Beloved Nintendo President Satoru Iwata tragically passed away in July, and Nintendo was tasked with appointing a new head of the company. As we learned yesterday, that new leader is Tatsumi Kimishima. Kimishima has an impressive resume that includes President of The Pokémon Company, President of Nintendo of America, and Managing Director of Nintendo Co. Ltd. Most people agree that he’s a safe and smart choice for the job, but is this really a new era for the company or just a transition phase?
As we reported earlier, Kimishima has, for now, only been hired on for
one year. This is normal, as Nintendo votes on whether or not to re-elect their Directors every year. What’s a little abnormal is that Kimishima brought this one-year agreement up himself in his first interview as President, and then said that he doesn’t know what will come next. Odder still, he went on to say that he’d be open to outsiders (non-Nintendo employees) running the company in the future. None of this is what you’d expect to hear from a corporate President with his eyes set on big plans for the future.
A second factor to consider is Kimishima’s age. At 65, Kimishima is right around the age when most people would be retiring or possibly taking a reduced role (as Shigeru Miyamoto appears to be doing) in the company, but Kimishima is taking the top position. As we learned yesterday, he was not Iwata’s favorite choice for the job. Japanese publication Nikkei reports that Nintendo wanted a younger President, but they lacked the personnel. Normally when one President steps down, there is plenty of time to groom a successor. Unfortunately, Iwata (just a year after successful surgery) fell ill very quickly, and Nintendo did not have adequate time to prepare for his loss.
That brings us to Kimishima’s announced plans so far. First, he has reassured fans and investors that he won’t change the basic strategies put in motion by Iwata. Secondly, he massively overhauled the company’s internal structure. These two things may seem like contradictions, but they’re not. Iwata’s plans (such as the mobile game partnership with DeNA and the theme park partnership with Universal) will continue on, and as part of the restructure, Kimishima even created a new branch to oversee these types of operations. As for the rest of the restructure, it’s actually in line (and was possibly already set in motion before Kimishima’s appointment as President) with previous statements made by top executives in the company.
Earlier this year, Shigeru Miyamoto stepped down from hardware development and spoke about handing over decision-making power to people 20 years younger than him. Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda, Nintendo’s top executives after Kimishima, have been talking about shifting the balance of power towards the younger generation for a few years now, and Kimishima’s restructure is set up to do exactly that. Both formerly in hands-on General Manager jobs, Miyamoto and Takeda have turned over division management to others in the company, and they now serve as “Fellows,” or senior advisors. The mantra of the big three at the top has been that Nintendo is aiming to establish future-proof leadership in the company.
Kimishima’s other moves (combining Nintendo EAD and SPD into one new division and doing the same for Nintendo IRD and Nintendo SDD) are about streamlining and simplifying the company’s structure, making it easier to balance the video game business and the non-gaming ventures set in motion by Iwata. This isn’t so much a new step for the company, but a re-organizing to carry out the old plans more efficiently. Nintendo just turned things around financially after three years of operating losses, and now they have to deal with the loss of their President, prepare to launch a new piece of hardware (possibly multiple pieces of hardware), enter into the mobile market, and launch other non-gaming ventures all in a short period of time. Kimishima has the experience and the business savvy to guide them through this time in a smart and efficient way, but he’s not likely the company’s long term answer at President.
So how will Nintendo deal with potentially having to choose another President in the near future? With Miyamoto and Takeda no longer in General Manager positions, they (along with Kimishima) should have the ability to begin mentoring and grooming younger Nintendo developers and executives for the future, passing on the torch. However, Kimishima has already considered the possibility that this might not produce a suitable President, which explains why he brought up the potential for outside management coming in and taking over in the future. In this sense, Kimishima can be seen as a transitional President. He’s carrying out Iwata’s plans, guiding the company through a challenging time, and preparing them for a new leader to take over for the future, whether that leader come from inside or outside the company.