Long Road Ahead for Japan Tech Giants
Wall Street Journal
TOKYO—Japan's electronics giants aimed for a fresh start last year, shaking up their management following record losses, but announcements of dismal earnings from stalwarts Sony Corp. and Sharp Corp. on Thursday showed the firms still have a long way ...
迷失於通縮中的10年，改變了東京高檔購物區銀座(Ginza)的景象。在主要購物街上，古馳(Gucci)門店已被低成本時裝公司XXI Forever的店鋪所取代。在豪華珠寶商Mauboussin的隔壁，休閒服飾零售商gu生意興隆，店裡銷售的棉質長裙售價990日元。自1999年以來，日本一直受到通縮的困擾，這一時期被稱作“失落的10年”(lost decade)。 1999年以後，消費價格（不包括食品和能源）每年都在下跌——2008年除外，當年價格與上年持平。與此同時，反映通縮影響的名義國內生產總值(GDP)，從1999年的505萬億日元降至去年的468萬億日元(合5.8萬億美元)。經濟長期滑坡迫使日本企業大幅削減成本，一些日本企業不得不徹底重新思考它們的業務模式。一些日本企業成功避免了通縮的最糟糕影響，甚至在艱難的經濟狀況下走向繁榮。因此，它們為那些將在遭遇困境的西方經濟體中長期處於艱難境地的企業提供了一些重要經驗。在經濟乏力時期獲得成功的日本企業，大多憑藉的是建立核心優勢來開發增值產品，並為這些產品找到新的銷售渠道。東麗(Toray)就是一家這樣的公司，該公司近40%的收入和約三分之一的營業利潤來自纖維和紡織品，這種業務過去已經從發達國家轉向成本較低的新興市場。讓東麗得以擺脫英國Courtaulds（最終被分拆並出售）等行業先驅命運的，是該公司決心堅持基礎研發，儘管這可能需要數十年才能取得成果。一個主要的例子是，東麗拒絕放棄碳纖維，這種材料重量極輕，但非常結實，由於看似缺乏可帶來盈利的應用，包括Courtaulds在內的業內很多企業最終都放棄了這種材料。野村證券(Nomura)研究機構野村綜合研究所(Nomura Research Institute)諮詢顧問Daisuke Taniyama表示：“東麗對來自分析師的放棄（碳纖維）業務的壓力說不，並表示碳纖維是其優勢之一。 ”東麗認為，碳纖維可以被用來製造飛機，因此上世紀70年代，該公司高管曾多次訪問波音(Boeing)，來推銷這一想法。 30多年後，東麗正與波音在787夢幻客機(787 Dreamliner)上合作，碳纖維佔這種飛機機體總重量的50%。“重要的是要有長遠的眼光，”東麗高級副總裁齊藤典彥(Norihiko Saitou)表示，“那些面臨創造強勁季度業績壓力、或者每幾年就更換高級管理層的企業，無法做到東麗所成就的。”同樣重要的是，東麗決定繞過重型機械製造商，直接與波音合作，這些機械製造商通常會購買東麗的材料，將其加工成零配件並供應給波音。東麗還與服裝品牌優衣庫(Uniqlo)建立了開創性關係，兩家公司稱這一關係是一種“實質上的整合”。這種合作帶來了創新性的新型紡織品，例如Heattech和Sarafine，前者採用通過吸收人體水分發熱並保溫的高技術纖維，後者吸收水分讓使用者在夏季高溫下保持身體乾爽。齊藤典彥表示，在為其材料開發新的應用方面，東麗與這些公司的緊密合作至關重要。 “很多日本企業認為，如果沒有發明，它們幾乎就沒有任何價值。東麗也曾經這樣認為，但後來發現，客戶擁有東麗所不具備的專業技能。”富士膠片公司(Fuji Film)也成功利用其核心優勢，抵消了本可能會導致其破產（曾經的競爭對手柯達(Kodak)的命運就證明了這點）的壓力。在富士的例子裡，攝影膠片業務更具災難性的迅速滅亡加劇了通縮的影響。當該公司意識到，數碼攝影將最終扼殺其核心業務時，該公司不是把數碼攝影拱手讓給其他人來做，而是決定先發製人，自己開發這項新技術。同時，該公司實施了一項大規模重組計劃，將其業務重心從攝影膠片上轉走，在擁有核心優勢的增長領域開發新業務。“我們稱之為二次組建，沒有什麼神聖不可侵犯的東西，”富士執行副總裁中島成博(Shigehiro Nakajima)表示，“就我們的情況而言，我們具備強大的化學專業技能和納米技術，我們將它們結合起來，製造出他人無法複製的東西。如果其他人可以復制，那麼價格將迅速下跌。因此擁有其他人無法競爭的產品很重要。”例如，富士佔全球TAC膜市場的70%以上，這種材料用於攝影膠片，還用於平板顯示器。由於平板電視的普及，這種材料需求旺盛，但富士和柯尼卡美能達(Konica Minolta)是僅有的能夠生產這種材料的公司。富士還利用其在膠原蛋白和納米技術方面的專業技能，將觸角延伸至化妝品領域。膠原蛋白是攝影膠片的主要原材料。在防止膠原蛋白氧化的研究方面，富士有著很長的歷史，而膠原蛋白氧化是膠片褪色和肌膚老化的原因。日本的通縮繼續對富士的小型數碼相機業務構成價格下行壓力，但該公司仍在生產這種相機，並能在新興經濟體銷售。對於日本市場，該公司正將其主要精力放在高端照相機上，高端相機的銷售出人意料地好，這幫助提升了整體利潤率。在通縮的環境下，轉向高端產品似乎是違反直覺的，但富士並非唯一一家受益於該戰略的公司。採用直銷和郵購的日本化妝品集團寶麗奧蜜思(Pola Orbis)對通縮壓力做出的回應是，加強其最昂貴的、售價在1萬日元或以上的保濕霜和護膚霜系列，並在其美容院里首次銷售。該公司副總裁藤井彰(Akira Fujii)表示：“我們沒有考慮過降價，因為寶麗的優勢在高端護膚領域。”該公司於1929年創建，最初是將其產品挨家挨戶地銷售給家庭主婦。該公司意識到，為了讓寶麗這個高端品牌不至於衰落，需要增強與消費者的緊密關係，是這些消費者在更早的時期幫助其發展壯大。藤井彰表示：“我們做出的最重要舉措是，邀請人們到美容院來，更好地了解他們的肌膚，並與客戶建立聯繫。”這一戰略讓該品牌重新煥發活力。在該公司的新客戶中，高達60%的比例年齡在20多歲或30多歲，客戶的平均年齡年輕了20歲。“通縮並不意味著，客戶不買東西，”富士的中島成博表示，“而是他們不會買沒用的東西。”譯者/梁艷裳
