[New CFO x Full-time Corporate Auditor]How Mercari is taking a developing organization to the next level

Eight years since the company was founded, Mercari has been listed as one of Japan’s top unicorn companies and continues to grow. The organization has expanded rapidly along with its services, becoming a major corporation with approximately 1,700 employees. But now, Mercari is aiming to become a world-class corporate organization, able to release products on a global scale.

Where does this unprecedented, rapidly evolving company currently stand? We joined Executive Director & CFO Sayaka Eda and Full-time Corporate Auditor Mayumi Tochinoki for a conversation to understand Mercari’s roadmap for achieving its global mission.

※This article is a repost from Newspicks

Featured in this article

  • Sayaka Eda

    Completed pre-doctoral course (master’s degree) at the Graduate School of Science and Endineering from Keio University Graduate School. In April 2006, she joined Goldman Sachs Japan Co., Ltd. After joining the company, she was engaged in investment/loan projects that utilize their own funds, etc., and was appointed as a Managing Director at the same company in 2017 based on her extensive financial knowledge outside of corporate finance. Outside of her work, she also server as the Co-Chair of the Japan Women’s Network and leads the promotion of D&I. She has held her present post from January 2021.

  • Mayumi Tochinoki

    She was engage in accounting audits,internal audits and compliance operrations at accounting firms, foreign affiliated financial institutions, etc. In addition to being involved in internal audits of the entire Japanese base as an internal audit manager at JP Morgan, an American investment bank, she also seved as the head of the same group. After serving as the Chief Administrative Officer and Executive Officer in charege of compliance at S&P Global Ratings Japan, she joined Mercari in January 2019.

Management’s acknowledgment that “Mercari still has a ways to go”

──Ms. Eda, you were appointed as CFO of Mercari in January of this year. Why Mercari, why now?

Eda: I was attracted to the aspirations of the management team, including CEO Shintaro Yamada, to make Mercari even bigger.

I had worked at a foreign affiliated securities company for about 15 years. I was really blessed at that position, I had no reason to move.

But somewhere in the back of my mind I had this thought. “Wouldn’t it be fun to use all of the knowledge and experience that I’ve built up at a business firm?”

Around that time, I had an opportunity to talk to Mercari’s management team. They had a very humble, honest understanding of where they were as a company, and I was really moved by the way they were aiming to expand globally.

Although they had a foothold in Japan and the United States, they were far from being a global company. They told me that they wanted to create something that would be useful all over the world, and they understood that they still had a long way to go.

Tochinoki: It was the same when I joined the company. It didn’t feel like they were giving me a pitch at all, they were very neutral, like, “this is what we’re going for, would you like to join us?”

Like Sayaka, I used to work at a foreign affiliated securities company, and I’ve overseen corporate governance systems, like internal audits and compliance, for many years.

While I was also entrusted with a wide range of work and I was satisfied with my job, I also wondered if I would spend my whole career in the financial industry.

Right around that time, I found out that there was a position with Mercari’s management system.
The IT industry wasn’t my specialty, but I also wanted to be involved with the challenge of creating products from Japan and aiming to go global from Japan, because I had always worked at foreign companies.

So I joined as an internal audit office manager, and I have been serving as a full-time corporate auditor since September 2019.

A constantly evolving organization

──Did your view of Mercari change after joining?

Eda: I didn’t really have any set ideas before I joined, but I felt like they had more rules set in place than the average venture companies.

But when I asked around, I found out that most of the rules weren’t set in place a year ago. I could tell that the organization had evolved a lot over the past few years.

More than that, if a rule or a system didn’t fit the current framework of the company, they’d change it or remake it, no matter how much effort it took to set up in the first place. There’s no sense of resistance to moving forward, people don’t cling to old ideas just because they had already established a rule or had put a lot of time into something.

Tochinoki: There’s a lot of motivation to keeping trying to find and create better ways of doing this. That’s where Mercari still has that venture spirit.

Eda: Both within the industry and in society, we’re in a hectic, fast-paced, changing environment. That’s where Mercari is right now.

So there’s a very strong feeling that we don’t want to tie ourselves to any medium- or long-term goals. We don’t want to be bound by those numbers or our own rules and limit our options and potential.

Of course, when we make big management plans, we’re conscious about giving ourselves enough leeway and flexibility to adapt to the situation.

And there’s also a feeling that, no matter what happens, we’ll definitely be in the driver’s seat.

Organizing for on-the-spot problem solving

──What kind of process do you have behind your decision making? How does Mercari make decisions?

Tochinoki: At the management meetings, we set our big, overall goals, looking at what our challenges are and what systems we’ll need to put in place.

However, the process of executing those decisions involves the entire company in a pretty unique way.

Divisions will split into teams and think of ideas for solving problems, even make presentations to the management team, for example.

Each team presents their ideas on how to organize things and contribute to the company, and if there’s enough agreement, that’s what we go with.

When a team’s idea gets adopted, they feel a sense of ownership and camaraderie. They feel like they’re involved in building the company. So in that sense, many of our projects have a real bottom-up approach.

During these presentations, we set up a roadmap for organizing and monitoring progress on these projects once they’re off the ground. I think that process gives people a sense of speed.

Eda: The delegation of authority from the management team is very clear.

Each division has its own ways of doing things, and while there are cases where we elicit input from across the entire company, sometimes we’ll send a concrete message with an emphasis on speed.

Mr. Yamada checks the situation one-on-one. As long as the approach doesn’t differ too much from company policy, he’s hands-off.

As far as deciding which projects each division will go with, we always line up the pros and cons and make an on-the-spot judgment as to what we need the most right now.

