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The chemical trader overcoming cultural obstacles

Article - May 4, 2023

ATTO, which specializes in supply chain consultancy between Japanese customers and Chinese manufacturers, has had to surmount numerous cultural challenges to succeed.


In its role as a supply chain advisor for the chemical industry, ATTO Co., Ltd. imports raw chemicals and intermediates to Japan and provides related client services, such as helping customers identify manufacturers and suppliers within the Chinese market. Acting as a go-between for Japanese and Chinese companies brings with it a number of distinct challenges, including differences in quality control measures, regulatory considerations and cultural norms.

“Ninety percent of our clients are Japan’s largest chemical and pharmaceutical industries, and their demands for quality and control measures are very strict,” says Imako Aoyama, President and CEO of ATTO. “As traders, it is our role to be able to fully respond to their needs and cater to their requests. Although it can be a challenge, we consider it an opportunity to make progress.

“In our line of work, responding to high quality demands is an eternal challenge and a constant undertaking. Our Japanese clients always require accurate and sufficient information before signing the supply agreement. That is the cultural environment here in Japan. In China, there is not as much of a perfectionist-type requirement. Our role is to bridge the differences in thinking, mindset and ways of doing things.”

Being a Chinese woman, running a Japanese trading business in a male-dominated industry means Ms. Aoyama has also had to personally overcome obstacles and cultural norms to succeed, as well. “Chemical manufacturing is a man's world,” she says. “To be a foreign woman in this field has been challenging. To begin with it was just me and a part-time female staff member in ATTO. In 2010 when I opened the office in China I recruited another woman to head up the office there. That made up three women taking care of everything. We slowly built the foundations to where we are today.”

With ATTO having grown at an average rate of 20% annually and Ms. Aoyama’s sights set on becoming a ¥10 billion business within the next decade, such ambition saw her honored with the TOKYO Women CEO Award in 2020, with plenty of future accolades certain to follow.