Elevating Usen-Next Holdings into a Japanese streaming giant that competes head-to-head with Netflix

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In the world of business success stories, Yasuhide Uno’s journey from a reluctant heir to a billionaire entrepreneur stands out as a tale of resilience, unconventional choices, and the triumph of a determined spirit. Uno’s transformation of his father’s company, Usen-Next Holdings, into a major player in Japan’s streaming industry reflects his ability to navigate challenges and reshape the family legacy.

Uno’s early years were marked by a strained relationship with his father, Mototada, whose actions and priorities clashed with Uno’s vision for his own life. Uno’s initial disinterest in the family business was fueled by a childhood incident, illustrating a tumultuous dynamic within the family. It was only on his father’s deathbed that Uno reluctantly agreed to take the reins, feeling a sense of obligation rather than a genuine desire to follow in his father’s footsteps.

The inheritance of Usen, a company with a dominant presence in Japan’s cable music market but marred by controversies, presented Uno with formidable challenges. Mototada’s disregard for government regulations, such as unauthorized use of telephone poles, added legal complications to an already complex situation. Despite initial reluctance, Uno took charge, determined to lead the company down a different path.

One pivotal moment in Usen-Next’s history was Uno’s commitment to resolving the issue of unauthorized cable usage. Faced with government officials who had been ignored for years, Uno embarked on a challenging journey to mend relations and bring the company in line with the law. The path to resolution was fraught with obstacles, including death threats and employee resistance. However, by 2001, Usen successfully listed on the Osaka exchange, marking a significant turnaround under Uno’s leadership.

The subsequent years saw Usen-Next facing economic challenges during the global financial crisis. Uno’s strategic decision to sell and repurchase the video-streaming service demonstrated his foresight and belief in its potential as a growth engine. The subsequent listing of U-Next in 2014 and the acquisition of Usen in 2017 solidified Usen-Next’s position as a diversified business group.

Uno’s leadership and adaptability have propelled Usen-Next into the modern era, with the company now comprising around 25 businesses, including broadband internet services. The surge in popularity of Usen-Next’s video-streaming business during the COVID-19 pandemic further demonstrated Uno’s ability to capitalize on market trends.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Usen-Next’s store-services business, encompassing background music and payment terminals, remains a significant contributor to profits. Uno acknowledges potential threats, particularly from store closures, but remains confident in the resilience of the business.

As Usen-Next’s shares continue to rise and Uno’s wealth surpasses the billion-dollar mark, the unconventional entrepreneur reflects on his journey. Uno’s story is not just one of financial success but also a testament to the tenacity required to overcome adversity and redefine a family legacy. With no plans to step down after 25 years at the helm, Yasuhide Uno has not only proven his initial doubts wrong but has also gained a newfound respect for the drive that characterized his father’s entrepreneurial spirit.

(Source: Ming Jeong Lee | Yoojung Lee | Yasutaka Tamura | Bloomberg | Japan Times)

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