Becoming a truly global company

──Since Mercari started trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) Mothers in 2018, you’ve expanded three businesses, Mercari, Mercari US and Merpay as the core pillars of the company. In January 2021, Souzoh, Inc. was relaunched, and in April, Mercoin, Inc., started offering plans and developing services relating to cryptocurrencies and blockchains. Where would you say Mercari Group is right now?

Eda: Mercari has laid out a foundation of achievements, and Mercari US and Merpay are gradually getting on the right track.

How will we extend the branches of each business and grow from here?

Right now, Mercari is in a transitional phase to becoming a truly global company, becoming something much more valuable. We’re not content with just expanding what we’re doing now.

Tochinoki: When it comes to the kind of services we’d need to provide for expanding globally, we aren’t completely finished building a corporate structure that can accomplish everything we want to do.

Mercari employs very capable people, and right now everyone is working at full capacity and is finally turning things around without missing anything.

I think that the organization embodies our corporate value of “Be a Pro” very well, but without more flexibility in our structure, we’ll have a hard time scaling up in the future.

──What role does Mercari’s corporate division play in that?

Eda: A lot of people see the corporate division as having a checks-and-balances function.

However, Mercari recognizes that we’re a company in its growth phase, and that’s how investors see us.

As CFO, I’m keeping an eye on the numbers, making sure that we don’t go too far off the rails. Picking up the right risks is an important role for us.

But we’re not obsessed with stability or control. Our stance is that we need to acknowledge the risks and discuss how we’ll move forward.

Tochinoki: Mercari’s corporate division needs to maintain its focus on how best to drive the business forward.

There are places where we can be aggressive, rather than taking a defensive posture. The corporate division is for growing the business.

When it comes to globalizing, we need to learn from other organizations, whether Japanese or foreign, and establish our own system. Each country has its own laws and regulations, its own way of doing business, so we can’t just incorporate other Japanese companies’ methods.

How can we integrate compliance on a global level into Mercari’s corporate culture? We need to choose our own way and set it up within Mercari.

Eda: We want to take in ideas from different backgrounds and bring them together, using this method for this section, that method for another section.

It’s important to have a no-nonsense attitude about choosing what works for us and what doesn’t. Even if there’s already precedent in the industry or some sort of common wisdom about what we’re trying to do.

There are no other start-up companies In Japan that have expanded as much as we have in such a short period of time.

We want to scrutinize the steps we’re taking and get it right, so that when another start-up comes along, they’ll be able to refer back to what Mercari has done. That’s feeling among our corporate members.

Opportunities at Mercari today

──Working at a large corporation, working at a mega venture, working at a small-scale start-up company. With all these options, what is the appeal of working at a company like Mercari right now?

Tochinoki: At the moment Mercari is building up a reputation as a company and setting a strong foundation for the business. We’re able to take on new challenges while still doing all of that foundational work.

Of course, big challenges also come with risks, but the impact is that much bigger when we succeed. Souzoh and Mercoin are good examples.

In the corporate division, opportunities for new challenges are expanding as the business expands. We have a lot of impact outside of the company, and we’re also constantly bringing in new information from outside the company as well. That’s a really unique point for Mercari.

Eda: People who want to do something new, people who want to make their mark on society, Mercari is very attractive for people with that mindset.

However, those opportunities are not necessarily created by Mercari. We need people with a mindset of seizing opportunities on their own.

Instead of asking for this position or this line of work, people who fit the culture of Mercari are people who can find what’s missing and take action on their own, people who are looking to expand the range of their activities.

Tochinoki: Top-tier talent brings opportunities. If you stretch yourself a little, you can seize those opportunities.

There is a lot of internal mobility in the corporate division, and opportunities for learning are expanding for people who want to contribute their abilities.

Eda: For example, a lawyer who joined the company in a legal position is currently serving as a manager of my team’s finance department.

There are a lot of people who are gradually expanding their scope and taking on new business challenges while maintaining their main area of expertise.

Tochinoki: When we set up a new company, there’s an internal announcement that we’re recruiting new members, and for anyone who is interested to please raise their hand. That was how Merpay and Souzoh started.

When Merpay was established, quite a few members transferred from Mercari’s business division at once. There was an understanding in the Mercari group about how important Merpay was going to be, and a sense of satisfaction from the groups that were sending employees over.

“All for One” is one of our corporate values, so we provide support from across the company to establish new businesses and take on new challenges.

Becoming essential

──Finally, what does the future look like for Mercari’s mission?

Eda: Mercari wants to become the center of a recycling-oriented society. That’s why we need to build a business structure that can work with society.

We need to be aware of our social responsibility if we plan to provide universal services and really grow into a large company.

During the August 2020 financial statement, Mr. Yamada declared his intention to move Mercari toward becoming an essential service in a recycling-oriented society. One example of a product for that vision is Mercari Donation, making use of the user’s Merpay balance.

Both from a product development perspective and a corporate perspective, we’re raising our awareness as a platformer with social responsibility.

Tochinoki: Also, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a must for product development that takes all backgrounds into consideration.

The more we build our D&I, the more we can home in on the universal requirements across cultures and backgrounds. D&I is becoming a higher priority for us as a company.

We’ve also started initiatives like mentoring programs for people in new management positions, and I want to keep recommending cross-departmental consultations as well.

I think there are high expectations for the corporate division to maintain and spread that atmosphere of supporting each other.

There are many things that we need to do and want to do. We’re in a phase of big changes as an organization, I feel.

Contributor: Rumi Tanaka
Photographer: Junya Inagaki
Design: Kirika Kosuzu
Editor: Michiko Kashimoto
Mercari | NewsPicks Brand Design
Production: NewsPicks Brand Design

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