The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


I remember well the clever “seven lucky gods” television ads for Fuji photographic film, which aired on New Year’s at the end of last century.

Lately, I’ve noticed that TV ads for Fujifilm products feature cosmetics and skincare products.

That a company like Fujifilm Holdings Corporation would transition away from photographic film as we enter the digital age is obvious.

But I’ve often wondered how Fujifilm managed to make the transition so completely in less than 20 years.

So I was glad to find Innovating Out of Crisis: How Fujifilm Survived (and Thrived) As Its Core Business Was Vanishing. Written by Shigetaka Komori, chairman and CEO of Fujifilm, I was sure it would provide the insights I craved.

In the first section of the book, “Fighting for Fujifilm,” Komori describes how the company transformed. This part was a particular disappointment.

Mostly, Komori’s tale of how Fujifilm transformed its product line was superficial and self-aggrandizing.

While he provided background on Fujifilm’s history and early ambitions, as well as how it developed its film products and differentiated them from the competition, particularly Kodak, he was sparing with details.

Even when he included his own career progress, which he did frequently, it was superficial.

He mentions advancing in the organization over the years, but provides no information on what it was that qualified him for advancement or led to his selection, ultimately, to lead the organization.

On being recalled from a European posting in 2000, he says he thought “They’re calling on me again when there’s trouble.” But he doesn’t tell us why he would think this.

At the same time as the narrative is rambling and sometimes repetitive, it lacks the kinds of detail that truly would be useful to other businesspersons—information about the logistical difficulties of moving a company in a new direction.

Komori tells of “Vision 75,” a “blueprint for implementing fundamental reforms and changing the structure of the company,” named for the company’s 75th anniversary in 2010.

But, again, he provides only high-level information about the objectives of Vision 75, with very little about how it was actually achieved.

What sort of analysis did Fujifilm undertake to understand and leverage its particular strengths to move into new areas?

Although Komori says, “we spent considerable time evaluating each technology and each product strategy,” he says little more about what possibilities were considered, or how decisions were made. He describes the new direction and its rationale in just a dozen pages.

Once decisions were made about the direction to take, how did the company ensure that staff would fully support and implement the changes, especially when management was forced to reduce head count? Even less is said about this.

When a Japanese executive writes a book, it has become de rigueur that the author includes a personal philosophy of management.

This book is no exception. The second section of the book, “Managing for Victory,” contains Komori’s views on leadership and management.

Some of Komori’s ideas sound a bit far-fetched, but others are quite sound. He advocates information gathering, planning, communicating, and acting as his basic steps of leadership.

He shares his disdain for the Japanese approach of “Let’s all just get along and play nice together,” noting the need for a more competitive, challenging spirit.

The gears crunch a bit as Komori moves from Part I to Part II. It felt as if he had written two very short books and stuck them both inside the same cover.

I wonder how much better this book might have been had he integrated the two parts, picking up his management philosophies and using them to exemplify how Fujifilm transformed itself.