Winners of Japan’s lost decade
A decade lost to deflation has changed the landscape in Ginza, Tokyo’s premium shopping district. On the main street, a Gucci store has been replaced by low-cost fashion outlet XXI Forever. Next door to luxury jeweller Mauboussin, the casual clothes retailer g.u. is doing a brisk business offering cotton maxi dresses for Y990.Japan has been mired in deflation since 1999, a period known as the “lost decade”. Consumer prices, excluding food and energy, have fallen every year since, with the exception of 2008, when prices were flat. Meanwhile, nominal gross domestic product, which reflects the impact of deflation, has fallen from Y505tn in 1999 to Y468tn ($5.8tn) last year.
The long-term slump has forced businesses in Japan to slash costs and, in some cases, completely rethink their business model. Some Japanese companies have managed to avoid the worst effects of deflation and even thrive in difficult economic circumstances. As such, they offer some valuable lessons for businesses settling down for the long haul in the beleaguered economies of the west.
Japanese companies that have succeeded during sluggish times have largely done so by building on their core strengths to develop value-added products and by finding new channels for those products.
One such company is Toray, which generates nearly 40 per cent of its revenues and about a third of operating profits from fibres and textiles – a business that has historically shifted from developed countries to lower-cost emerging markets.
What enabled Toray to escape the fate of pioneers in the industry such as Courtaulds, the UK group that was finally broken up and sold off, was its determination to persevere with basic research and development, even though it might take decades to bear fruit. A prime example was its refusal to give up on carbon fibre, an extremely lightweight but sturdy material, which many in the industry, including Courtaulds, eventually abandoned because of a seeming lack of profitable applications.
