Envisioning Japanese-American Business: Yotaro Kobayashi

As chairman of the Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd., Yotaro Kobayashi is a business visionary. And his company, a joint venture between Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd. and America’s Xerox Corp., a global entity based in Japan with $9.5 billion in revenue and 36,000 employees in 2004, has prospered under his direction. Originally a distributor of Xerox products in Asia, Fuji Xerox began to develop its own products by 1973. “We wanted to be able to respond to the pressure of the market with our own product development, and Xerox went along with it,” he once said in an interview with Wharton Alumni Magazine. But, he joked, “For the first 10 or 15 years, people looked at our work as if we were moonshining.”

Although guiding Fuji Xerox to the apex of imaging technologies, Kobayashi has been a keen observer of social dynamics as they relate to economic and corporate development. A member of Wharton’s Executive Board for Asia and a former Penn trustee, he has been outspoken regarding the need for balancing individualism and competition with company loyalty and even the volatile historic politics between Japan and China. Kobayashi joined Fuji Photo just after graduating Wharton, and by 1978 he had  become executive vice president, president, and then CEO of Fuji Xerox, rising to chairman of the board in March 1999.

Under Kobayashi, the company has become responsible for the innovation and manufacture of many Xerox products. Its innovations include the world’s first multifunction printer/copier in 1987. A key to his company’s success has been his belief that trade-offs between features and cost should not be made too early. He told Wharton, “You just cannot make hasty decisions about what it is not possible to do. There are so many things that can be done, and many managers give up too early.”

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