Gadget man who has calculated the route to success — Kazuo Kashio likes to predict the future, and he can see Casio’s in high resolution
WITH a contented smirk, Kazuo Kashio, president and chief executive officer of Casio, strides through the doors of his meeting room at precisely the time he said he would. Computerised punctuality, after all, is what has turned his family name into one of the world’s best-known technology brands.
The company has made its wealth from digital watches and calculators, but it is the gadgets that have kept it interesting. As Japanese hi-tech groups go, Casio is king of gadgets.
Kashio, 75, directs attention to a velvet-covered tray of tiny, gleaming machines in front of him. Pride of place is given to Casio’s latest offering: a third-generation mobile phone with a staggeringly high-resolution screen. Kashio pushes a button or two and the Star Wars theme pipes up — the entire film has been stored on memory and can be watched on the phone. Darth Vader may be confined to a tiny screen, but he has never looked so good.
Unlike his Japanese business rivals, Kashio enjoys the business of prediction. His elder brother Tadao founded the company, and was soon joined by three brothers. All four displayed the uncanny knack of knowing what would be the next big thing. As Goldman Sachs technology analyst Yuji Fujimori puts it: “Casio is one of those rare companies that understands what consumers really want and has the technology and decision-making mechanism required to develop products that fulfil those wants. ”
For his part, Kashio says he uses ganriki — the eyes of good judgment. “I can tell immediately when someone brings me a new product whether or not it will sell well.”
He is clearly on a roll. Digital cameras have been a runaway success and profits in Japan have been boosted by the success of devices like “Fure-Tere” — a TV for the bathroom.
The greatest challenge, Kashio says, will be to predict what will sell well in the rest of Asia, particularly China. As he looks ahead, Kashio, who has also forecast a leap in profits this year, is convinced that the digital watch is about to reach the moment of perfection.“From my experience of the watch business, I think I can say that our solar-powered watches that set themselves by radio control are the ultimate form of watch we can expect,” he says. “Look, they are never inaccurate by as much as a second and never need batteries. So this leaves the major question of what else will watches do other than tell the time?” He answers: “Wrist-based machines, that is the future, and we have a lot of dreams on that score. It’s going to become the ultimate mobile gadget that you can’t drop.”
Kashio believes that while previous attempts — mostly by Casio — to add functions to watches have been gimmicky, a breakthrough is near. “We’ve tried all sorts. But I think it is all going to become serious now,” he says, adding that Casio is looking into giving watches both mobile phone and credit card functions.
However, Casio’s perfection of the digital watch has placed the company in a position where Kashio now feels less comfortable about making predictions: fashion. But while Kashio is unhappy making forecasts about the vagaries of fashion, Kashio has spotted the next big challenge for Casio.
As the company crams more functions into ever-smaller devices, more battery power is needed. Given his belief that mobiles will soon contain, as standard, hard disks and screens that make a Hollywood movie watchable, Kashio has turned his company’s research prowess to the business of fuel cells. “I am personally so excited about this, and we are heavily involved,” he says.
Since it was founded in 1957, the company has strived to produce machines that the market did not know it needed. In 1946 one of the Kashio brothers saw an abacus beat a computer in a race and was so enraged that he invented the first fully electric calculator. Its most dramatic coup, though, was the invention of the digital camera with instant picture-viewing in 1995.
Kashio is convinced that the answer to success lies in selling something new and is even relaxed about Casio’s intellectual property: “To grow we have to give the consumer something new, and we have to throw ourselves into it completely. I think it’s more important to create something new than to stop and be protective.”