newsmaker When Satoshi Kimura first arrived in Singapore almost 30 years ago, his office was located in a small warehouse along the river.
As president and CEO of Canon Singapore today, Kimura has since moved to a bigger building and now oversees the sales and marketing operations in South and Southeast Asia. This includes subsidiary companies in India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, a representative office in Vietnam and 22 independent distributors.
The Canon veteran's current appointment in Singapore is his second in the country. Between 1982 and 1990, he played a key role in the establishment of Canon Singapore, setting up the local office.
Kimura spoke to ZDNet Asia about his early days in Singapore and current trends impacting Canon, and recalled how it had to evolve from an "analog", to a "digital" company.
Q: When you were first in Singapore 30 years ago, setting up the Canon office here, what was it like for Canon and you then?
Kimura: Almost 30 years ago, I came here as one of the members who started the Canon business in Singapore.
I remember 30 years ago, Canon was still not so famous. We were just a small company. We came here and we started from a small warehouse along the Singapore River. Now, the area around the Singapore River is a nice place, but those days there were a lot of warehouses. We started from a Singapore warehouse with about 10 staff.
Now, 30 years later, the office here has become the regional headquarters. Today, we have 800 people in this office and sales turnover has grown almost 200 times.
What issues did Canon have to overcome over the years, to push its business forward in Singapore and South/Southeast Asia?
Then, we were not so familiar with the Asian market.
When we tried to sell products that were best sellers in developed countries, to customers in Asian countries, they were not affordable. Maybe they were the best products for the Americas or Europe, but they were not the best for the Asian people.
With globalization, we had to see Asia as a market also. We have to produce certain new products for the Asian countries that are more affordable, and maybe remove some functions not needed in the region.
Market differences aside, over the last 10 to 15 years, the trend to go digital was a bigger challenge for us.
Canon started with the camera business 73 years ago. Now we offer office equipment and many other products. For the last 15 years, we changed ourselves from a so-called "analog" to a "digital" company because the computer changed the world.
It was very difficult for us to change ourselves but luckily we did it through several efforts, including changing our factory system and in R&D (research and development).
We changed to a new production system from the "line" to the "cell" system. In the line system, we could produce only one product line at a time. However, with the cell system, maybe 10 cells [in a factory] can produce 10 different kinds of cameras.
As for design and R&D, 3D technology reduced the development lifecycle. Before, it would take more than two years to build one product, now three months is enough to develop and design new products.
The [digital world] has also enabled many people to enjoy a better [quality of] life. The younger generation is not only hardworking, these people are also trying to seek some individual identity. This means they are demanding a variety of products.
Those days, Canon produced only one best-selling product and people loved it. But now, many people have their own hobbies, own identities, "I want this, and no, I don't like the shape of that".
So due to digitalization, the market has created a demand for variety. That's why the factory system had to change. At any one time, we have to produce many kinds of products.
So luckily, for the last 15 years, we changed ourselves to meet the changes of the world and globalization as well.
Which territories does Canon Singapore have a strong emphasis today?
You know, there is the so-called Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China). In Asia, Canon has the so-called Victi (Vietnam, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia).
Canon Singapore has 18 countries under our jurisdiction. Out of the 18 countries, we are focusing on the Victi countries. So from now on, we are investing more money on focusing on our next emerging countries.
In India, where there are 1 billion people, I want to increase the number of sales channels.
India is a very tight market. About 10 years ago, we started our own business--Canon India. That unit is trying to increase channels, and branding is also very important there. In India, the Sony brand is very strong so Canon Singapore, as the Asian headquarters, is investing more money in India to increase awareness, and also on programs there.
Excluding China, the population of our 18 countries are 1.9 billion people, so we believe it is easier for us to increase sales through the consumer segment.
After that, we can focus on corporate.
Of course, we have to sell all the products in all areas.
Canon is also a printer company, and some may consider printers unfriendly to the environment. What does "green" mean to you, and how does it affect Canon in the printer space?
We should do what we can do. One area is in our factories, where we try to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) emission when we make our printers.
In terms of logistics, in the past, we imported "Made in Japan" products into Singapore and shipped them to other Asian countries. Now we do so-called "drop shipments" directly. For example, we have a printer factory in Hanoi, Vietnam. Transporting directly from the Hanoi factory to Thailand by road, we calculated would produce drastic reductions of CO2. Hanoi to Bangkok is very near. Also, goods are sent from the Hanoi factory to China by road.
We are also recycling printer cartridges. From Singapore, periodically, we send 10,000 to 20,000 used cartridges to a factory in Dalian, China. This factory removes and recycles useful parts and sends them to our relevant factories.
People should not throw away the ink cartridges after use. We encourage our customers to send them back to Canon.
How does this attitude to go-green benefit your other digital businesses?
As long as we are manufacturing products, we believe this is compulsory even if it involves some additional costs. This contributes to our company image.
Canon is a very green-oriented company. Many countries accept the Canon brand. To improve the image, our activity toward the "green earth" is very important. That's why despite what we're doing now, we should further improve in the green areas.
I'm sure it will contribute to improve the Canon image.
Worldwide, especially in Europe, people now are very conscious about the green earth. I'm sure in the future people would never buy any product from a company that does not put enough effort to the green course.