TOKYO— Masatoshi Ito, the founder of Japan’s Ito-Yokado retail group that became the holding company of 7-Eleven convenience stores, has died at the age of 98, Seven & i Holdings Co 3382.T said on Monday.
The company said Ito died of old age on Friday and funeral services were limited to immediate family.
Ito served as honorary chairman of Seven & i Holdings, which operates about 80,000 stores worldwide, including 7-Eleven shops and the Speedway convenience store chain in the United States.
Management expert Peter Drucker called Ito “one of the world’s outstanding entrepreneurs and business builders” in a biography posted by the Drucker School of Management, to which Ito was a major donor.
The company dates back to 1920 when Ito’s uncle opened a clothing store named Yokado in Tokyo, and the group reorganized under the Seven & I brand in 2005.
Seven & I said last week it would close 14 Ito-Yokado supermarkets in Japan and fully exit from the apparel business as part of a structural reform plan.
The company has been under pressure from U.S. investor ValueAct Capital to sell off low-performing assets, and recently the fund urged shareholders to back a spin-off of the 7-Eleven chain.
Seven & I agreed last year to sell its Sogo & Seibu department store unit to U.S. fund Fortress Investment Group. Analysts have said a full divestiture of the Ito-Yokado chain was unlikely as long as the founder Ito was still alive.
“It is quite possible that the founder could be the only fellow who wants to keep Ito-Yokado under Seven & I’s wing,” said Oshadhi Kumarsasiri, an analyst at Lightstream Research who publishes on the Smartkarma platform.
—Reporting by Mariko Katsumura and Rocky Swift; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel