Motokazu Hirao (2009)

Keep this in mind when you consider the career of Motokazu Hirao: Before he and Matsushita Electric Works (now Panasonic Co.) funded the original 20 companies in the Japanese pest management industry, there were none — and there’s little doubt the country needed them.

From that auspicious beginning, Hirao, affectionately known as “Moto” to his friends, devoted the second half of his life to improving the industry worldwide. He is a fixture as a speaker and participant on the international pest management scene and has continued his work as the owner of the Hirao Biological Institute to improve the professionalism of the industry throughout the world.

For his enormous contributions to the industry, and his continued support of the industry, Pest Management Professional is proud to induct him as part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2009.

Creation of an Industry

In the 1960s and 1970s, Japan suffered from poor garbage collection and poor housing stock. Poor sanitation conditions gave rise to an enormous rodent population that plagued the country’s citizens, in particular by chewing through the wires powering electronic equipment like refrigerators, washing machines and televisions, putting people in danger by creating conditions that were conducive to house fires.

Enter Hirao and Matsushita Electric Works Co. (now Panasonic Co. Ltd.). Hirao, who graduated from Kyoto University with a degree in agriculture (he would later receive a doctorate in entomology of agriculture from Kyoto University in 1996), specialized in synthesizing chemicals for agricultural use. One day, his boss at Matsushita asked him to research rodent repellents the company could use to coat the wires to prevent rodents from destroying them. Through his research, Hirao discovered the chemical cycloheximide, which proved to be a taste repellent to rodents.

“There was only one problem with the discovery,” Hirao says. “The repellent effect only lasted two years, so we had to change the way we delivered the product to market.”

At the time of the discovery, there were no models for private pest management companies in Japan. So under Matsushita’s direction, Hirao reached out to 20 Japanese entrepreneurs and invited them to become the first professional pest managers in the country. For six years, Hirao toiled to bring these companies the latest in modern pest management techniques and encouraged the highest professional standards in every aspect of the business.

Today, most of those companies Hirao played a part in starting are among the most successful pest management firms in the country.

Enter the Business

By 1973, Hirao realized his future lay in pest management, not electrical production. He joined Teiso Kasei pest control and worked in all aspects of the business: operations, sales, management, technical development and training. And he couldn’t have entered the business at a better time — the rapid growth of the Japanese economy increased the public’s desire to have professional pest management services.

“I did a lot of jobs with Teiso Kasei,” Hirao says. “I got to see all aspects of the business, which helped me understand how to teach people better.”

His research focus is on commercial pest management, including pest management in different factories. Specifically, he focuses on conducting research on stored-product pests and flying insects in food plants. He travels around Japan doing technical training for food plant workers, having trained nearly 10,000 food plant staff members and managers in his career and publishes regular articles throughout the world.

Hirao is also heavily involved in helping the Japanese government develop its regulations of the industry. He has helped develop at least three laws and was recognized by the honorable recognition from the Minster of Health, Labor and Welfare for his “long contribution on improvement of healthy life” in 1998.

In November, the Emperor of Japan awarded him the highest civilian honor a Japanese citizen can receive: the Order of Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays for his contribution to public health.

Pushing Professionalism

In 1978, Hirao traveled to the United States as his company’s representative to the National Pest Control Association (now the National Pest Management Association (NPMA))’s conference in Orlando, Fla. The scope of the industry — its exhibits, educational programs and training materials — awed Hirao. With a couple of exceptions, Hirao has returned to NPMA’s PestWorld each year since and has attended the convention 30 times in his career, becoming an international director of the NPMA in 1987.

“There weren’t many members of the Japanese industry who spoke English, so I became the liaison between some of those groups and the NPMA,” Hirao says. “That same year, we held the founding meeting of an association to bring together the Asian pest managers associations.”

Already a long-time member and active participant of the Japan [sic] Pest Control Association, Hirao decided at the same time to become a founding member of the Federation of Asia and Oceania Pest Managers Association (FAOPMA) in Tokyo. At the time, the association had eight members. The association now has 12 members and holds an annual convention that brings together pest managers from across the Asia-Pacific region (This year’s conference will be held in Beijing Nov. 25-27. Hirao is currently an honorary president of the organization.)

“It’s important for the industry, no matter what the company, to speak with one voice,” Hirao says. “That’s why it’s important to be a member of associations.”

The biggest change in Japan’s pest management industry — much like their U.S. counterparts — is that the industry is moving in to its second generation.

“The new pest management professionals in Japan are more focused on the business side of pest management,” Hirao says. “They are more sophisticated than the first generation was and are more focused on customer service.”

For a man who has already contributed so much to the development of the Japanese industry already, Hirao shows no signs of slowing down. Since 1987, Hirao has been a full-time consultant with his private company, the Hirao Biological Institute. His research and work continues to influence the industry in Japan and around the world. He will be in the NPMA’s Pestworld 2009, still learning and spreading the message of the professional pest management throughout the world.

“I will keep going as long as I can contribute,” Hirao says. “I’m not sure when I will ever retire.”

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