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Corporate Strategy

Discussion: Part 2—Opening Doors to the Next Era with Innovation alongside Customers (Yuka Tanimoto / Managing Web Editor of Forbes Japan and Toshikazu Umatate / Representative Director and President of Nikon)

Discussion: Part 2—Opening Doors to the Next Era with Innovation alongside Customers (Yuka Tanimoto / Managing Web Editor of Forbes Japan and Toshikazu Umatate / Representative Director and President of Nikon)

At Nikon, we have weaved a co-creative relationship between people and machinery over our 100-year history. Looking towards the future, it is our conviction to provide society with a new value founded from co-creation by bridging the gap between humans and machinery. This passion is represented in our Vision 2030 to become “a key technology solutions company in a global society where humans and machines co-create seamlessly.” And to realize this, we have established and published our Medium Term Management Plan for 2025.

Today, we are joined by Yuka Tanimoto, Director and Managing Web Editor of Forbes Japan, who has conducted over 3,000 interviews with VIPs across the globe and possesses deep knowledge of business innovations and reform. She will discuss with Toshikazu Umatate, Representative Director and President of Nikon, on his thoughts and the concept behind the message of becoming “a key technology solutions company in a global society where humans and machines co-create seamlessly.” In Part 1, we mainly discussed Nikon‘s business direction. In Part 2, we will be introducing the concepts behind Nikon’s partnerships and human talent.

For Part 1, click here

Providing solutions by grasping needs from the customer’s standpoint

Tanimoto: I work for a media with global locations myself, but at the same time, I hope that Japan’s top, unparalleled companies like Nikon can gain even more acclaim overseas, so that businesses and ideas originating from Japan can further spread across the globe. In order to realize this, what should Japan pursue as a winning strategy? I consider our strength to be onsite performance, but people overseas have spoken of our ability to create new ideas as a strength. This has me thinking that combining these elements could even better strengthen our abilities. What strengths do you want to leave behind to the next generation, and what areas do you think we should improve upon?

Umatate: Japan certainly has great strengths. We Japanese are skilled in our precise craftsmanship, ability to improve development processes, and then make further advancements to refine our products. We should stay true to these traits and build upon them even more.

On the other hand, as I reflect on our own company from the customer’s perspective, I believe there’s work to be done in the area of grasping the true wants and needs of customers and providing total solutions. Moving forward, we must leave behind “product-based thinking” that simply relies on the sales of finished products, and instead, adopt “total solution-based thinking” that provides everything from finished products to components and services, supporting customers with an accurate understanding of their needs. I believe this will require a global mindset and approach—at Nikon, we are working to strengthen this global perspective to create new products that can “wow” our customers.

Tanimoto: Your company’s products have many fans and are revered by professionals, so I predict you have accumulated a great amount of data. Would you agree that you have a solid foundation to utilize this data?

Umatate: I agree that we have accumulated many resources and experiences, but it’s not necessarily the case that all of this is neatly organized within a computer, waiting to be accessed with a push of a keyboard. I suppose one could say this is what makes us interesting, while others may certainly say it is a problem.

I previously mentioned the concept of “humans and machines,” but in our case at Nikon, much of the weight lies on the shoulders of our people. In principle, it’s possible to organize the knowledge and experiences of our professionals, but in reality, some aspects of modelling human knowledge are not possible. Areas that are unique to humans must either be passed down by our people or be gained through experience by each of our employees. What should be common knowledge can be contained within computers on a shared network, so that all of our employees may access them. This is another example of our effort to assess the best combination between humans and machines.

Recently, I developed an interest in the human brain and have been reading about its functions, and in that process, I’ve come to gain a new appreciation for our capabilities. I believe our minds will continue to hold great significance in the future, and my vision in our work is to expand on our capabilities through the help of computers and machines.

Overcoming existing structures to co-create with diverse industries and companies

Tanimoto: As businesses continue to diversify, I believe it will become all the more important to co-create with industries that companies do not have existing relationships with. You mentioned your interest in neuroscience, but what are your thoughts on the possibilities that can be born from collaborating with new industries and fields?

