HIRO Talks New 'LDH World' Company, Goals for the Future & Extending Performers' Careers

Hiro of Exile
Courtesy of Billboard Japan

Hiro of Exile

Hiroyuki Igarashi, who goes by and is widely known as simply HIRO in Japan, is the leader of EXILE, one of the country's best-selling dance and vocal groups. The group is the only act to have received the prestigious Japan Record Award a record-setting four times.

He is also the founder of LDH Inc., which started out as the group's management company and is now a major presence in the Japanese entertainment industry. LDH Inc. manages more than 20 top-selling acts and has moved into the dance school, apparel and restaurant businesses as well.

In 2017, LDH set up offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia and also established a new company called LDH WORLD. Billboard Japan spoke with the 47-year-old performer and entrepreneur and asked about LDH's latest renewal and his outlook on future developments.

What made you decide to set up LDH WORLD?

For several years now, we've had opportunities to work with people outside of Japan, such as opening dance schools in New York and Taipei and collaborating with Afrojack. Through these new projects, we realized that LDH's guiding principle, "Love, Dream, Happiness," and our multifaceted approach, such as managing artists, launching fashion lines and running restaurants, resonated with the people we worked with. So instead of starting something from scratch, we decided to reorganize and systemize what we had already built up through our overseas endeavors.

Could you tell us more about the new branches?

Afrojack is the CEO of LDH Europe. We've been working closely with him for a couple of years now, asking him to produce songs for us and so on. He ended up really agreeing with our philosophy and said, "I'm thinking of starting a company like LDH in the Netherlands." We decided, we should ask him to help us out with LDH EUROPE. 

So Afrojack took interest in this project and offered to become involved? 

Yes. He's a DJ and music producer but also very keen on bringing up new artists, so he took great interest in LDH's business model. His music is awesome and I think he's a genius. Being able to work with someone like him is very encouraging.

What are your plans for LDH USA? 

We started a dance school in New York called Exile Professional Gym (EXPG) in September 2014 and will be opening another school this summer in Los Angeles, where the LDH USA office is located. We'll be based in those two cities. Shaun Evaristo, the renowned choreographer, and Dr. Romanelli, who works in fashion and music marketing, joined LDH recently, so we're planning on further developing our collaborative efforts.

Regarding LDH ASIA, there's an EXPG in Taipei that we opened in 2009 and we're planning on opening one in Shanghai in 2018, so we're hoping to expand our presence in China beginning with our schools. There are many possibilities, such as spreading European content in Japan and Asia, or taking Asian content to the U.S., and we plan to offer LDH's entertainment tailored to each country to create a unique cultural fit.

How will the new system affect your stance in Japan?

LDH wouldn't be where it is today without our Japanese fans' support, so of course we'll continue creating entertainment that's even better than before. Establishing bases overseas enables our acts to work with world-renowned musicians like Afrojack, Ne-Yo and Omarion, which would have been unthinkable in the past. This greatly inspires our members, and that motivation leads to the power to create even more exciting things. So with LDH JAPAN at the core, we intend to keep producing even more gripping entertainment by connecting with incredibly talented artists in Europe, the U.S. and Asia.

There's also another major purpose behind our new system. 

Could you elaborate? 

I'm currently 47 years old. Performers [HIRO calls himself and the dancers in his groups "performers," with the intention of improving the status of dancers in the Japanese entertainment industry] are usually forced to consider how they intend to spend the rest of their lives when they pass the 40-year mark. Musicians don't necessarily have to give up their line of work no matter how old they get, but performers must dance, and there's a limit to how long they can keep going. So by drawing upon my own career as a performer, I wanted to create a place where our members could contribute their skills in a different way. Our members are like teammates and comrades. They're the company's resources.

So your performers will become directly involved in the business.

Placing trusted members at the core of our projects enables us to create better things, so that's one reason, but we also set up the new system with our members' futures in mind. Seeing "retired" performers working in other areas besides the stage is inspiring to the younger members following in their footsteps. They can feel reassurance knowing the different ways their talent can be utilized at LDH, and I'm sure some will aspire to be like their predecessors. This is why we took a year to reorganize our company, with the goal of expanding each member's career and possibilities. 

You now belong to LDH WORLD. What's its role in the organization? 

Besides myself, VERBAL (m-flo/PKCZ®/HONEST BOYZ®), Dr. Romanelli, and NIGO® belong to LDH WORLD, where we come up with ideas for the entire organization. Its image, using Verbal's words, is "the home base where various creators from different genres assemble." LDH WORLD will create the brand image and content that we'll be launching, and export them to our offices around the world. 

How will you be involved there? 

My basic stance won't change all that much, but I'd like to shift more towards the creative aspect of the business. We created a system where each of our members can become involved in our business by making each enterprise a subsidiary, so that the company can continue to grow five years, 10 years later, even after I'm gone, and so that everyone who works here can feel positive about its future. In particular, I've made sure that our members are involved in our overseas projects from the early stages, for example introducing them to producers from other countries. That way we can all have a shared vision for future projects and also hear ideas from younger members.

What's your goal for the future? 

I've heard that the relationship between Japanese artists and their management companies is very different from ones in other countries. Ne-Yo and Omarion hire their own lawyers and work with a small team, so they were both surprised by the way LDH works. So I'd like to introduce LDH's know-how and system regarding business development to other countries. In order to do so, it might be exciting to have up-and-coming artists and creators come to LDH JAPAN and develop their careers here. Or have Afrojack stay in Japan for a while to observe how we work. In any case, we're coming up with many new ideas, and I feel that my role is to act as the go-between to connect these ideas to bring them to fruition.