Why Nintendo chose Tatsumi Kimishima to be their new CEO and not Genyo Takeda or Shigeru Miyamoto

Kimishima

Today Nintendo Co Ltd. announced that, former Nintendo of America CEO, Tatsumi Kimishima will be the new CEO of the house of Mario. It’s an interesting decision, to say the least. Many people, including myself, thought that they were going to stick with Genyo Takeda who has been leading the company (together with Shigeru Miyamoto) ever since Satoru Iwata passed away.

Takeda would have been the obvious choice. He is the general manager of Nintendo’s integrated research division, and was, in that outfit responsible, for producing the Nintendo Wii. He also created the Punch-Out!! and StarTropics series. He is a hands-on kind of guy, just like Iwata was, and is credited to be the creator of both the analogue stick and the cartridge battery back which made it possible for NES cartridges to keep save data after the console was turned off (which was first used in Miyamoto’s The Legend of Zelda). Creations which are still very relevant today (could you imagine playing a 3D console game without the analogue stick today? Neither can I). Also just like Iwata, he grew into different management positions as the years went by.

Punch-Out StarTropics

Then why didn’t Nintendo choose Takeda? Well, there’s the language aspect, of course. As far as I know, Takeda’s English is not on the same level as that of Iwata (nor is Miyamoto’s, for the record), meaning that he probably wouldn’t put himself as much in the Western limelight as Iwata did with his Nintendo Direct series of announcements, meaning that in the eye of the beholder Nintendo would once again become this faceless Japanese giant that doesn’t speak your language, nor understands you… which, of course, wouldn’t be good for sales in the Western market. Also, in this respect, I expect that, for a company whose profits are quite dependent of its international successes, having a president who doesn’t speak the international language par excellence is a bit of a hard sell for shareholders as well.

One of Nintendo’s biggest current issues is that, while it has been doing quite well in Japan these last few years, it has been struggling to generate that same interest in the West, and especially in the Americas – although Amiibo are a huge success in the States. Choosing for a president and CEO with a similar track record as his predecessor and whom may have limited knowledge of the West and of the Western market, would probably not change anything to this situation.

Enter Tatsumi Kimishima whom was not only the CEO of Nintendo of America from 2002 until 2006, but whom has lived – and still lives – in the States for more than half of his life (he is currently 65). Unlike many of Nintendo’s other big names, Kimishima wasn’t with Nintendo from the beginning. He joined the company in 2000 after having worked for 27 years at Sanwa Bank of Japan where he was, among other, responsible for corporate planning and international business development. Also unlike many of Nintendo’s other big names, Kimishima didn’t start out as a developer. When he joined the company in 2000 he became the Chief Financial Officer for the Pokémon Company, after which he quickly became the president of Pokémon USA Inc. in 2001.

Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Co., center right, speaks as Tatsumi Kimishima, managing director, listens during a news conference in Osaka, Japan, on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. Nintendo posted second-quarter profit that beat analyst estimates, helped by a weaker yen that boosted the value of overseas sales and demand for new games including Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8. Photographer: Yuzuru Yoshikawa/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Satoru Iwata; Tatsumi Kimishima

Kimishima will be a very different president than Iwata was or than Takeda or Miyamoto would have been. He’s more of a numbers guy, less of a hands on guy. That’s not necessarily a problem. Miyamoto and Takeda will still be there advising him in this respect – as can be learned from the press release – while he makes sure the shareholders are happy. Also, Kimishima probably knows more of the Western market than any other Nintendo employee from Japanese descent. That may be a good thing, but not necessarily either. One of the main reasons I love Nintendo is because their products are so different from what Western companies produce. On the other hand, if Kimishima finds a way to actually attract a bigger audience for Nintendo and still lets them produce these unique experiences, I’m all for it.

Will the appointment of Kimishima lead to a new golden age for Nintendo? It’s hard to say. For, one it’s hard for an outsider to judge what actual power the new president and CEO will have. What power remains with Miyamoto and Takeda after Kimishima becomes the new president and CEO. His knowledge of the Western market may indeed entice Nintendo to walk an new path, but given Kimishima’s age (65) it may well be that he is a transitionary president who’s there to fill in the void left by Iwata’s unexpected passing, until the next generation is ready to take over. Then again, what’s to stop Kimishima from ruling Nintendo for the next decade or so?