After celebrating Brother’s 50th anniversary in the US last year, Tadashi Ishiguro, new president of Brother Industries’ US subsidiary, talks about his hopes for the future
OPI: Congratulations on your new position as president of Brother International Corporation in the US. Please tell me a little about yourself.
TI: I joined Brother Industries in Japan in 1984 and came to the US in 1987. Back then, Brother International USA was a much smaller company, with annual sales of less than $300 million. The late 1980s and early 1990s were exciting times at Brother, as we introduced many innovative, affordable and user-friendly product families.
I was young, but quickly realised that I needed to better understand the customer. Ever since, I have served in many sales and other customer-focused capacities.
OPI: How would you describe your basic management style?
TI: I have only been president for a couple of months, but luckily my predecessor Mr Terry Koike remains as Brother USA’s chairman. He still provides excellent advice and direction for the company.
My personal business philosophy has two key points. First is ‘at your side’. This is Brother’s corporate motto and one which I try to always follow. ‘At your side’ means that Brother will be a good partner to everyone – our resellers, vendors, employees and the ultimate end users of our products – and keep them satisfied. We will continue to be customer-focused and will offer not just products, but true solutions for today’s business challenges.
Second is ‘we, not me’. Brother USA exemplifies team spirit. Individual ideas only become successful when we as a group implement them quickly and efficiently. Like many companies, Brother invests to develop strong group dynamics and team-building, and facilitating this is one of my most important roles.
OPI: I’ve heard that you believe in something called ‘speed management’. What exactly does that mean?
TI: Creating strong teams is only half the battle. Those teams need to be fast to be successful. I believe that speed – encompassing development speed, implementation speed and proactive speed – is the key to differentiating Brother from other companies that have become top-heavy and bureaucratic.
To make speed management work at Brother, I am a firm driver of information sharing and self-motivation. I urge our employees to be creative. To be proactive. To not wait to be told what to do. With this internal environment, I believe Brother can continue to be a good, nimble partner for our business associates.
OPI: I know Brother USA has long used SAP as its central system for delivering real-time information. Are you planning any new SAP implementations to help you further improve Brother’s speed management?
TI: Absolutely. Currently we are preparing to implement the Salesforce Automation module of SAP Mobile Sales. This will give our salespeople better real-time information about contacts, prospects, sales leads, sales campaigns and much more. It will also update them on their fellow salespeople’s activities, helping teams work together better, especially on corporate or commercial accounts. Sales, marketing and support groups will all have access to the system. For salespeople, this means reduced admin time and increased productive ‘face’ time.
We are also currently implementing SAP CRM as the basis for our website content creation. Its basic concept is to ‘create once, use many times’. By managing all of the product and sales data in one central data warehouse, we will have dynamic web pages, created, updated and shared in real time. This will lead to significant cost savings, and to consistency of information. I believe this is critical for our success over the next 50 years.
One last SAP note: we have just begun offering our resellers a web-based portal for entering and checking the status of their orders anytime, directly over the web.
OPI: What would you consider your greatest accomplishment at Brother?
TI: During the mid to late 1990s, Brother had established itself as a provider of high-quality, affordable home and home office products. In fact, we used The Ultimate Home Office Company as a secondary tag line. However, as we approached the new millennium, it became apparent that in order for the company to grow, we needed to expand up-market. We needed to reach Fortune 2000 customers that require more support and solutions rather than products.
In 2001, I was asked to rapidly grow our commercial division. I wondered at the time to what extent our products fit these new customer needs and whether we could offer the necessary support for them.
Today, I am very proud of our commercial group’s success. Our customer list includes many Fortune 500 companies as well as those in the healthcare, education, and government sectors. Our guiding philosophy continues to be ‘sales neutral’ – we do not compete with our resellers and distributors, nor do we sell directly to end users… even the large ones. The concept is quite simple. It is the end users’ decision how and from whom they want to buy Brother product. We are ‘at your side’ for all parties, there to support, inform and encourage, but not to compete.
OPI: It must have been very satisfying to achieve record results during your 50th year. What do you think 2005 holds?
TI: We were very proud to have had such a strong year last year. The challenge for 2005 is that new competitors have entered the market, exposing our customers to a significant increase in product choices.
The good news is that the business climate for buying Brother’s product has recently shown signs of considerable improvement and we are on the right track of steady growth in 2005.
OPI: Do you foresee major market changes this year?
TI: No question, the US market is changing. More and more homes are becoming wired and wirelessly networked. Corporate America is decentralising its document management and putting printers and multifunction devices directly where end users are working. The overall concept of the workplace is changing. The great news is that Brother is leading the changes in these specific areas.
In corporate America, we have established ourselves as the foremost provider of printing and document management solutions for the Corporate Office Home Office (COHO) market. More and more companies no longer need to house everyone in corporate headquarters, realising that it can be more efficient to have company people spend a significant time working from their home offices.
OPI: You have been very successful at marketing and selling your core product categories. Are there plans to expand that offering over the next few years?
TI: It is too early to reveal many of the categories we are developing, but you can imagine that the entire world will one day be completely digital. At Brother Industries, our parent company, we are developing new printing and other technologies, and a suite of products that add enjoyment and productivity to one’s life.
As the workplace and the needs of our consumers change, you can bet we will remain ‘at your side’ with innovative, reliable and affordable products that work the way you do.
OPI: You apparently have a name for this …
TI: We call this product philosophy ‘workstyle innovation’. The concept of office and workplace is changing dramatically. Today, you can’t tell whether people are working at a blue chip company, a chocolate chip company or from their kitchen table. For generations, the office was a brick or steel structure with desks and chairs.
Today, it is wherever you work, whether it is your home office, your car or in the field. At Brother, we will continue to introduce products that work with this shift in lifestyle and not against it.
OPI: Last year you started ground-breaking for an expansion of your primary US distribution centre. Please tell me about this and the progress that’s been made.
TI: We long ago realised that we needed to continue developing our infrastructure in order to support our growing business. In 1997, we opened our Jupiter facility on 100 acres in Bartlett, Tennessee. This one million sq ft facility held both product and parts distribution centres, as well as end user and dealer service call centers.
Thanks to our sales growth we needed to expand again. So in November of 2004, Brother International USA held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a nearly 500,000 sq ft expansion of that facility. Approximately 400 guests attended the opening of this massive addition, including state and local government officials, vendors and Brother personnel. Tennessee’s governor Phil Bredesen was able to join us for this special event, along with Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald. It was quite an event!
Customer satisfaction has always been the driving force behind Brother International’s success. With the continued cooperation of the people of Bartlett, Tennessee, this expanded distribution centre will help us support our customers, resellers and distributors with a smooth flow of product and superior customer service.
OPI: Any other interesting events in 2005 we should know about?
TI: Brother’s home prefecture in Japan – Aichi – will host the 2005 World Exposition. Held from March to September, this expo will draw exhibitors from over 100 countries and visitors from around the world.
Brother will have an interactive exhibit called Manufacturing Products, Creating Dreams: Brother Output Fantasy. There, visitors will get to try out our state-of-the-art printing, labelling and embroidery products, and catch a glimpse of what Brother’s next 50 years of technology might hold.
OPI: Mr Ishiguro, thank you very much for your time.