For more crisp and insightful business and economic news, subscribe to The Daily Upside newsletter. It's completely free and we guarantee you'll learn something new every day.

Pour out a Slurpee in memory of the man who allowed it to exist.

Masatoshi Ito, the Japanese billionaire responsible for transforming 7-Eleven into a global convenience store powerhouse died last week at the age of 98, the company confirmed.

Born to Sell

Ito was born with retail in his blood as his parents, Senzo and Yuki, ran a dry goods and clothing shop where he worked before and after serving in the Japanese military. He later founded the grocery and department store chain Ito-Yokado.

After multiple visits to America, Ito embraced the consumerism and franchising the US is known for and decided he wanted to bring American retail to Japan. That mindset and a successful gamble paved the way for Ito's biggest move: establishing the country's first 7-Eleven in 1973:

  • With its ready-to-go rice balls, always-open hours (not just 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., which is where the name comes from), and shelves upon shelves of snacks (like cheeseburger-flavored potato chips), 7-Eleven became so integrated into Japanese life that the federal government now considers it national infrastructure. Today, there are roughly 21,000 locations across Japan. For observational comedians in need of new material, that's more than the number of Starbucks in the US.
  • In 1990, 7-Eleven's parent company the Southland Corporation filed for bankruptcy, which allowed Ito's group, Seven and I Holdings, to swoop in a year later and purchase a 70% majority stake in the Dallas-based chain for $430 million, effectively making it a Japanese company at that point.

Shady Moves: Ito does have some blemishes on his record, though. In 1992, the Tokyo Stock Exchange honored Ito as a model corporate citizen. Funnily enough, just a month later, Ito was accused of paying off sokaiya, which are kind of like activist investors by way of the Yakuza. Nevertheless, he remained an influential force at Seven & I and in 2005 helped the company acquire the rest of 7-Eleven.