I was reminiscing a couple of days’ ago with a Japanese business person about how in the 1990s there was a Silicon Glen in Scotland hosting many Japanese electronics and semiconductor factories, including NEC’s semiconductor plant in Livingston. After the IT bubble burst in 2000, most of these plants disappeared, including NEC’s. Silicon Glen has remade itself, focusing more on software and semiconductor design and development. NEC has also reinvigorated its presence in the UK with the acquisition of Northgate Public Services in 2018.
NEC is not out of the woods yet, however. In a tough interview in the Nikkei Business, President Niino seems willing to slaughter several sacred cows and even commits to taking responsibility (presumably by resigning) if his revival plan to FY 2020 does not succeed.
He said he was open to merging with rival Fujitsu, even if it meant the NEC name disappeared. I certainly recognised from his descriptions some similar characteristics in the way they operate.
NEC, like Fujitsu, was part of the so-called Den Den Family, where stable, dependable business came from government contracts from what is now NTT. “Customers would make very stringent requests of us and we would always try to respond with the best possible technical solutions, and deliver 100%. This is an important quality, but you cannot survive globally just on this”.
Niino thinks there were many reasons for the halving of NEC’s turnover since 2000. They had relied on introducing new technology in areas such as semiconductors, PCs and mobile phones, but once these became volume businesses with many newcomers, spending far more on R&D, NEC was no longer able to compete.
Niino is focusing on profit targets rather than turnover and sees NEC’s future strength as being in “safer cities” – using AI and software development rather than hardware. Clearly China will be a major competitor in this, but I guess NEC and other Japanese suppliers will be preferred by many who might view China as a threat.
Niino has brought in an HR director from Microsoft Japan to shake up the HR system. He has appointed 31 “change agents” and made evaluations more visible, and the distinction between specialists and managers more clear. Corporate officers on the board have all been asked to step down temporarily and then are being rehired on 1 year contracts. “I won’t be firing them if they don’t meet targets within one year, but if they miss two years’ running, it might be that they are better off working outside NEC”. As Niino is himself a Corporate Officer, no wonder he has to commit to taking personal responsibility for any failure too.
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