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How Canon Got Its Flash Back - The Innovative Turnaround Tactics of Fujio Mitarai





Book: 'How Canon Got Its Flash Back - The Innovative Turnaround Tactics of Fujio Mitarai'

Author: Nikkei, translated by Mark Schreiber and Aaron Martin Cohen

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, 2004

ISBN: 0-470-82123-X

Leader Values

If there were prizes for clever book titles, How Canon Got Its Flash Back would certainly be short-listed for a Best Book Title Award. But behind the amusingly apt title there is the serious story of Canons recent roller coaster ride. The company was one of Japans great success stories in the 1980s, approached the brink of financial disaster in the 1990s, and then turned the business around to re-achieve global supremacy in the past few years. The key to this recent success has been the strong personal leadership of Canons President and CEO, Fujio Mitarai.

Cameras get little mention in the first part of the book, which is focused (pun intended) on Canons financial woes from over-diversification into non-strategic business areas. After their initial success with cameras and calculators, they expanded into other technology areas like personal computers and flat screen liquid crystal displays. At the same time, the company was haemorrhaging cash from sloppy budget planning and control.

When Mitarai took over leadership of the company in 1995, he was faced with some very tough choices. A traditional Japanese leader would probably have adopted a laissez-faire approach and just hoped to weather the storm. But Mitarai had worked for 23 years in the US, and knew that his key challenge was to return the company to profitability. As he commented, "unless your profit surpasses the rate of interest, there is no point in doing business". So his first step was to introduce more effective budget control.

Mitarai maintained the companys traditional Japanese policy of lifetime employment, but he was merciless in axing unprofitable parts of the business. These radical and un-Japanese reforms outraged his management team. Interviews with Mitarai and some of his managers highlight the personal stresses involved in turning the ailing business around. The book presents a vivid picture of the visionary CEO fighting a lonely battle against entrenched resistance. But all was forgiven as the business returned to profitable growth, and Mitarai is now one of Japans revered business leaders.

How Canon Got Its Flash Back gives a broad historical overview of the Canon company, plus an insightful look at the internal tensions as the company struggled to find the right mix of Western and Asian values. Or in more photographic terms, you could view the book as a video clip of Canons recent ups & downs, with a wide-angle panorama shot of the companys global standing and a compelling close-up portrait of its visionary and charismatic leader.

Compiled by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) and well translated into English, this is an authoritative and readable account of a turbulent but ultimately successful decade for Canon. Their cameras have indeed got their flash back; the company has got its profit back; and Mitarais unique mix of Japanese and American leadership styles enabled him to get his popularity back. A very instructive case study.

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