The first action Takashi Kawamura undertook on being appointed President of Hitachi in April 2009 was to reform the governance of the company, allowing more independence to the listed companies in the Hitachi group and also the internal companies. Some restructuring and cutting loose of certain business lines also occurred.
“But what was really important” says Kawamura, “was that we had a direction for the future”. The key phrase he devised was “Social Innovation”. Apparently some native English speakers pointed out that such a phrase did not really exist in English in the sense it was used by Hitachi – to connect social infrastructure and information technology. But as it had meaning for Hitachi, Kawamura stuck with it. “Hitachi began with motors and power systems for mining, and is strong in power plants and rail, but also IT. It was often said inside Hitachi that they wanted to be “IBM+Siemens”.
Hitachi’s two biggest independently listed companies, Hitachi Cable and Hitachi Metals, were initially resistant, saying they were not involved in social innovation, but Kawamura managed to persuade them that ultimately they were providing the foundations for social innovation businesses.
Kawamura also followed a policy of focusing on upstream and downstream, and getting rid of “midstream” businesses. For example assembly of digital components- investing in a joint venture with Mitsubishi Electric – Renesas, which then merged with NEC Electronics. The mobile phone business was spun off into a joint venture with NEC. The hard disk drive business was sold to Western Digital.
“In other words, we were taking down our shop sign as a consolidated electricals company” says Kawamura. “Actually, I wish we had done it five years earlier, then we would not have made such big losses.” As the Nikkei points out, actually Hitachi was quicker to restructure than Panasonic or Sharp.
Kawamura believes that the best time to shut down a business line is just after the peak has been attained. But he recognises this is hard to implement – there are many people who joined Hitachi in order to be in that business. But Hitachi has had 100 years of moving from one peak to another, from motors for steel making to nuclear power stations to large scale computing, to hard disk drives.
The worst time for Kawamura was having to raise capital from shareholders in 2009, when Hitachi’s shareholder equity ratio had fallen to 11.2%, Hitachi normally guarantees whatever it sells – power plant efficiency, meeting deadlines etc, but of course dividends and share prices cannot be guaranteed. The share price fell to Y200, but despite everything, our shareholders took up the offering. “This really stiffened my resolve to carry out the reforms needed at Hitachi…. that is what being the manager of a company is about” Kawamura recollects.
(Continues – Part 3 – trimming the three branches)
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