The core value of a Japanese company is ‘Lasting Longer’, and Canon too wants to build a legacy of great products and ideas that will continue to serve customers over years, says Kazutada Kobayashi, President and CEO of Canon India. His company sees India as an emerging market with a very tangible demand, and great potential, which is why he has set steep growth targets. He has spent over a year in India.
In the last fifteen years Canon India has had three distinct five-yearly phases – the first was marked by the introduction of the brand; the second was of developing the infrastructure and the capability to serve the market; and the last half-decade has been one of appreciable growth.
Kobayashi has been brought in to provide an impetus to the Company’s bottom-line (profitability). Having served Canon for thirty years, in five countries, Kobayashi says that the market here is very dynamic, and one has to remain on one’s toes - agile decision-making is required. To ensure that Canon achieves its target of a 1 billion dollar business in India, he has intensified the marketing and branding activities – by exploiting brand ambassadors, creating good visibility and launching new promotions. Kobayashi asserts that the intense marketing action is not aimed at short-term growth, but is for enhancing the brand image, and motivating the employees as well. “We want to increase our reach and market penetration, and harness the potential here. India has a large and growing middle-class, which is our target audience. Also, the camera penetration is just 10 per cent, compared to 200 per cent in Japan,” he asserts. The challenge posed by the growth of smartphones is also an opportunity for Canon, believes Kobayashi, as it will act as a trigger for buyers to get into serious photography – and then ask for digital cameras, and even SLRs. “It is to meet the smartphone challenge that we have also introduced Wi-Fi features in our cameras as well as printers. We want to offer the Indian customer better features and superior quality, and are planning to introduce the Wi-Fi feature even in the lowest priced cameras,” he says. He has observed that Indian customers are not only price sensitive; but also want to touch and feel all the options before they make the purchase decision. The opinion of the family also plays an important part, and most purchases take place in the second or the third visit to the store. One great positive he sees is that once an Indian buyer sticks to a brand he/she becomes a loyal customer.
Under his leadership Canon has decided to not only focus on existing businesses but also introduce new lines like professional Movie Cameras, which are being sold to the regional and Bollywood film makers. “We are also pushing consumer printing, by offering innovative products; business-to-business sales are also being combined with value-added business solutions for large organizations,” he says. The Company is also looking at selling medical equipment - such as machines for digital x-rays and eye testing - to the growing healthcare industry.
Being in India, Canon has also got on the software bandwagon, and a hundred member team in Gurgaon is developing software solutions for sales, services, HR systems and other corporate functions. “We have the hardware, the software as well as a Call Centre, that will help our businesses work in a more integrated manner,” he reveals.
On his management philosophy, Kobayashi says that honesty and transparency help an organization to not only grow, but also last Longer - in the Japanese way. “It is important to be sincere toemployees and customers, and build an environment of trust,” he says. When asked about why some Japanese companies were facing issues over quality, which has always been a strong point with them, Kobayashi assumes a serious tone. “I would not comment on other companies, but in Canon we have internal policemen who keep a total check on quality. We want a loyal customer base, and this is reason for our commitment to quality,” he asserts.
In his career, he feels that his most important achievement has been the ability to bridge cultural differences, and build a career outside Japan. “I have handled teams across cultures and countries, and interpersonal skills have been my strength,” he says. In India too he wants to build a team that bonds well and overcomes any cultural and regional differences, to help Canon become the market leader in its chosen domains. India has a great talent pool, and one of the largest English-speaking populations, which is a strength. He also appreciates the number-crunching abilities of the Indian workers, and their ability to visualize the big picture. The Indian economy and market offers great challenges and opportunities for his Company, though there are certain vulnerabilities due to the balance of payments and a weakening rupee, admits the CEO.
Going back to his moorings in Japan, he says that his father, who was an interpreter, and worked with the US Navy, had a major influence on his life, and also had an impact on the choices he made in his career. “When I was young I was exposed to men from the armies of different nations, who had different view points and cultures - those were the days of the Vietnam War,” he says. After graduating from the Keio University, he therefore wanted to join a company that had an overseas presence. Canon was an obvious choice, and he feels he was lucky to have been selected by the Company.
Kobayashi’s endeavour has been to constantly learn new things and act as an intermediary among the communities, apart from keeping a sharp eye on the bottom line. “We are committed to improving the quality of the lives of people in the communities where we operate. Canon works under its corporate philosophy of Kyosei, which means ‘living and working together for the common good’. As a responsible company we stand committed to the causes of Environment, Eye-Care and Education,” says the Canon CEO.” Ferozpur Namak village, situated in Mewat, has been adopted for three core projects - the setting up of a Vision Center, improvement of the environment through tree plantation, and Rain Water Harvesting. The objective of the education project is to improve the enrolment of children in the local govt school, and to help deliver quality education. The School currently suffers from low enrolment and attendance rates. This Project also includes the establishment of a Learning Centre (education aids/toys and a library), installation of a water pipeline, provision of taps and toilets for the girls, and imparting of training to the teachers. “I often visit the village and also ask my team managers to do so,” says Kobayashi.
In his opinion, Gurgaon is a city in transition, and is changing very fast – and is perhaps a mirror of the change that may soon happen in Indian society and economy.
At A Personal Level
Kobayashi says that settling in India has been the hardest for him, and even his family has taken almost a year to feel like residents. “Delhi has extreme weather, and is perhaps the only city (where I have worked) where there is so much of a temperature difference between summer and winter,” he says. His wife and children have now got used to the weather, culture, food and nuances of this country - which he says is beautiful and vast. Recently Kobayashi visited Kashmir, and he gushes about the experience of living in a houseboat on the Dal Lake, and visiting the hill resort of Gulmarg - which he found as good as any resort in Switzerland. “I dream of going to Kanyakumari one day, and observe the sunset there,” he says. He also tries to use his trips across the country to better understand the markets and their context.
To unwind, Kobayashi takes to cooking and playing Golf - his two passions, apart from spending time with the family. Although he has not got used to Indian food, he says that he uses the local materials to cook dishes in an international style. For him, cooking is a way to connect with the past, to express creativity and to release stress. He believes that expats need to adapt to local cultures and foods, and they must have flexible mindsets. It is also important to have strong bonding and relationship among the employees, which is happening constantly at Canon India. “We recently invited the families of our employees, and showed them the work being done in the Company,” he says.