and easily.

The convenience store chain has also been making efforts to become more environmentally friendly. In 2018, 7-Eleven announced plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. The company has been introducing more eco-friendly products, such as biodegradable straws and recycled packaging, and has been increasing its use of renewable energy sources.

Despite its global reach and success, 7-Eleven has faced criticism over the years for its labor practices, particularly in its franchising system. In some cases, franchise owners have been accused of exploiting their workers and violating labor laws. However, the company has taken steps to address these issues, including implementing new training programs for franchise owners and increasing transparency in its business practices.

Photo: CGU

Opinions expressed by US Reporter contributors are their own.