Ito Masatoshi, Japanese Billionaire Behind Success of 7-Eleven, Dead at 98

Ito Masatoshi was worth $4.5 billion and was the driving force behind 7-Eleven's rapid expansion across the world

This March 13, 2008 picture shows Japanese retail giant Seven and I Holdings, operating Seven Eleven convenience stores and Ito Yokado super maket chain, founder and honorary chairman Masatoshi Ito (R) and chairman Toshifumi Suzuki at the company's entrace ceremony in Tokyo. Ito marked his 84th birthday on April 30 with news he plans to give 57-million-dollars' worth of group shares to employees to thank them.
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Ito Masatoshi, the Japanese billionaire entrepreneur who turned 7-Eleven into a global retail powerhouse, has died from old age at 98.

Seven & I Holdings, operator of 7-Eleven, confirmed his death in a statement posted online.

A translation of the statement from Japanese to English reads: "Our honorary chairman Masatoshi Ito passed away on March 10, 2023 (Friday) due to old age. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to him for his kindness during his lifetime." A funeral was held for close relatives.

Ito was worth about $4.5 billion and was the eighth wealthiest person in Japan, according to Forbes. Seven & I Holdings turns over about $80 billion in revenue each year and Ito was the group's largest shareholder.

Japan's state broadcaster NHK reported Ito first founded clothing store Ito Yokado in 1958 and then expanded its offerings to include foods and other grocery items. He would go on to set up 7-Eleven Japan as well as bring the family restaurant chain Denny's to Japan.

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His business prowess and knack for understanding consumers created the powerhouse retail group, Seven & I Holdings - which now operates more than 83,000 stores around the world. The business employs about 100,000 people and its brands include 7-Eleven and the U.S. chain Speedway.

The iconic 7-Eleven originally started in Dallas, Texas in 1927 when the world's first convenience store opened under the name Southland Ice Company. It rebranded in 1946 to reflect its new business hours, open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Ito's involvement started in 1974 when he opened a 7-Eleven franchise in Japan. By 1991, his firm had taken control of Southland and the rapid expansion of its convenience stores was well underway.

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Early in his career, the billionaire formed a close relationship with the late Peter F. Drucker, a management guru based in the U.S. who worked with General Electric, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Intel, and a variety of non-profits and governments.

According to Drucker, Ito was "one of the world's outstanding entrepreneurs and business builders."

And while Ito had obvious successes, he also faced controversy. In 1992, Ito resigned as president of his company Ito Yokada. The Japanese Times reported the decision was made to take responsibility for alleged payments by company officials to three Yakuza gangsters.

Ito leaves behind his wife, Nobuko, had three children, Yasuhisa, Hisako and Junro.

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