Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata (1959-2015) was a great innovative leader

July 16, 2015

220px-Satoru_Iwata_-_Game_Developers_Conference_2011_-_Day_2_(1)The Nintedo organisation gave the brief official notification of the death of their President Satoru Iwata. There followed a flood of tributes to a remarkable leader

The notification [July 13th 2015]

Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth

  1. Name:Satoru Iwata
  1. Date of Birth:December 6, 1959
  1. Career Record:June 2000, appointed as Director; May 2002, appointed as President, appointed as Representative Director;June 2013,appointed as CEO of Nintendo of America Inc.
  1. Other Information:As a result, the following two Representative Directors remain at the company.Genyo Takeda (Representative Director; Senior Managing Director).Shigeru Miyamoto (Representative Director; Senior Managing Director)

An outpouring of respect and affection

The official corporate notification above was followed by an outpouring of respect and affection for a remarkable leader.

Reggie Fils-Aime, President of Nintendo of America commented:

Mr. Iwata is gone, but it will be years before his impact on both Nintendo and the full video game industry will be fully appreciated. He was a strong leader for our company, and his attributes were clear to most everyone: Intelligence, creativity, curiosity and sense of humor. But for those of us fortunate enough to work closely with him, what will be remembered most were his mentorship and, especially, his friendship. He was a wonderful man. He always challenged us to push forward…to try the new…to upset paradigms—and most of all, to engage, excite and endear our fans. That work will continue uninterrupted.


Satoru Iwata was born into a comfortably well-off family (his father was mayor of his home town of Sapporo ). From a young age he showed an aptitude for information technology, and electronic engineering, is some way echoing the stories of pioneering figures such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates before him.

As a schoolboy he also did freelance work as a programmer for HAL Laboratory, Inc., a game developer that often collaborated closely with Nintendo. This gave him access to Nintendo, so that after University he was able to join then quickly make significant contributions in its transformation from a modest manufacturer of had made playing cards to a global giant in electronic gaming.

In keeping with traditional Japanese corporations, Nintendo (roughly translated ‘leave luck to heaven’) retained an extremely stable corporate structure. In 2002, Iwata was to become only the fourth President in a hundred years of operations.

Nintendo’s growth was fuelled by the innovativeness of internal technical workers, often creating through spare-time activities, becoming legends in the fast-developing electronic games market.

Gunpei Yokoi developed ideas for the Japanese toy industry in his free time. Yokoi was moved from maintenance to the new “Nintendo Games” department as a product developer. He later hit on several creative ideas of enormous importance. In 1979, Yokoi conceived the idea of a handheld video game, while observing a fellow bullet train commuter who passed the time by interacting idly with a portable LCD calculator, which gave birth to the Game & Watch suite of games.

Another innovator working with Yokoi was Shigeru Miyamoto. Recruited as a young student, he went on to create, direct and produce some of Nintendo’s most famous video games, including Gameboy.

Among other global successes were the Super Mario games in the fictional Mushroom Kingdom. Its successive developments made it one of the most downloaded of computer products.

At the start of the 21st century, with the leadership of President Satoru Iwata, the company was facing serious competitive challenges. Under difficult trading conditions the company recorded a substantial drop in profits in 2014, prompting Iwate to take a substantial salary cut.

However, in Fiscal 2015, the company returned to profit although this was partly through favourable exchange rates.

Leadership and culture

In the Anglo-American culture, Iwata would have been lauded as a creative genius (think Gates, Jobs, Branson). In a Japanese context, It is easier to see the more subtle notion of distributed leadership playing out.

It is also instructive to note that the engineering culture in German manufacturing has also been more aware of the power of distributed leadership. You can see the examples of the link between the power leader (machtpromotor) and operational leader (fachpromotor) outlined in the various editions of Dilemmas of leadership in the chapter on project management.

Iwata’s insights into celebrity leadership

Iwata had the grasp of social media which allowed him to revolutionize Nintendo’s relationship with its army of faithful gamers. His appearances as a game character and as his corporate self, produced strong bonding and interactions. Shortly after his death, a tribute went viral showing a sleeping Iwata character surrounded by weeping Nintendo characters.

Hawk-Eye gobbled up by Sony. Is this a good strategic match?

March 8, 2011

Hawk-eye, the tiny innovative sports technology firm, has been gobbled up by the global giant Sony. There is considerable appeal for large firms to acquire creative talent. But is this a good strategic match?

At first sight, the takeover of Hawk-Eye by Sony [March 2011] has marketing logic behind it. Sony has successfully diversified through sophisticated technological innovation in the electronic games market. It has recently announced a deal to deliver 3D at the next Wimbledon tennis championships. The move comes at a time when Sony is preparing to announce a major internal restructuring

The tiny firm Hawk-Eye is synonymous with a technological capability in the sports market and has niche market leadership in tracking devices used as decision-support systems. Intuitively, there seems synergy with Sony’s play station technological knowhow in its competition with Nintendo.

The firm is also well-placed to be the official supplier of such a system for Football, although the debate over the use of goal-line technology still rages on.

Paul Hawkins

Dr Paul Hawkins is the entrepreneur behind the Hawk-Eye system. He has been associated with the firm since its inception, and has some backing from the cricketing establishment. Initial reports suggest he will continue to play a part in the development of the technology within the mighty Sony empire.

Sports technology

The Hawk-Eye official website summarises its sports technology focus:

Hawk-Eye is the most sophisticated officiating tool used in any sport. It is accurate, reliable and practical: fans now expect and demand it to be a part of every event. Hawk-Eye first made its name in Cricket broadcasting, yet the brand has diversified into Tennis, Snooker and Coaching. Hawk-Eye is currently developing a system for Football (Soccer).

In Tennis the technology is an integral part of the ATP, WTA and ITF tennis tours, featuring at the Masters Cup in Shanghai, the US Open, the Australian Open, the Wimbledon Championships and all high-profile events. Hawk-Eye is the only ball-tracking device to have passed stringent ITF testing measures.

Hawk-Eye’s Cricket systems were used by host broadcasters at the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy, the 2007 World Cup and have been present at major Test and ODI series around the world since 2001. Hawk-Eye offers a unique blend of innovation, experience and accuracy that has revolutionised the sporting world.

When large firms acquire creative minnows

There is considerable appeal for large firms to acquire creative talent. The business model is to provide resources that are often needed to support creative growth. The small firm escapes the hazards of dealing with venture capitalists and other equally demanding sources of finance. In practice, the process may prove unpalatable for the entrepreneur unaccustomed to large company structures and politics.

Entrepreneurship and retailing: The Grigor McClelland Conference

This post was prepared as part of the celebrations planned for The Grigor McClelland Conference to be held at Manchester Business School, Friday April 8th, 2011.