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New chief to promote Japan Inc. globalization

TOKYO -- Paul Yonamine, the newly appointed chief of IBM Japan, will try to convince more Japanese companies to adopt IBM's proposals for efficient, IT-driven global management. He will also continue the reform drive begun by his predecessor, Martin Jetter.

      IBM Japan announced Monday that Yonamine became president as of that day, succeeding Jetter, who will head the parent company's global technology services unit, its largest business.

     Jetter's reform push at IBM Japan has resulted in the company's first sales growth in 12 years. However, the Japanese arm of the global provider of information technology solutions faces stiff competition from rivals such as and Microsoft.

     Yonamine, who headed two consulting firms before joining IBM, has experience on his side as he tries to put the company on a path of sustainable sales and profit growth. He was successful when he worked as a management consultant.

Foundations laid

Jetter became IBM's senor vice president and took the helm at the company's global technology services division in November. The unit contributes about 40% of IBM's global sales. He became chairman of IBM Japan as of Jan. 5.

     After assuming the top post at IBM Japan, Jetter pushed through a series of reforms to boost the unit's marketing power. He set up new branches in four cities, including Sendai, and improved the quality of employee training programs by inviting experts at a British business school to deliver lectures.

     His efforts paid off. IBM Japan's sales kept growing for seven consecutive quarters through the April-June period of 2014. Heavy investment for the changes, however, weighed on the bottom line. The company's operating profit sagged for three straight years through fiscal 2013, which ended in March 2014.

     At 10.1%, IBM Japan's operating profit margin is higher than the figures of around 5-6% for the information businesses of Fujitsu or Hitachi. But stiff competition from such global IT powerhouses as Amazon and Microsoft mean the figure still may not be enough.

     IBM Japan needs to bolster further its marketing to convince customers of the effectiveness of its IT solutions. The company's marketing strategy focuses on proposing optimal solutions for customers without putting too much weight on technological advantages.

     It offers Big Data-based solutions to increase sales by 20% through effective sales forecasts, for instance. It also has cloud computing technology that can halve the time it takes to build up systems for overseas operations. IBM Japan also promotes the use of Watson, its artificial intelligence computer system, for cutting-edge research in areas such as cancer treatment.


Yonamine's principal job as president will be to communicate the benefits of IBM's solutions to potential customers.

     A native of Tokyo, Yonamine is a third-generation American citizen of Japanese ancestry. His father, the late Wally Yonamine, was a reputed professional baseball player in Japan. As a multi-skilled outfielder, Wally was known as an astute hitter and skillful base runner while playing for the Yomiuri Giants. After retirement, he became manager of the Chunichi Dragons. Yonamine is remembered as a player who introduced the American-style baseball into Japan.

     Paul Yonamine has been working to promote globalization of Japanese corporate management and operations. He joined a U.S. accounting firm as a certified public accountant in 1979, during an era when Japanese companies were rushing to expand their operations in the U.S. He supported the financial and accounting operations of the U.S. units of Japanese companies.

     While serving as president of KPMG Consulting, he devoted his efforts to globalization of corporate accounting systems.

     In 2006, Yonamine became president of Hitachi Consulting, a Hitachi subsidiary. While there, he worked to make the Japanese electric machinery maker, which traditionally has focused on manufacturing, aware of the importance of business consulting.

     The new IBM Japan head remained unsatisfied with his achievements as a consultant, feeling he had failed to promote globalization of Japanese companies as much as he had expected. Then, he was contacted by current IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who persuaded him to take the job of selling IBM's globalized IT solutions to Japanese corporate customers.

     Yonamine joined IBM Japan in 2010 and helped the company's sales grow as the top executive responsible for marketing. He now leads an overseas unit that is strategically important for IBM. IBM Japan's sales are largest among the tech giant's overseas units.

     One big question about his presidency is whether Yonamine, known for his gentle, consensus-oriented personality, can provide strong leadership and convincing visions for the company's future.

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