Find out what it takes to suceed from people working in the interconnected global business community.
May 12, 2010
Bandai uses foreign workers to renew domestic product line while expanding worldwide
Mixed staff helps global toy maker
By CHIHO IUCHI
Bandai Co., Ltd., one of Japan's leading toy makers, seeks to expand its growing global business by fully utilizing the Japanese and non-Japanese staff at its International Business Strategy Office (IBSO).
|Good team: Brian Howard (middle), his senior colleague Naoya Takahashi (left) and General Manager Hiromori Nemoto each hold one of Bandai's new lineup of Hyper Yo-Yos.
For instance, Australian Brian Howard, a member of the IBSO's business strategy team, has two major responsibilities.
"One is to introduce interesting toys from overseas to our development and sales sections and to support them in localizing the products for the Japanese market. The other is to support Bandai America Inc., monitoring their progress and providing them with current Japanese product information," Howard explains in fluent Japanese.
After learning the language at high school and university in Sydney, Howard has worked in Japan for nearly 10 years, including 3 1/2 years for Bandai.
"Brian is in charge of North America and we have other staff for Europe and Asia. Based on overseas research, we report to management and discuss our strategy," says team leader Naoya Takahashi, who joined Bandai two years ago after working as a consultant.
"Our staff reports provide useful proposals for management, which function as internal consultations," says Hiromori Nemoto, general manager of the IBSO.
Nemoto has worked for a quarter of a century for Bandai, including seven years in Hong Kong and three years in the U.S. He contributed to promoting the toys related to "Power Rangers," the American version of the long-running Japanese live-action children's TV series "Super Sentai."
"When my family was living in America, my two sons acted as good observers of U.S. trends," Nemoto recounts. " 'Power Rangers' has attracted American kids in the same way as the series has done in Japan, with its universal concept of good versus evil and teamwork in physical activities."
However, it's worth noting that the favorite toys from Bandai's lineup are significantly different between America and Japan, according to Nemoto.
"In America, small-size action figures have been the most popular, while Japanese kids prefer role-playing goods and morphing robots."
Founded in 1950, Bandai's recent sales are over ¥100 billion per year, with its wide range of product lines, from boys' plastic models, girls' cooking toys to character-related cards, stationery and clothes, which have a large domestic market share.
"But overseas, the scope of our products is still limited," says Takahashi. "Besides action figures targeted at boys in the U.S. market, we are putting more focus on the promotion of girls' toys, such as Harumika, mannequin dolls that come with fabrics that enable girls to design and create original fashions."
Howard says, "Information gathering is crucial to reading and forecasting trends. For the strategy in the American market, knowledge about toys is not enough. What is necessary for success is to know what is cool in America now and the reasons for that popularity."
But is it possible to know exactly whether a new toy will sell well?
The experienced manager Nemoto says, "We might see a product fail but trying to accomplish something and failing is better than not trying at all. We can try again as long as we do not repeat the same mistake. The worst thing is to stop trying after the first attempt ends in failure."
Takahashi continues, "For expanding and strengthening our overseas market, the firsthand experience of non-Japanese staff is important. Those who spent their childhood absorbed in the local culture have a better feel for whether a product will sell. We need non-Japanese employees who are motivated to learn our way of production, ready to work in Japan and act in key roles at an overseas branch in the future. We already have many Japanese workers and would like to have more foreigners, ones with Japanese language ability of course."
Having worked for 3 1/2 years in the IBSO, Howard is interested in both product development and international business strategy.
"There is a great variety of people at Bandai. In the product development side, remaining a child at heart is necessary to develop new products that will captivate children, while a very different mind-set is needed for the strategy and administrative sections. That's what makes this company so interesting," Howard says.
One of his recent achievements is the renewal and reintroduction of Hyper Yo-Yo, which saw its first wave of popularity at the end of the 1990s in Japan. Howard conducted yearlong negotiations with three major American yo-yo makers, Duncan, Yomega and YoYoFactory, which helped Bandai launch the new lineup in February.
"Normally, it is hard to imagine that three rival American companies would agree to the distribution of their respective products in Japan under the Bandai brand of Hyper Yo-Yo, but as Brian showed each company the benefits of working with Bandai, we were able to reach a deal with all three companies," Nemoto says.
This is a good example of how introducing new foreign products to Japan requires flexible communication skills and persistent negotiations with overseas partners, according to Takahashi.
Howard agrees. "Being the link between different cultures, both company and country, it's important to look at things from both perspectives. It's inevitable that there will be a time when you will face conflicting interests. You need to understand both ways of thinking," he emphasizes. "Using this knowledge as the basis for all communications is the key to overcoming such conflict.
"Bandai understands this and that is why we are actively seeking staff from different cultural backgrounds," Howard says. "I think that this is the key to Bandai's future success in overseas markets and will bring us closer to a truly global company."
For more information, visit www.bandai.co.jp
This monthly feature, appearing on the first or the second Mondays of each month (Tuesdays in some areas), aims to provide readers with career advice for the international job market via interviews with professionals in relevant fields.