Canon’s billion dollar man

Quietly spoken, youngish (yet with two twenty-something year old sons) Canon Australia’s recently appointed managing director, Kenji Kobayashi, has the air of someone almost too shy to lay claim to 27 years of highly successful business achievement throughout the Canon world in Japan, Holland, Italy, Japan, and most recently as president and CEO of Canon Hong Kong.


His downunder appointment is a reflection of the importance the company places on the Australian and New Zealand markets. His seniority in the Canon management cadres and his experience in leading management roles in Asian and European markets has prepared him well for the new role.


In 2001 Kobayashi was appointed senior director and general manager of the Business Imaging Solution (BIS) Group within the Canon Asia Marketing Group. He is on record as having led the group to double-digit annual growth in the region and achieving profitability in China within two years, despite not inconsiderable local challenges. In Hong Kong he continued the subsidiary’s record of year-on-year sales growth for nearly four years.


He told ProPrint his immediate aim for the Australasian arm of the company is to achieve the billion dollar mark in annual sales. Challenged to justify this ambitious objective in the wake of the current financial turmoil, he confidently projected this to be achievable within the next 12 months.


Service the keyword
The key to achieving the growth which will make him a member of the billion dollar club, Kobayashi maintains, is service. He has set his sights on establishing and growing Canon Australia and New Zealand’s service function, a reflection not only on his management style of seeking new paths to profitability but an outcome also of feedback from major customers who are finding the service function too cumbersome and time consuming to handle in-house. He sees this very service function as a new type of business for Canon, one which will overcome the obvious strictures on sales growth in a constrained economic environment.


Kobayashi has been quick to recognise the more open-minded business attitudes in Australia compared with the structured philosophical and more emotional approach adopted in Asian markets.


“The first thing I identified here was the comparison with the smog-filled atmosphere of Beijing — here in my Sydney office I can look out and see clearly all the trees and greenery in the background,” he noted. By that he meant not only to describe the clear air of suburban Sydney but the clearer, more open-minded business environment he has encountered coming to Australia from his posting in China.


This in itself has encouraged him to take his plough into new areas and carve out new furrows in as yet uncultivated fields. He recalls that this change of scenario presented him with the biggest single challenge when he moved from the established Beijing corporate structure to the totally unchannelled China hot seat where he was tasked to start from scratch to create a business framework, not the least component of which was to set up a totally new dealer network and ensure its efficient operation.


At the same time he was quick to identify the need for a small, extremely focused direct sales group to service the top segment of Canon’s customer base. This, he said, presented few immediate problems, given the high standard of Chinese education and the ready availability of graduates to fill the ranks of the new organisation.


Doing the right thing
Kobayashi’s leaning toward clean air and a responsible corporate attitude toward the environment is well documented. One of the initiatives for which he has announced support in the short time he has been in Australia is the Planet Ark cartridge recovery scheme.


While he sees ecological initiatives as an obligatory adjunct to modern corporate management, he is also sufficiently realistic to recognise the benefits from a sales point of view of being seen by the company’s customer base as “doing the right thing”.


After an hour’s conversation with the new man at the top, it became readily obvious that not only is there a new name on the business card above the title managing director, but there is in the offing a new analytical approach in what the industry can expect of Australasia’s Canon in the twenty-tens.


“I cannot simply aim for growth for the sake of growth,” Kobayashi-san said. “We need to focus on keeping the company on its present track which, for the future, can be good timing for adapting to change,” he asserted.


This is a man whose background and approach methodologies are the product of the ideal mix of Asian introspection and disciplined thinking and open-minded European-style entrepreneurialism. Given today’s constrained economic conditions, his unreserved confidence that he can keep on track along the lines of Hong Kong’s year-on-year sales growth, while tinged with realism tempered by the global financial crisis (currency fluctuations alone impact dramatically on a company which imports the largest part of its inventory) bodes well for the future of Canon in Australia and New Zealand.

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