IBM Japan had been struggling for some years when Martin Jetter was appointed President in 2012. The previous Japanese nationality President had been somewhat unceremoniously booted out, I assume for being perceived to be part of the common problem that many long standing Japanese subsidiaries of foreign companies have – namely of being even more staid in their traditional Japanese ways than their native Japanese competitors.
There was much concern that Jetter came with a reputation for being a fierce cost cutter. He is an IBM veteran, having joined the company in Germany in 1986 but holding some key positions in IBM’s US headquarters previous to his arrival in Japan. He did indeed heavily restructure IBM Japan, with the result that it posted its first revenue growth in twelve years, after only a year and a half into his reign.
In a recent interview with Nikkei Business, Jetter is keen to stress the positive steps he took to achieve this. Firstly he set up 4 regions, with their own sales forces. He also made a point of visiting customers personally in those regions, holding regional forums.
Secondly he made sure that time was spent on understanding exactly what customer needs were, and thirdly IBM Japan has embarked upon a major training programme for employees.
Asked what needs he identified and what he did about it, the most striking initiative, for which his backers in IBM HQ must have provided strong support, was to meet Japanese customer needs for global IT provision by setting up IBM Japan offices in Singapore and Bangkok and ensuring that there were Japanese speaking consultants outside of Japan for Japanese clients to talk to – including in Europe and North America.
IBM’s particular strengths are the security and stability that its long history promises. This is particularly key for new technology services such as cloud and big data analytics, says Jetter, clearly recognising Japanese corporate risk aversion. He also asserts that IBM will be able to provide as high a standard of customer service, digitally, as Japanese companies have provided face to face.
He also points out that IBM has a clear strategy, despite recent dips in profitability – and has got rid of businesses in which it cannot differentiate itself, such as networks, printers, PCs and low end servers.
His reward for his success in turning around IBM Japan and faith in the IBM line is to be appointed as the head of the “troubled” Global Technology Services division from January 2015. As the Nikkei comments, he is a soft spoken, gentlemanly type in person, but it’s probably his reputation as a hard nosed cost cutter with HQ backing that has won him this promotion.
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