Vodafone Japan rebranding to SoftBank

Vodafone quits Japan, sells Vodafone Japan to SoftBank

SoftBank replaces Vodafone brand in Japan

Vodafone quits business in Japan having sold all operations to SoftBank

Photographs below show the world famous Vodafone board on Tokyo-Shibuya’s Hachiko-square being replaced by the SoftBank advertisement from June 14, 2006.

SoftBank acquired Vodafone-Japan and rebranded to SoftBank mobile on June 14, 2006
SoftBank acquired Vodafone-Japan and rebranded to SoftBank mobile on June 14, 2006

Cheese phones anyone?… Vodafone “cheese phone” and “car tire phone” posters replaced by SoftBank posters on Tokyo’s Yamanote Line

Vodafone had difficulties to manage the relationships with Japanese mobile phone manufacturers, and as a consequence Vodafone’s pipeline of new mobile phone models dried up, while competitors KDDI and Docomo of course continued to introduce seasonal spring, summer, autumn and winter collections of attractive 3G phones which many special functions such as location services, GPS, color screens, autofocus cameras – functions which at that time were only available in Japan and nowhere else globally.

Since Vodafone had few attractive phones, Vodafone switched to covering old models with cheese, mint ice cream and car tire plastic covers to give them a new outside make-up. Of course this course contributed to the exodus of subscribers from Vodafone to competing customers, which eventually led to the sale of Vodafone-Japan to SoftBank, which turned around the former Vodafone-Japan company within a few months.

Rebranding advertisement boards along Tokyo
Rebranding advertisement boards along Tokyo’s Yamanote ring line. Noteworthy are the cheese, cow, car tire and ice cream bar shaped mobile phone covers, which Vodafone offered because it was short of new phone models, and which did not help to improve Vodafone’s brand in Japan – cheese phones anyone?

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Panel Discussion to 200 Japanese Executives at the Industrial Club of Japan

May 30, 2006: at the Industrial Club of Japan

Panel discussion for about 200 Japanese CEOs and high level managers about the challenges of international business management.

The five panelists were:

  • James C Abbeglen
    Allen Miner (CEO of Sunbridge Venture Habitat, and founder of Oracle Japan)
  • Kong Jian (China – Japan Economic Federation)
  • Koshiro Kitazato (Chairman of BT Japan)
  • Gerhard Fasol (CEO Eurotechnology Japan KK)
Industrial Club of Japan
Industrial Club of Japan

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NTT Docomo CEO: Wall Street Journal “Leadership Question of the Week” – Japanese leadership

keiichi tachikawa CEO Ntt docomo

Learning from Dr. Keiji Tachikawa, NTT Docomo CEO

NTT Docomo CEO: Japanese leadership in the Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal, in the section “Leadership Question of the Week”, on Monday June 12, 2006 on page 31, published an article I wrote about a very extraordinary experience I had several years ago at the German Embassy here in Tokyo, with Dr. Keiji Tachikawa (立川敬二) – then CEO of NTT-DoCoMo (Dr. Keiji Tachikawa has since then moved on to become the head of Japan’s Space Agency JAXA).

Please find the unedited manuscript here (the actual published version was shortened a bit).

Leading in Asia:

What was the best business advice you received and who gave it to you?

The best business advice I received in Japan was from the former NTT Docomo CEO, Dr. Tachikawa – he taught me that when two parties do business, both parties have to profit/benefit – not just one party. He also taught me to go straight to the point, not waste time with irrelevant things.

Here the story in more details:

I had met Dr. Tachikawa at a reception at the German Embassy – purpose of the reception was to bring together German and Japanese leaders in telecommunications and mobile phones.

I noticed that Dr. Tachikawa, then NTT Docomo CEO, was standing for quite some time at the window, looking out into the beautiful garden of the Embassy with no one to talk to.

Why was Dr Tachikawa standing alone with no-one to talk to? My explanation was that the Japanese CEOs at this reception were mainly from DoCoMo’s suppliers, and therefore probably too shy to talk to Dr Tachikawa since Japanese business customs places these suppliers on a lower social ranking than their major customer DoCoMo. On the other hand, the German CEOs who had come from Germany, probably did not know who it was who was standing lonely at the window.

So I approached Dr Tachikawa and we talked quite a while – all in Japanese.

His first question after the initial introduction was very surprising – Dr Tachikawa asked me, how our company makes money, where our income comes from.

Having been CEO of our Tokyo based company for the last 10 years, I am very often asked where our company’s offices are located, how big our office is, how many people we employ and other irrelevant conversational detail., Dr. Tachikawa did not ask any of these irrelevant things – he went straight to the point: how do we make money. In my almost 10 years as CEO in 1000s of conversations, Dr Tachikawa was almost the only manager (Western and Japanese) who went straight to the point not losing time over irrelevant details.

A few days later I received an email from Dr Tachikawa inviting me to his office at DoCoMo’s headquarters to discuss possibilities of cooperation between NTT-DoCoMo and our very small company Eurotechnology Japan KK which I had founded about 10 years ago here in Tokyo.

