Holding 90% of global share in the pen tablet market, Japan-headquartered Wacom Co Ltd has boomed as a result of its international approach to business. But with the growth worldwide of digital stationery as an everyday tool rather than one solely for the creative industries, opportunities remain high. As the market prepares for proliferation of the technology, companies are increasingly seeking global talent to stay ahead, in addition to existing values of monotsukuri craftsmanship and innovation.
In 2013, after more than 23 years working for Sony Corporation in Japan and Sony Ericsson in London, Ted (Tetsuo) Kanno took the leap to Wacom, in the hope of using his international experience to further develop the company.
As director of corporate communications, Kanno talks about his lessons in business, Wacom’s secret to global success, and future applications of digital pads and ink.
What drew you to a career in computers and digital technology?
I was an intensive Walkman user in my university days, listening to music and English conversation while I commuted from my home in Kanagawa Prefecture to Sofia University in Tokyo, which took three hours in total each day. I wore out four Walkmans during those four years. I wanted to join the company behind the innovative Walkman and other products such as Discman and Handycam — Sony.
My first job at Sony was not related to those products, though, which is a common practice in Japanese companies. I was assigned to computer display marketing and sales. At that time, Sony was selling lots of computer display monitors — on an original equipment manufacturer basis — to global computer companies.
Representing one of Japan’s leading electronics companies to global IT companies was very tough, but rewarding in many ways.
Why did you move into corporate communications?
My father used to be a journalist at one of the leading newspapers in Japan. I wanted to deal with journalists as a representative of the company and see how I could make a difference.
What did you find most challenging?
I spent one or two years working in each of the areas of product and technology PR, employee communications, and foreign media relations. Working in the foreign media relations team was particularly thrilling as I developed lots of skills and expertise related to PR as well as English and Japanese communication. Taking advantage of what I gained through the job, I qualified as a conference interpreter with the now-defunct Japan Interpreters’ Association.
And what was most rewarding?
Securing the company’s name, products, activities and people in the media in a positive context was most fulfilling of all, since this is proof that the journalists and media were convinced by the value of the company’s offerings — they felt compelled to spill the beans to their readers.
What made you move to Sony Ericsson's global headquarters in London, in 2001?
The rationale behind Sony Ericsson was to combine Sony’s strengths and design excellence in consumer electronics with Ericsson’s technological eminence in telecommunication. Mobile phones at that time were about to morph from mere phones that were portable into multimedia devices featuring audio and/or camera functions. I thought there was a great opportunity ahead, through the joint venture, so I wanted to test my skills and experience in that environment.
How different was the working environment to the one you were used to?
The office was culturally and racially diverse, with Japanese, Swedish, British, Spanish, German, Norwegian, Dutch, Australian, and Chinese staff as well as those of multi-heritage. Everyone was expected to be open to new thinking and foreign ideas, and try their best to accomplish things by building consensus or through persuasion. Doing this in an international environment using English as a common language was very challenging and rewarding at the same time.
What business lessons did you learn after more than two years in the UK?
One: disentangle complexity and simplify the issue to the essence, and two: build consensus with people on what needs to be done as well as why and how, and then ascertain the desired results.
What is the secret of Wacom's global success?
In the 1980s, the epicenter of the computer industry was the west coast of the United States so when Wacom was founded in 1983 the company turned to its overseas markets rather than its domestic one. This strategy made possible Wacom’s encounter with Disney. Since then, Wacom has been closely working with the creative community, developing innovative products while refining its premium relationships. I think the company’s clear focus on harmony between computers and human beings — the company name relates to harmony (wa) and computer — has led to the creation of pen tablet devices for design and art professionals around the world.
How can companies globalize effectively while maintaining their DNA?
I think globalizing is one thing and maintaining DNA is another. Doing both successfully at the same time is difficult. I would say that the more a company’s DNA is unique and strong, the more it will be of help in accomplishing globalization successfully. Compelling DNA will attract talent despite culture and nationality.
More companies are offering flexible working options for staff, to improve work-life balance and support more women into employment. How can digital stationery help their efforts?
Digital stationery is about making digital everything people can do using pen and paper. Thanks to the penetration of the internet, mobile devices, and the cloud, digital ink is about to take off as the primary tool for people to communicate, work, study, and be creative. Digital stationery will give people greater-than-ever flexibility in working environments, making telework, nomad-style working, and collaboration via the cloud far easier.
How do you balance work and play?
I have been making it a rule to run for more than 150 minutes per week for more than 30 years. I stepped it up to more than 250 minutes per week last year, to participate in a half marathon this past March.
Running gives me the extravagance of immersing myself in my own world while keeping me in good shape. Living in Kamakura now, I relish running through diverse landscape such as low-lying mountains, beaches, and sightseeing spots such as temples and shrines. I can also sense the history of the area, which retains the essence of the Kamakura Period.
I am also a member of Yamayuri Yacht Club, which works to preserve the legendary ship that was built for the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. The Yamayuri is maintained in perfect condition, and club members enjoy sailing on her around the beautiful Sagami Bay every now and then. With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics approaching, excitement is rising at the club.© Japan Today