“Toray was pressured by analysts to get rid of the [carbon fibre] business but it refused, saying carbon fibre was one of its strengths,” says Daisuke Taniyama, a consultant at Nomura Research Institute, the research arm of the investment bank.
Toray believed that carbon fibre could be used to make aircraft so its executives visited Boeing repeatedly in the 1970s to market the idea. More than 30 years later, Toray is working with Boeing on the 787 Dreamliner, which uses carbon fibre for 50 per cent of its body in terms of weight.
“The important thing is to look at the long term,” says Norihiko Saitou, senior vice-president. “Companies which face pressure to produce strong results on a quarterly basis or where the top management changes every few years cannot do what Toray did.”
Equally important was Toray’s decision to work directly with Boeing, bypassing the heavy machinery makers that would normally buy its materials, process them into parts and supply Boeing with those parts.
Toray has also struck a pioneering relationship with Uniqlo, the fashion brand, which the companies describe as “a virtual integration”.
The collaboration has resulted in innovative new textiles, such as Heattech, which uses technical fibres that generate and retain warmth by absorbing body moisture, and Sarafine, which absorbs moisture to keep users dry in the summer heat.
Mr Saitou says Toray’s close collaboration with these companies was critical in developing new applications for its materials. “Many Japanese companies believe that if they didn’t invent something, it has little value. Toray used to be that way too but realised that customers have expertise that Toray does not.”
Fujifilm has also successfully used its core strengths to offset pressures that might have resulted in bankruptcy, as witnessed by the fate of its one-time rival, Kodak.
In Fujifilm’s case, deflation has been compounded by the even more devastating rapid demise of its photographic film business. When the company realised that digital photography would eventually kill off its core business, rather than let someone else do the job, it decided to take the initiative in developing the new technology itself. At the same time, it implemented a major restructuring programme to shift its business away from photographic film and develop new businesses in growth areas where it had core strengths.
“It was called the second founding and there were no sacred cows,” says Shigehiro Nakajima, executive vice-president. “In our case, we had strong chemical expertise and nanotechnology, which we combined to make things that others cannot copy. If it’s something that others can copy, prices will fall quickly. It’s important to have products that others cannot compete with.”
For example, Fujifilm has more than 70 per cent of the global market for TAC film, which is a component of photographic film but is also used in flat-panel displays. There has been strong demand because of the spread of flat-panel televisions but Fujifilm and Konica Minolta are the only companies that can manufacture it.
Fujifilm also branched out into cosmetics, using its expertise in collagen, which is the main raw material of photographic film, and nanotechnology. Fujifilm has a long history of research into preventing the oxidisation of collagen, which is the cause both of the discolouration of film and the ageing of skin.
Deflation in Japan continues to put downward price pressure on its digital compact cameras but Fujifilm still makes those cameras, which it is able to sell in emerging economies. For the Japanese market it is shifting its focus to high-end cameras, which have sold unexpectedly well and have helped raise overall margins.
Such a shift to high-end products might seem counterintuitive in a deflationary environment but Fujifilm is not the only company that has benefited from that strategy.
Pola Orbis, a direct sales and mail-order cosmetics group, responded to deflationary pressures by beefing up its most expensive line-up of moisturisers and creams costing Y10,000 or more and selling them at their salons for the first time. “We didn’t consider lowering prices, because Pola’s strength is in premium skin care,” says Akira Fujii, vice-president of Pola Orbis Holdings.
The company, which began life in 1929 selling its products to housewives door-to-door, recognised that in order to keep the high-end Pola brand from flagging, it needed to strengthen the close relationship with its customers that had helped it to grow in its earlier years.
“The biggest step we took was to invite people to the salons, to understand their skin better and to build a relationship with customers,” says Mr Fujii.
The strategy has given the brand renewed vigour. As many as 60 per cent of new customers are in their 20s and 30s, and the average age of their customers has fallen by 20 years.
“Deflation doesn’t mean that consumers won’t buy anything,” says Mr Nakajima at Fujifilm. “It’s just that they don’t buy wasteful things.”