I was amazed by Dr Tachikawa’s kindness. A few days later I spent about one hour in his office at the top floor of Sanno-Tower at DoCoMo’s headquarters, right next to the Prime Minister’s Office.

I had prepared four proposals and towards the end of our conversation I showed these four proposals to Dr. Tachikawa. He rejected three of them, and decided that DoCoMo was interested in one of my proposal.

I learn a lot from his way of action – he immediately took three decisions about the one proposal he was interested in:

  1. he said that we must now find a way that both our company profit from this plan
  2. he decided who within DoCoMo would be responsible to carry this project out with our company, and
  3. he decided where the source of the budget for this project should be

I have been working 20 years with Japan now – and Dr. Keiji Tachikawa is certainly the Japanese manager I learnt most from, in the meetings I was lucky enough to have with him.

Best regards

Gerhard Fasol PhD
Eurotechnology Japan KK

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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….

Understand Softbank: our report: “SoftBank today and 300 year vision”

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BlackBerry for Japan

DoCoMo plans to sell BlackBerry to corporates in Japan

With the RiM/NTP patent infringement lawsuit settled with a US$612.5 million payment, DoCoMo and Research in Motion (RiM) announced on June 8, 2006 that DoCoMo plans to start selling BlackBerry in Japan from autumn 2006 to corporate customers. Will RiM invest US$ 612.5 million to build business in Japan? Less? or more?

Over the last years I was asked 100s of times by foreign CEOs and expatriate managers why BlackBerry does not work and does not exist in Japan. Several large global corporations also asked us for work arounds to get solutions in place for Japan which fulfill the job of BlackBerry. Finally, also several venture companies came to us which supply secure corporate email solutions and corporate scheduling applications similar to BlackBerry’s offerings.

Which BlackBerry device will DoCoMo offer

Although we have not seen an official announcement of the precise BlackBerry device DoCoMo will offer, we assume that it will be based on the Blackberry 8707 device.

We have also heard the following details:

  • The planned BlackBerry for Japan will work on DoCoMo’s FOMA (wCDMA) network in Japan, and will also have in-built connectivity for GSM and GPRS (2G legacy networks which are and will be in use for a long time to come in most countries outside Japan)
  • The initial BlackBerry device will have no Japanese input, which restricts the device to foreign expatriates in Japan, and guarantees to keep BlackBerry initially out of the mainstream Japanese market. This means that the initial market will be mainly managers in foreign subsidiaries in Japan. Those managers who are integrated into Japan’s business world and private world, will need a separate local Japanese mobile phone to communicate and exchange email messages with their Japanese colleagues

Why was there no BlackBerry in Japan?

For a number of reasons:

  • RiM did not invest in Japan
  • RiM reached no agreement with Japan’s mobile operators
  • BlackBerry until recently did not work with 3G (wCDMA/UMTS) which dominates in Japan
  • Also, BlackBerry’s QWERTY keyboard gives no advantage for Japanese language input
  • and finally, Japanese mobile phones with added software already provide most functions of a BlackBerry (and a lot more functions which BlackBerries cannot do)

What are BlackBerry’s prospects in Japan? Will BlackBerry be successful in Japan?

The key issue will be whether RiM invests sufficiently to succeed in Japan. Foreign telecom firms – including some of the most famous – have a record of underinvesting in Japan, and as a consequence to fail, or to remain trapped with a 0.5% market share. Will BlackBerry remain focused on the niche foreign executive market, or will BlackBerry expand into the much bigger mainstream in Japan?

The success of Willcom’s W-ZERO is an indicator that BlackBerry might be successful beyond the expatriate market.

What will make success difficult for BlackBerry in Japan?

Success is not at all guaranteed for BlackBerry in Japan. We see as key issues:

  • according to our information BlackBerry will not allow Japanese language input
  • apparently BlackBerry will not support i-mode. Lack of i-Mode automatically cuts BlackBerry out of Japan’s mainstream
  • RiM will need to fulfill DoCoMo’s quality requirements, which tend to be higher then those in other markets
  • RiM’s art will be to balance necessary investments and profitability requirements

Read an article in Red Herring about BlackBerry’s announced entry to Japan, partly based on an interview with our CEO.

Copyright·©1997-2013 ·Eurotechnology Japan KK·All Rights Reserved·

Blackberry comes to Japan (interview for Red Herring)

On June 8, 2006, DoCoMo and Research in Motion (RiM) announced that DoCoMo will start marketing RiM’s BlackBerry to corporate customers from autumn 2006.

DoCoMo will offer a version of BlackBerry which will use wCDMA (FOMA) 3G network connection in Japan, and will also be able to operate on legacy GSM/GPRS networks which are still in common use in other parts of the world (there is no and there has never been any GSM network in Japan).

Read an article in Red Herring about BlackBerry coming to Japan,

and read our “eurotechnology.japan.blog” about BlackBerry coming to Japan.

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