Frank G. Cannata reflects on the latest in a long line of Japanese executives who have made their mark leading their company’s U.S. operations.
We had the special privilege of saying goodbye to Joji Tokunaga, CEO of Ricoh USA and it brought some very fond memories of the Japanese executives who taught us so well. They taught us their culture without preaching that theirs was the right way to run a business and live. Their values were different than ours. In time, I came to know that they were not so different.
Joji is the personification of the modern Japanese executive. They are well travelled and well educated. They are taught to respect the customer no matter where they serve. We talked about our experiences and it turns out a couple of the Japanese executives that we knew were familiar to Joji.
In 1980 Ricoh was building its U.S. indirect distribution. For many years they had sold on a private-label basis to Savin. They decided that it was time for them to come into the U.S. market under their own label. They had seen what Canon had done and decided they would do it as well.
Joji first came to the U.S. in 1977 and was hired in 1984 by Hidalgo Kubo, the first Ricoh CEO in the U.S. I met Mr. Kubo in 1980. His right-hand man was Yukio (Jim) Mizutani. I related to Joji that I got a call from Jim one day and was excited that Ricoh was reaching out to me. This was 1980 and I had been in business all of one year. A dealer had given him my name. I could not wait to hear what he wanted from me.
“I am looking for a company to make cabinets for our two new models that we are introducing into the United States,” he said, and I was totally deflated. We found him a supplier and came to work with him over the years.
It turns out that Jim was his best man at Joji’s wedding. So, talk about paths crossing. We had such a great conversation about all that has transpired in our industry over the last 40 years.
What Joji learned was that customers truly come first and most of all he came to understand that dealers were Ricoh’s customers He was a breath of fresh air when he arrived in Malvern.
“My role is help dealers, after all it is their money in the business,” he said. “My money comes from Ricoh.”
He has done an outstanding job of representing his company through the pandemic, including setting up a Help Desk to assist dealers through these difficult times.
“We wanted to save them cash,” he said showing his understanding of the very nature of the American entrepreneurial business model.
His term of office, much like a political figure ends on March 31st as that is the end of Ricoh’s fiscal year. Joji said he is leaving in mid-March because he must stay in quarantine for two weeks before reporting for work in Ricoh’s Tokyo office.
His new title is Head of Ricoh’s APACLA (Asia Pacific and Latin America) region. This is an important promotion as he will be working out of the home office in Tokyo. As a member of the Board of Directors he can contribute to discussions not only about the Pacific Rim but the North American region as well. As a regional president Joji came to know and fully understand the demands of the world’s largest marketplace. In the U.S. he played an important role as Ricoh worked through the challenges of selling its SMB MIF from their direct operations. Working through the pandemic has added to the breath and scope of his experience. The experience gained by overseeing two regions prepares him for a greater responsibility. He is being groomed for promotion to a much higher level. In other words, in the not too-distant future he is being groomed for greater responsibility. This is only my opinion.
Joji leaves the U.S. with a sense of great respect for the North American dealers. He was touched by what many of them had to say to him when it was announced that he was leaving Ricoh U.S.A.
It has been my good fortune to get to know many Japanese executives. Joji joins the pantheon of “greats” of those who came to this country and helped build a distribution that made thousands of dealers very wealthy. We already spoke of Mr. Kubo; there was also Fujio Mitarai and Haruo Murase of Canon, Sam Kusumoto of Minolta, and Nori Ina of Kyocera. From my vantage point we think of were visionary U.S. leaders. What they did is to be admired. Joji is in good company and we wish him the very best. As I said to him, I do not want to say sayonara but let us just say we hope to see you again in the not-too distant future.
CJ and Scott will be going to Japan in May 2022, and Joji said please tell them to reach out to him. “We will have a wonderful dinner.”
It makes me proud that my son and our editor-in-chief will be welcomed as they visit Ricoh. My feeling is they will receive the same warm reception from Canon, Konica Minolta, Toshiba, Sharp, and Kyocera. They may visit others but that is up to the two of them.
I have made 17 trips to Japan and it is a country that I came to know well. CJ has been to Japan three times in eight years and this will be Scott’s second trip. These visits have been invaluable and taught us all a great deal. I am grateful for what the Japanese manufacturers have done for me and my family.
More Kudos for Ricoh’s Joji Tokunaga
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Joji at Ricoh for more than 30 years” said Jim Coriddi, vice president, dealer division, Ricoh USA, Inc. “He has played a major role in the evolution of Ricoh in the U.S, and our connection is built on our mutual passion for making Ricoh the #1 Dealer Provider in the industry. In fact, Joji was one of the original architects who helped build our dealer business – with a focus on giving dealers resources to grow their businesses. Joji leaves a powerful legacy, and a foundation that will enable Ricoh to continue leading the industry in our digital transformation. With that, we are extremely optimistic and excited about entering this next phase with Carsten Bruhn.”
“Joji was the right leader for Ricoh at the right time,” said Jeff Elkin, president, Advance Business Systems. “His transparent, no-nonsense style helped to build trust and collaboration between Ricoh and its dealers. The go-to-market strategy Ricoh implemented a few years ago changed the dynamic with dealers. By removing competition between dealers and direct, Ricoh became a true collaborative partner. Today, the relationship is a model of how it should be. Most recently, the pandemic has demonstrated why Ricoh has been moving in the services direction for years. He saw the need for going beyond the transactional relationship long ago. Joji doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk.”