Toshiba man stresses fresh ideas, focus on customer needs

Mr Doko says Toshiba has been undergoing "major restructuring" in the past year. It hopes to tap the rapid urbanisation of Asia as well as its own lesser-known strengths in designing and manufacturing products to cater to the energy and infrastructur
Mr Doko says Toshiba has been undergoing "major restructuring" in the past year. It hopes to tap the rapid urbanisation of Asia as well as its own lesser-known strengths in designing and manufacturing products to cater to the energy and infrastructure sectors.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Companies have to support customers for them to use the products and attention to innovation is key, he says

Electronics giant Toshiba, best known for consumer products such as television sets, is increasing its focus on selling equipment to the energy and infrastructure sectors.

A majority of its products for the sectors will be sold to businesses.

The company is hoping to tap the rapid urbanisation of Asia as well as its own lesser-known strengths in designing and manufacturing products to cater to those sectors.

Another area it aims to intensify efforts in is the data storage sector, for which it is making devices such as solid-state drives.

Singapore-based Toshiba Asia-Pacific managing director Tatsuo Doko told The Straits Times that the firm has been undergoing "major restructuring" in the past year.

"Toshiba is in a difficult period. The consumer market is not necessarily declining (but) the competition is getting tougher.

"Some of our businesses in areas like TV sets and PCs are struggling," said Mr Doko, who is also corporate representative in Asia for Toshiba Corporation.

But businesses in its three new focus areas, where it has been operating for decades, have become more profitable, he said.

"The global markets in these three areas are growing, especially in Asia. Our plan is to focus on these areas and expand in Asia."

In line with this goal, the company has moved resources to designing and manufacturing products for these sectors over the past three to four years.

As a result, its revenue mix has shifted. Lifestyle products and services contributed 29 per cent of net sales in the 2010 fiscal year, but only 10 per cent in the 2015 fiscal year. Net sales is the revenue that remains after deducting product returns, allowances and discounts from total revenue.

The energy and infrastructure segments contributed 23 per cent of net sales in the 2010 fiscal year, but rose to contribute 33 per cent in the 2015 fiscal year.

In the energy segment, the firm makes steam turbines and generators for thermal and nuclear power plants, as well as equipment for hydropower plants and geothermal power plants, among other things.

For the infrastructure sector, its products include lifts, air-conditioning units, as well as equipment for water-treatment systems and broadcasting systems.

Last year, Singapore Post commissioned the firm to supply an automated system that sorts items such as letters and packages and which consists of 16 machines. Toshiba built some of the machines, coordinated the system's installation and handed it over last year.

It has also helped SMRT to install motors on two first-generation C151 series trains and will upgrade the motors of another 64 such trains. Toshiba designs and manufactures the motors.

Last year, the firm also received orders to upgrade the drive systems of 19 C651 series trains.

Toshiba recorded a net loss of 460 billion yen (S$5.8 billion) for the 2015 fiscal year ended March 31 this year. This was markedly worse than the net loss of 37.8 billion yen in the 2014 fiscal year ended March 31 last year.

Mr Doko, 58, graduated with a bachelor of liberal arts in American studies at the University of Tokyo, choosing the programme because of America's strong cultural influence then. He then joined Toshiba in 1980 and has remained there since.

From 1993 to 1997, he was based in Houston, managing the sales and marketing of industrial systems in North America. He said the experience made him more open to working with people of different cultures.

"When you meet foreigners, you feel the differences in culture, nationality or even gender.

"But when you do business with your (foreign) counterparts and get down to the real core of the business, I think the difference is more in the individual personality."

This helped Mr Doko to realise that business partnerships can transcend cultural differences.

"If you are Singaporean or have a Chinese background, that comes with certain manners, but when you do business, that is not of essence to how you interact."

Looking back, he attributes his rise through the ranks to paying attention to customer needs.

"You need to serve your customer for a long time, because customers normally use our systems for at least 10 years. You need to support your customer for the customer to use the equipment or systems."

Another key factor is paying attention to innovation so as to offer customers something new.

"When a customer comes back in five years and would like to upgrade things, you don't bring the same thing from five years ago, you need something new with innovations."

The company's main activities at its regional headquarters here are sales and marketing. It also works here on product development and product testing for the infrastructure sector. The company does not manufacture here.

It is working on improving SingPost's operations and Singapore's train operations using Internet-of- things technology, Mr Doko said, adding that things are still at an early stage.

Amid restructuring, Toshiba also faces the challenge of improving internal controls. Its president Hisao Tanaka, two of his predecessors and several executives quit last year after investigators found that the conglomerate had inflated operating profit by at least US$1.2 billion (S$1.7 billion) since the global financial crisis.

Referring to the scandal, Mr Doko said major improvements in internal controls are afoot.

"Because we have a very big organisation globally and the... businesses are so (wide-ranging), internal control has not necessarily been easy," he said. "That can't be an excuse, but to really improve the internal control is a major task."

Mr Doko, who arrived in Singapore in October last year to take on his current role, said he plays golf and listens to Japanese and global pop music in his free time. He is a fan of American singer-songwriter Prince, who died recently. "The one big news this year was actually the loss of Prince. I am 58, Prince was 57, so, same generation."

He communicates with his family in Japan on messaging application Line every day and by video call once a week. His wife remained there to take care of her elderly parents. His 29-year-old son and 25-year-old daughter are working for companies in Japan. They do not have plans to move here yet.

"Singapore is a very nice place to live in. Everything is so comfortable and easy. But naturally, when you think about the family, probably Japan is still the easiest place for me to live in," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2016, with the headline 'Toshiba man stresses fresh ideas, focus on customer needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe