Strategy Sessions: Canon, a Continued Commitment to Evolution & Innovation

Strategy Sessions: Canon, a Continued Commitment to Evolution & Innovation



Masaya Maeda is the chief executive of Canon Inc.’s Image Communication Products Operations. He joined Canon in April 1975, and his leadership roles at Canon have included group executive of Canon’s Digital Imaging business group, the deputy group executive of the Digital Imaging business group and the Canon DC business division’s assistant general manager. I had a chance to sit with Maeda for an exclusive interview during the Canon Expo 2010 New York event. 


JG: We’re in the middle of a digital revolution, and Canon seems to be well positioned on many fronts. What are the real strengths of the Canon brand? 

MM:  For seventy-odd years, our brand has been supported by its reputation for high functionality and reliability, so we’d like people to focus on that. And, of course, the real basis for our strength is our optical technology.  


The Canon Expo takes place every five years. In what ways is Canon a different company than it was five years ago, and how will it be different five years from now?

The biggest change from five years ago is that the breadth of our business area has broadened substantially. Five years hence, it’s going to be broader still. A company must continue to evolve, so we will be developing new areas as well.


Research and Development is the lifeblood of a successful company. Where does Canon plan to spend its development dollars in the coming years?

It’s most important for Canon to continuously innovate, which our company has always been committed to. On an ongoing basis, we’ve invested just under 10% of our profits into research and development. Not just in cameras, but in other businesses as well. This is demonstrated in the fact that Canon has ranked among the top three U.S. patent recipients in 21 of the last 23 years, and we’ve been within the top four for the last 10 years. As always, we continue to innovate within all of our business units.  There are so many examples of this demonstrated at the Canon Expo. 


Since the introduction of the Elph brand almost 15 years ago, digital point-and-shoot products have become an integral part of today’s consumer lifestyle. What product innovations can we expect that will continue to drive sales? 

Clearly, as point and shoots evolve they will continue to take on the key elements that make DSLRs so successful. The quality of the lenses within these cameras will improve drastically, as will their operability and HD movie capabilities. As an optical company, we will continue to develop sharper, more versatile lenses. 


We’ve seen a recent trend in smaller and smaller cameras, especially on the DSLR and mirrorless front. Is this a trend we will continue to see from Canon?

We see different trends in all markets, and we continue to follow them. For example, consumers in Japan seem to be always looking for smaller products, and we see this as an important trend developing worldwide. When the Elph was introduced in 2000, the key reason for its success was its size. So we see this as an important factor in product development, and we will continue to challenge ourselves to come up with more compact cameras. 


Does this mean that we will see a mirrorless camera from Canon in the near future?

We’re working on smaller, more user-friendly cameras. Whether or not it has a mirror is not the issue. The real issue is whether we can continue to make better quality cameras in a smaller size. That will be our focus.


Do you see cameraphones as a threat to the digital point and shoot?

No, we do not. We use the disposable film camera as an analogy. People used disposable film cameras for convenience, but they did nothing to stop the growth of other film cameras. I see the same situation with cameraphones and digital cameras. They are a convenience, but not a replacement. 


But what if we see improvements in optics and sensor sizes in cameraphones?

Well, at the same time we will see stronger improvements in the optics and picture quality in DSLRs and point and shoots. In the future, digital cameras will be able to take pictures that we can’t even conceive of today. 


The Selphy and Pixma printers are obviously important product lines for Canon. Are consumers beginning to print more at home? And what features will help sell these product lines into the future?

Our research shows that the number of pages being printed with our Selphy printers is growing steadily—around 14–15 prints per month per unit. People seem to be printing more in the home. Since I’m responsible for the Selphy business, I certainly want people to print more, and I will do this by continually enhancing the usability of our products. For example, wireless printing makes it easier for people to print, and this innovation, along with print quality and more interoperability with our cameras, will encourage people to print more.


What do you see as the greatest business challenge to Canon?

Like most businesses, we do not want to see the commoditization of our products. The film camera became somewhat of a commodity during the end of its life. Digital cameras are only around 10 years old; they are still evolving and continue to evolve. 

So, we will continue to evolve, especially in the area of optics—not just for DSLR lenses but also for point-and-shoot lenses. There will be new, improved lenses. And we also must continue to have people enjoy their pictures after they’ve taken them—improvements like making playback easier and continuing to improve print and ink quality so people can share and store their memories for years to come. 


What keeps you up at night?

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m sleeping quite soundly these days.