From Tokyo banker to J.League mascot: the birth of Koyanon

Fri Dec 13, 2013 2:54am EST
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By Junko Fujita

HIROSHIMA (Reuters) - Kaoru Koyano's unlikely career arc has taken him from dark-suited investment banker to plum-purple professional sports mascot. In between, he was called in to fix the balance sheet of the hottest team in Japanese soccer, Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

When Sanfrecce sealed their second straight J.League title earlier this month with a 2-0 win over Kashima Antlers, Koyano took the field to hold up the banner for fans alongside fist-pumping players, the culmination of an unlikely year of reinvention.

"When I was an investment banker, my focus was to make things happen. I focused on how to win a deal and tried to control as many things as possible," the 50-year-old told Reuters.

"Now certain important things are out of my control - the weather and the game result. So now I would say I am better at accepting things."

After a career at Credit Suisse Group AG, Citigroup and Nomura Research Institute, ardent amateur soccer fan Koyano was hired as Hiroshima's general manager in January for his financial acumen.

His predecessor resigned at the end of 2012 after a string of losses for investors, including Osaka-based home appliance retailer Edion Corp.

At the time, Hiroshima had just won the J.League championship but its losses off the field threatened to undermine its success.

As of this year, any team sustaining losses for three straight years, or those with liabilities exceeding assets, risks losing their J.League license.   Continued...

President of the professional soccer club Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Kaoru Koyano, poses for a photo at the Japan Football Museum in Tokyo December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai