Yoshiko Shinohara lost her father at age six, got divorced in her 20s, and never graduated from college. But today, Forbes is reporting, she is Japan’s first self-made female billionaire.
In 1973, Shinohara founded TempStaff, a staffing agency, from a one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo. As she told the Financial Times in 2010, this was during an era in Japanese history when many female candidates had to check with their husbands before they could even take a temp job. In this, Shinohara saw an opportunity.
“Society was dominated by men with most women working in assistant roles, and there were few opportunities to actively participate,” she said. “It was then I thought I would broaden the workplaces where women could apply their skills, so I launched TempStaff.”
Today, the company that has become Temp Holdings has 313 offices, from Los Angeles to Taiwan. Forbes reports that the publicly traded company had revenues of $4.5 billion last year. With a 25% stake, Forbes says, the recent 12% gain in Temp shares has put Shinohara over the nine-figure mark.
“I say one of my personal traits is that I hate to lose,” she told the FT.
Shinohara’s story is one of textbook entrepreneurial zeal. Temping was mostly illegal when she got the idea for her company, so she lobbied to have the laws changed. She also quickly realized that she wanted to do more with her life than be a housewife.
“Soon after my wedding, I realized that I would rather not be married, that this was not the right person for me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2009. “So I decided I had better divorce as soon as possible, a decision that my mother and brother were very angry about. After the divorce, I said, ‘I have to do something with myself.’”
Two key events helped turn Temp into a global juggernaut. The first was Shinohara’s decision to start hiring male managers, which allowed the company to gain more mainstream traction, according to the HBR.
“In 1988, I said, ‘How about if we put some men in here?’ The [female] managers said, ‘No, thank you, we don’t need any of those creatures.’ But we did need them. A branch happened to hire a man as a part-timer, and wow, did sales increase!”
The second, the FT says, was Japan’s “lost decade” of economic stagnation in the 1990s. As companies looked to avoid the higher cost of permanent employees, they turned to Temp and its workers.
This has led Shinohara to describe her leadership style as “hermit-crab management”.
“Born small, the scale of the hermit crab’s shell is appropriate to that stage of its life,” she says. “As TempStaff has grown, so have its organizational structures and systems.”
Shinohara never set out to be a billionaire. Instead, she has said, she just wanted to make a mark, through a business that “is needed in the world at large.”
“I want to contribute to society through business.”