SoftBank rebrands Vodafone Japan

Vodafone quits Japan, sells Vodafone Japan to SoftBank

Speed of the essence: SoftBank loses no time to turn around Vodafone-Japan

Vodafone’s withdrawal also shows, that the values of cross-cultural management skills are often underestimated

SoftBank rebrands Vodafone Japan: Saturday June 10, 2006 was the first time we saw SoftBank replacing the Vodafone brand in Japan – bringing a formal end to Europe’s largest ever investment in Japan.

Vodafone’s withdrawal from Japan is a turning point in more ways than one and has wider implications for Europe (read below).

SoftBank rebrands Vodafone Japan: SoftBank’s brand strategy

Rebranding from Vodafone to SoftBank after SoftBank acquired Vodafone Japan
Rebranding from Vodafone to SoftBank after SoftBank acquired Vodafone Japan

Upper image shows the world-famous Vodafone board on Shibuya’s hachiko square, which has appeared in many movies and TV shows. It will soon be replaced.

Lower image shows one of the first SoftBank advertisements in Tokyo’s busiest commuter railstation Shinjuku showing Sharp’s mobile-TV handset.

The photo demonstrates SoftBank’s brand strategy of partnering with world-famous brands, such as with Apple’s iPod and Sharp’s AQUOS display brand.

Implications for Europe of Vodafone’s withdrawal from Japan

As a European myself, I am looking at the wider implications for Europe of Vodafone’s withdrawal from Japan – and our company was recently awarded a contract by the European Union Government on exactly these issues – as well as others.

Vodafone’s investment was by far the largest European investment in Japan. What is maybe less well known is that Vodafone was dispatching a relatively large stream of managers between several
continents (Europe, Australia etc) and Japan. Several times when visiting the KDDI Designing Center for example I could meet young German Vodafone managers who had just arrived for a management position at Vodafone-Japan, and who were studying the mobile phone handsets in KDDI’s showroom. These expatriates all left within a few weeks of SoftBank taking control of the company.

As a result of these interactions, Vodafone could bring J-Phone’s J-Sky mobile internet service to Europe, which was adapted for European conditions and rebranded “Vodafone Live!”. There would be no “Vodafone Live!” in Europe without Vodafone’s acquisition of J-Phone (including JSky). Vodafone also brought SHARP and Toshiba mobile handsets to Europe.

Apart from the immediate impact on Vodafone as a Corporation, we expect also a more general longterm impact from the strong reduction of Europe-Japan technology exchanges due to Vodafone’s withdrawal from Japan.

Vodafone’s withdrawal from Japan also shows how difficult it is for European telecom firms to succeed in Japan – and for Japanese firms in the telecom sector to succeed in Europe. Our company knows this first-hand from our work for NTT-Communications, and some other Japanese companies. – Read our presentation to Japanese industry associations here (in Japanese language).

Underestimating the importance of cross-cultural management skills and the associated perils

While large US corporations, including INTEL, General Motors, and Motorola have been forced by confrontation with Japan’s competition to completely reshape themselves, this has not yet happened to any large European corporation because of the larger perceived separation between EU and Japan.

Comparing Europe and Japan in telecoms….

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