Nobuyoshi Gokyu, who was recently named president and chief executive officer of Nikon Inc., has a long international history with Nikon Corporation. He began his career at Nikon in 1979 and has held a number of positions within the company. In the 1980s, he was in charge of research and product planning, including the planning of the first Nikon zoom compacts, low-end compacts and tele-wide compacts, as well as Nikon’s first VR compact camera. Following this, he moved to the sales side, responsible for the U.S. and Canadian markets, and in 1995, he moved to Nikon Singapore, Nikon’s regional headquarters for Asia. Then, after a short stay at Nikon headquarters in Japan as manager of Communications, he moved to Nikon Hong Kong in 2003, as director of sales and marketing. During this time, he was doing a feasibility study for Nikon China, and in 2005 he bacame its managing director and president. After spending a few years in Hong Kong and Shanghai, he was asked to take over as president of Nikon Inc.
I sat down with Gokyu to talk about his challenges in taking over the reins for Nikon in the Americas.
JG. We’re in the middle of a digital revolution, and Nikon is well positioned on many fronts. What do you see as the real strengths of the Nikon brand?
NG. We are always focusing on innovation of technology, because in the digital era, technology is the key factor for success. Nikon is always trying to stay ahead of our competitors from a technology standpoint. Also, the market moves very fast, and our strength has been in understanding our customers—how they are changing every day, and what they are looking for.
We’ve been very successful with our focus on the “Four Ps”: Product, Price, Promotion and Placement. We can’t have only two or three of these aspects covered; we always focus on all four. And, that is a big part of our success.
Our brand image is very important to us; in the USA and in Asia, our brand image is one of our greatest assets.
You spent many years in different parts of the world. Are Nikon’s customers very different in each country?
I don’t think so; information-wise, the world is getting smaller and smaller, and customer reactions are similar across the globe. Of course, each market has different tastes, but their basic nature should be the same.
As president of Nikon Inc., what do you see as the unique challenges in this market?
Right now, we have the top position, so our biggest challenge is maintaining this position. The objective of our Imaging company is to remain number one, and we look at this in units, in dollars, and of course in our image.
So, how do you stay in front?
There is no shortcut to becoming or remaining number one. We have to take necessary actions in our marketing and product efforts, and continue to challenge ourselves to be the very best in the world.
Nikon has significantly increased its marketing and advertising over the last few years. Has it been successful, and do you see that continuing?
Yes, it’s been a large part of our success. And we anticipate that we will continue to be a very strong marketing player going forward. The Ashton Kutcher campaign success has been tremendous, and in fact we’ve used famous celebrities across the world to drive our brand. In China, Korea and Japan, we have used similarly well-known, high-profile celebrities to strengthen our brand, and it seems to be working well.
Before this, our Nikon image was trusted and “professional,” but it was also considered old-fashioned. Now, younger consumers are looking at the Nikon brand, which is important for our long-term success.
How is Nikon addressing the needs of the photo specialty dealer, especially as they must compete with the big-box stores?
This trend is happening all over the world. The mass channel is getting stronger day by day. The channel for photo is getting smaller, but it’s still doing very well, especially for us, because it delivers very good service to customers as an added value. Some people need more information, and the photo channel is an important avenue for this. Therefore, they will continue to be vital to us.
Historically, we’ve been very strong in the photo channel; we care about them and we see them as important business partners, especially in the selling of accessories and lenses—the full Nikon system.
We see Nikon’s DSLR offerings as a great benefit to all our retailers and end users, and we will continue to enhance and support our DSLR system throughout the market to deliver value and drive growth.
How is Nikon different as a company than it was five years ago, and what do you think it will look like five years from now?
There’s been so much change. I remember 1998 at photokina, when APS was introduced—a brand-new film system camera that disappeared in only one or two years, as the market changed to digital. So it’s difficult to see the technology change. With digital, technology creates new markets. At the same time, we have to look at the consumer and the market, and we have to listen to their voices very carefully to try to anticipate their needs. Consumers can stimulate change in their own way. We see it now with the new concept cameras that are seeping into the market.
Can you talk about Nikon’s new concept camera?
Nikon is always evaluating the market and exploring new technologies, but we have no announcements at this time. In Japan, they are taking more than 20% market share, but worldwide, their effect to date has been very small.
There are pretty big companies getting behind the mirror-less cameras—Panasonic, Sony, Samsung. It’s getting pretty crowded out there.
It makes sense for those companies to be looking at new opportunities. In the digital SLR market, they are not as far along as we are, so they are looking at new markets. They surely would welcome a launch from Nikon and Canon. If the two “lead horses” entered the market, it would expand the market.
Right now, in the U.S. and other world markets, people are very satisfied with the existing digital SLRs. It makes no sense for us to disturb this market, but we will always look at new technologies and new developing concepts.
It’s interesting that five years ago, you weren’t competing with Samsung, or Panasonic or other CE companies, but now they are getting stronger in the market.
We are an optics company, and that is our strength. We have a long history in imaging technology. That core strength will keep us ahead in the imaging market for years to come. We will continue to play to our strength, which will give us a great advantage.
I have always been impressed with how Nikon is able to blend technology with style. Your Coolpix models pack incredible technology in an elegant package. What’s more important in this market, style or substance?
Style is very important. Using a camera has to give pleasure to a customer, as they are always carrying it with them. We continue to build cameras that people enjoy, and can carry around with them wherever they go.
Also, the camera is just a tool to make an image, so the easier we can make our cameras to use, by building technologies into the camera, the more pleased our customers will be.
You’ve been responsible for Nikon offices around the world. How are the markets in Japan, Europe and China different than what’s happening in the United States now?
The U.S. is very different from the other markets. Trends usually start in the United States, and other markets are always looking at this market. Sometimes Japan may adopt technology faster, but the U.S. sets the trends for the rest of the world.
What do you see as Nikon’s greatest challenge over the next few years, and its greatest threat?
Both our greatest challenge and greatest threat lie in our ability to make decisions. When I talk to our staff, making decisions is very important. Not making decisions is the worst-case situation. If the decision is wrong, we have to be flexible enough to change. But we have to continue to make decisions, move forward and learn from them.
Our greatest challenge is remaining number one in the imaging business. And at Nikon Inc., we have to be in touch with our customers, as that will lead to our future success. With the market changing very quickly, we have to remain flexible.
So, what keeps you up at night?
We have to keep the leadership position that I inherited in the market. It will be important to continue to move forward as a market leader and to continue our success.
Right now, I sleep very well knowing that Nikon products are the best in the world.