AIB Featured Business Leader Fujio Mitarai
The name Fujio Mitarai may not be well known, but chances are you will be familiar with his organisation, Canon. Born and raised in Japan, Mitarai studied law at Chuo University before commencing his career at Canon in 1961. The organisation was co-founded by Mirarai’s uncle Takeshi, and it took only five years for Takeshi to send Mitarai to America in order to compete with similar brands such as Nikon. As time would tell however, the company’s first earnings report showed that Canon had only made $6,000 on $3 million in sales, causing the IRS to become suspicious.After a close review, the IRS suggested that Canon close its US office, and put the money back in the bank. For Mitarai, this advice was a wake-up call, as he knew the company could be profitable if it was able to decrease costs and improve sales. As what would later be known as “the Mitarai way”, Mitarai transformed Canon into a highly successful company. He was promoted to the head of North American camera sales, travelling around the country to promote the products, and staying in cheap hotels to cut costs. Using his Japanese background and American work experience, he created a unique blend of eastern and western managerial styles to mould Canon into the organisation that it is today. Through this large overhaul, the company returned to profitability, and was well on track to become one of the world’s largest camera organisations.
While there are many admirable qualities that Mitarai possesses, it is his management style which is of most interest. In Japan, the primary focus is usually on sales, however Mitarai ensured that Canon’s focus switched to profits, like that of the Americans. Japanese values were not forgotten though, with lifetime employment, a common practice in Japan, being promised for employees. His blend of American practices such as monetary incentives with Japanese customs saw him grow his workforce to one which is loyal, yet driven.
The same can be said about his personal attitude towards his role, with Steve Appelton, head of semiconductor maker Micron Technology, telling Fortune “He’s active in leading the company. He’s pretty driven,” several years ago. It appeared that Mitarai was more concerned with the success of Canon over his own perception and success, telling BusinessWeek Online, “I’m motivated by my ambition of turning Canon into a truly excellent company”. It was clear that his goals extended beyond his personal success, with true motivation and drive to make Canon the number one choice by consumers.
Today, Mitarai remains the CEO and Chairman of Canon, based in Japan. His return to Japan saw the company introduce new budget-planning methods, and use its own funds for capital investment. Thanks to a setback many years ago, he has lead Canon to enormous success, using his experiences from around the world to shape his leadership and decisions. Canon remains one of the world’s most successful organisations, being named the tenth largest public company in Japan at the beginning of this year.
I am interested to discover your thoughts though – what do you admire most about the career of Fujio Mitarai? Is it his persistence from the beginning, or his humble attitude towards leadership today? Comment below to share your views.
This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: