Brother on solid ground in region, eyes more growth
Soichi murakami, the managing director of Brother in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, appears to be a man in a hurry, and talks of speed to meet challenges.
Soichi Murakami has a unique management style; processes, planning and people are critical, but he’s also flexible with his multi-cultural teams from different countries. — KT photo by Mukesh Kamal
He’s a regular business traveller, even visiting restive zones in Iraq to stay in touch with his teams and sales partners, to get a feel of the situation on the ground.
“I plan, do, check and act [PDCA],’’ he says of his management style. Humour is at hand when he says: ‘’Some people think it means ‘please don’t do anything’.’’
Laughs aside, Murakami has been at the helm of Brother here in the Middle East for a year now. Based in Dubai, he believes everything in life has a reason.
Processes, planning and people are critical to his management style, but he’s also flexible with his multi-cultural teams from different countries as he drives them to meet the target of 10.5 per cent growth set by the company globally.
Global sales figures are projected at $5.7 billion this year. This is expected to rise to $7.5 billion by 2015.
Business in the Mena region and Turkey is picking up this year for the reputed maker of printers and sewing machines after a lacklustre 2012, and the Japanese MDis confident of meeting and even exceeding targets. Excerpts from the interview:
How different is doing business here in the Middle East? What are the challenges that you face?
The Japanese market is mature, so it’s predictable; but here in the UAE and the wider Middle East, it’s sometimes hard to predict and goes up and down. There are political issues elsewhere in the Middle East, but the UAE is more than just an emerging market for us.
What is the potential for growth?
Sustainable growth is possible, but we don’t dominate the market. It looks promising after the emerging market statusaccorded to the UAE, but there is a lot to do for us. In Japan, wecan foresee events, while here it takes time to adjust to developments.
What is Brother doing to improve its sales figures?
We don’t have a magic wand. We don’t do sudden investments, but we have a steady growth plan and it takes time to grow. We have proper processes. This is a market where HP and Canon are ahead of us. The UAE market for them is re-export driven. Brother as a brand does not have a policy of re-exporting out of Dubai. There is no real necessity for Brother to look at the UAE as a dumping yard. We consider theUAE as a genuine market. The others may factor in re-export when they release numbers. We have a strong presence here in mono lasers, that’s our forte. And in inkjets, labelling systems and sewing machines. In terms of presence, I’d say we have a decent presence, a reasonable presence, not a dominating presence.
How has the year been for you thus far? Have you seen an improvement in sales numbers?
Our products have been doing well and sales have been reasonable. Last year was tough, but this year it is encouraging. Some new mono lasers have been introduced. A new product will be launched in September.
You set up office in Jebel Ali in 1991. How far have you come between then and now?
It’s been easier doing business since we began in 1991. The Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to the UAE recently has helped us take trade ties to a new level. The infrastructure in the UAE has left us in good hands. We’ve had positives in terms of our expansion. Free zones have started to do really well and a sound business culture has taken root. It has helped both large and small enterprises. It’s been a positive experience. The Saudi market may pose challenges; here, it’s a stable market.
What happens when paper may go out of fashion 10 years from now? What happens to printers and the business you engage in?
Long-term, we might see paperless offices. Short-term, I personally believe this is a growing market. Ten years ago in Japan, we predicted we won’t need paper and printers, but that has not been the case. You want to see the real deal and I feel printing is still important. In our children’s time, we might not see paper being used. As long as we have a writing culture, printers and paper will remain. In the UAE, we may be digitally-connected with all kinds of technology, but in Africa, we realise printers have a huge market. Inkjets form a big chunk; from dot matrix to inkjets, the levels are yet to be reached. Between the short- and mid-term, we see a vast potential and are well-positioned to serve the region.
Brand perception and marketing. Where do you stand?
We recently developed a logo that says “Japanese excellence over a 100 years”. We have a rich history of 105 years and we want customers to understand why our technology stands out. We want to synergise Japan and Brother, a link we will use to our advantage in the region.
Are Japanese businesses falling behind Korean and Chinese firms?
When I first came here, people mistook me for a Korean or a Chinese national. The Japanese, as a people, are modest, not showy and are a little shy, which I consider a good trait. That does not make us second-best. Our superior products speak for us.
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