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Business

Era over as Sharp's former headquarters meets wrecking ball

Palpable sense of loss with many feeling nostalgia for the good old days

Sharp's former headquarters in Osaka

OSAKA -- The final curtain has fallen on Sharp's former headquarters in Abeno Ward, in the city of Osaka, as demolition work commenced on Monday to make way for a new commercial building.

After facing the threat of bankruptcy, Sharp went under the umbrella of Taiwan's giant contract electronics manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn, in August 2016.

As Hon Hai's subsidiary, the Japanese electronics maker's business performance is improving gradually. But Sharp had already decided to divest the former headquarters building when it was still in the throes of a previous financial crisis.

Sharp sold its former head office and the Tanabe Building, located across the street, at the same time. The company has already repurchased the Tanabe Building, but it failed to reacquire the former headquarters building, leaving many employees with mixed feelings.

Top leaders of Sharp and Hon Hai held a joint news conference in April 2016 after signing a deal for the Taiwanese company to acquire the 100-year-old Japanese company that dates back to a small metalworking shop in Tokyo.

Hon Hai Chairman Terry Gou attempted to make the idea of the buyback of the former head office a main feature of the conference. In fact, he purportedly had previously told people around him, "Sharp's second place of foundation is important."

After the corporate marriage was realized, Hon Hai Vice Chairman Tai Jeng-wu, Gou's right-hand man, took the helm of Sharp as its new president.

Following in the footsteps of Gou, Tai also trumpeted the idea of buying back the former headquarters building when he faced the press, even when he was not asked about the matter.

Bonds and buildings

Tokuji Hayakawa, Sharp's founder, moved the company's head office from Tokyo to Osaka in the wake of a massive earthquake that leveled Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923. Sharp's current headquarters is located in the city of Sakai, also in Osaka Prefecture.

Sharp bought back the Tanabe Building from NTT Urban Development at a higher price than when it sold the building to the real estate subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, commonly known as NTT.

The repurchase of the Tanabe Building came several months after the April 2016 news conference.

The buyback raised the hopes of many Sharp employees that the former headquarters was also within reach. But such optimism was dashed as Sharp failed to reach an agreement with Nitori, the current owner of the building.

Nitori is a subsidiary of Japanese discount home-furnishing chain Nitori Holdings. Work is now underway to tear down the building to make way for a new Nitori store.

Sharp President Tai has touted the company's buyback of the Tanabe Building, describing it as "an example of making good on (my) promise."

The repurchase of the Tanabe Building raised eyebrows among many Sharp employees, and one of them said, "I never imagined that it would happen."

But many Sharp employees are widely seen as still unhappy. One employee frankly said, "What we actually wanted was the repurchase of the building of the (former) head office because it was the symbol of our company. Now that demolition work has started, I really miss it."

It is said that home truths are always unlikely to reach the ears of company presidents. Will the voices of Sharp's silent majority be heard by the company's top official? This is a question that will affect the ongoing turnaround of the struggling company to no small extent.

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