The seemingly indefatigable Fujio Mitarai, who turns 80 this year, was President of Canon from 1995 to 2006, then became Chairman and also head of the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) for 4 years, before becoming CEO of Canon again in 2012. He may have to be in the post for even longer, as he says it will take some time to develop a sufficiently global successor, in an interview with the Nikkei Business magazine last month.
“My ideal would be to have three headquarters, in the US, Europe and Japan, which as well as the existing sales coordination function also have development and manufacturing capabilities.” This is just beginning to be realised, he says, with the first product, a DNA diagnostic system, developed in the USA. Further M&A will be an important contribution to this.
Canon will focus more on B2B in developed markets Mitarai explains – his 23 years working in the USA, watching GE make this transition has been an influence on his thinking around this. Canon’s traditional camera business is more suited to developing markets “because as people become richer, they want to record their lives” says Mitarai. Canon is looking at nanoimprint and molecular imprint, having recently acquired a US company in this field. It has also developed a sensor which can read car numberplates 1 km away.
Canon is known for the high number of patents it registers and tries to maintain a rate of investing 8% of its turnover in R&D. It does seem Canon is still in the Japanese traditional mould of pure research, and then see how it can be applied and commercialised, rather than a marketing strategy led product development approach which many people think Japanese companies should switch to.
Mitarai does not believe Japan is losing its strength in monozukuri (craftsmanship and the importance of manufacturing) in the era of the internet of things and automation. “We just need to change the way we look at monozukuri” he says, citing how he has moved Canon’s quality targets away from percentages to units. “Even 0.1% defects means 10,000 defective cameras if we are producing 1 million units… there will be more and more manufacturing which is better done with robots.”
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