Umatate: We are somewhat of a strange company in that—say, if someone were to come to us with a request to make something completely new with a specific vision—we can likely achieve that. While this is a great ability of ours, current limitations surrounding time and the need for multi-tasking imply there’s only so much we can do ourselves. This is precisely why we must develop partnerships with a variety of companies and collaborate with academia.

I particularly anticipate the need to co-create with industries outside of our existing relations with companies, like optics makers or machinery makers. We have recently begun collaborating with an airline company, but I look forward to building co-creative relationships with other companies, as well.

Becoming a company with diverse human talent

Tanimoto: It’s admirable to have so much talent that can accomplish new ventures. I think it’s ideal for a company to have many ideas while also retaining people that can develop and implement those ideas. Younger generations like Generation Z and Generation Alpha seem to desire joining such companies. What elements do you think are necessary to value these kinds of employees, while also nurturing or developing people that can thrive in the upcoming new era?

Umatate: I consider our strength is to have people that take a deeper approach to their work in an extended amount of time. However, I believe the most significant element of realizing Vision 2030 is formulating how to generate or gather human talent.

We do, of course, have many experts in the field of optics and precision machinery. However, we haven’t broadened our business in areas outside of that up until now. So I want to ask our employees to expand their perspective and find interest in new areas to develop their expertise. To start, I want to discover new talents within the company.

Needless to say, this won’t be enough, so moving forward we will continue strengthening recruitment efforts, conducting recruitment in a wide range of fields externally and doubling the number of hires from FY2022.

Tanimoto: What kind of talent do you plan on hiring in the future?

Umatate: I hope we are joined by a diverse group of people, including professionals, those with a broad perspective, those with passion for their work, and those with a “hard and steady” approach. It’s impossible to express it in one phrase.

However, they would need to be more than simply professionals of one field. For example, in terms of finance, we are focusing our efforts on M&A. Our legal team is dealing with many tech-related projects. Knowledge in areas like these are incredibly important. Here at Nikon, there should be a place to shine for people with knowledge or skills in a variety of areas, in addition to specialists of a certain field.

Opening doors to the future as a long-standing impactful company

Tanimoto: Looking towards 2030, how might Nikon change as a company with over 100 years of history? Are there any aspects that will stay the same?

Umatate: Our employees are incredibly diligent and honest people with an earnest work ethic. Take the work of polishing lenses as an example—it takes much patience and perseverance. Our company’s techniques were born precisely from this steady work ethic, so I hope to preserve this value. At the same time, I also want to give our employees the opportunity to explore the world, discover new interests, and embark on challenges.

These days, more people are looking to find true meaning and ascertain the truth in their work—this is particularly true among Generation Z. At Nikon, we are currently deliberating many aspects of our company, including organizational structure. Instead of limiting ourselves and giving up because something has “never been done,” we want to create an atmosphere that can incorporate an abundance of new ideas.

Tanimoto: You already have an established reputation with over 100 years of incredible corporate history, and the Nikon brand has attained everything from esteemed tradition to trust, credibility, and of course, unparalleled technology. Given this, what elements do you think will be necessary in 2030 as a “global society where humans and machines co-create seamlessly”? Is it the previously mentioned concept of wellbeing, or perhaps a sense of “affluence”?

Umatate: I’ve given some thought to the question of what the origin of our brand is. I’m sure many people think of “Nikon” a brand of cameras. However, if we reflect on the past, our history shows that we have consistently created new inventions and impacted society. For example, cameras formerly required manually winding the films that were placed inside them. We were the first company to invent technology that automatically winds the film with a motor, allowing users to capture photos consecutively. This innovation was how we came to gain reputation among professionals. We later went on to launch our semiconductor lithography systems business in the 1980s, which bore products that led to smaller, high-density semiconductors. This eventually contributed to the development of semiconductors, advancement of computers, and in turn, energy conservation.

We also entered the field of microscopes to observe what couldn’t be seen before, and the list goes on. At each turning point across our history, we have opened doors required by society.

Given our journey thus far, I understand our role as one to open more doors in the future together with customers—and I fully believe we are a company capable of doing so. I hope we can continue our venture so that in 2030, we are recognized by society as a company that greatly contributed to changing times through our innovations. And hopefully, in that process, we can strengthen the Nikon brand, as well.

Click here for Part 1

*Title and work duties are those at the time of interview