Disrupting the Game
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Disrupting the Game

From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo

Reggie Fils-Aimé

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eBook - ePub

Disrupting the Game

From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo

Reggie Fils-Aimé

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About This Book

WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER

LESSONS FROM A BOSS-LEVEL DISRUPTOR AND GAMING LEGEND

Reggie Fils-Aimé, retired President and Chief Operating Officer of Nintendo of America Inc., shares leadership lessons and inspiring stories from his unlikely rise to the top.

Although he's best known as Nintendo's iconic President of the Americas-immortalized for opening Nintendo's 2004 E3 presentation with, "My name is Reggie, I'm about kicking ass, I'm about taking names, and we're about making games"-Reggie Fils-Aimé's story is the ultimate gameplan for anyone looking to beat the odds and achieve success.

Learn from Reggie how to leverage disruptive thinking to pinpoint the life choices that will make you truly happy, conquer negative perceptions from those who underestimate or outright dismiss you, and master the grit, perseverance, and resilience it takes to dominate in the business world and to reach your professional dreams.

As close to sitting one-on-one with the gaming legend as it gets, you will learn:

  • About the challenges Reggie faced throughout his life and career-from his humble childhood as the son of Haitian immigrants, to becoming one of the most powerful names in the history of the gaming industry.
  • What it takes to reach the top of your own industry, including being brave enough to stand up for your ideas, while also being open to alternative paths to success.
  • How to create vibrant and believable visions for your team and company.
  • How to maintain relentless curiosity and know when to ask questions to shatter the status quo.

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1

FAREWELL TO MY FRIEND

It was by far the hardest trip I ever had to make. It wasn’t because this was the third trip to Japan in less than six months. It wasn’t because a nearby typhoon was causing the plane to shake violently throughout the trip.
No, the reason this was my toughest trip was because I was going to Kyoto for the memorial services of my boss, my mentor, and my friend, Nintendo’s global president, Satoru Iwata.
Truly, the most troubling part of the flight was knowing that my friend was gone.
There is no way I could prepare for such a trip, beyond educating myself about the protocols for the service: a specific way to walk up to the area for the viewing of the remains, and a specific way to pinch the powdered incense and then raise it to my forehead. I knew that I would be watched closely. I doubted there would be another Black American there. And as the president of Nintendo of America, I always drew attention.
The last time I saw Mr. Iwata was just a few months prior in March 2015. Via email, he had asked me to come back to Japan, right around the time of my birthday. This was odd as I had been in Japan in late January—a typical biannual, one-week visit during which the company’s senior leadership discusses our business strategies and our upcoming products. To be summoned back so soon was very unusual.
For this unexpected trip in March, I had asked Mr. Iwata for a bit more detail on the purpose; he was vague. I tried to explain to him that the dates he wanted me to visit with him would interfere with my birthday plans I had with my wife, Stacey, but he would hear none of it. He was adamant that he wanted me there in Kyoto with him for a very specific three-day period.
It was also strange that Mr. Iwata wanted me to be at his office at 8:30 a.m., versus his typical start at nine. The early start made my entrance into the Nintendo Co., Ltd. global headquarters a bit more challenging. With its glass-and-concrete exterior and marble entry, the office felt cold and sterile, especially at the early hour when I arrived. Nintendo, like most Japanese companies, had strict operating hours for most employees. You would hear chimes in the building to signify the start of the workday, and other chimes to signal the start and end of the lunch break. I don’t remember hearing chimes at the end of the day—maybe the company didn’t believe they needed to remind the staff to go home.
Fortunately, Mr. Iwata’s assistant had arrived at the office early, and she was waiting to open the doors for me and help navigate the elevators. To reach the seventh-floor executive area, only a specific elevator could be used, and at that hour it required card-key access.
I was shown to a small conference room that would double as my office during this stay. I took off my overcoat and proceeded to log into the wireless internet system. Nintendo takes its security very seriously, and even as a company executive I was given a unique login and password combination for every visit. I would always arrive early to make sure I was fully connected before the start of my first meeting.
At precisely 8:30 a.m., Mr. Iwata’s assistant came for me, and I was ushered to his office.
While Mr. Iwata had been the company’s global president for well more than ten years at this point, he had not moved into the formal, large president’s office used by his three predecessors. Instead, he had preferred a simpler office, with his desk at the head of a rectangular conference-room setup that could hold up to twelve additional people. In addition to two large television screens that could be used to showcase either presentations or video games in development, Mr. Iwata had cabinets full of books, video games, game accessories, and controllers. It was more of a game creator’s office than that of a company president.
After our usual pleasantries, he asked me to sit down, and I studied his face closely. He then told me why he had insisted on my trip. “Reggie,” he said, “my cancer is back.”
I was shocked. Sure, Mr. Iwata had lost weight from his prior surgery and fight with the disease. But his energy was strong. Just days prior, he had announced a major investment for Nintendo to enter the mobile gaming market. All the signals up to now had suggested he had beaten the cancer. To see his concern, and for him to bring me back to Kyoto specifically to tell me in person, heightened my anxiety, and I focused on every detail he shared.
We talked about his condition and future treatment for quite some time. He shared details about the advanced medical therapeutics he would try. In addition to the high-tech approaches, he told me that his wife was making him special juice and protein drinks to have in the morning and at midday to improve his overall diet. No option seemed too small for him to consider.
After a while, the tone of the conversation changed. Mr. Iwata said: “Reggie, this is just one part of the reason that I wanted you to come to Kyoto. To have this conversation. There are other things we need to discuss. We need to discuss the upcoming launch of our new system. I want you to see the early games and to feel a prototype in your hands. We need to work on the planning because this device will be critical to the future of Nintendo.”
This conversational shift was typical for Mr. Iwata; he was prioritizing the business before his own needs. I am sure that, in his mind, now that we had talked about his personal situation, it was time to move on to discussing the business.
For the balance of this visit, we had a series of meetings to discuss all the details for what would later be known as the Nintendo Switch. These meetings were all business, but when Mr. Iwata and I had lunch by ourselves, or when the meetings were finished late in the evening and I was back at the hotel, my mind would return to my friend’s illness.
The friendship that Mr. Iwata and I had was deep. Its foundation was mutual respect, as we admired the core capabilities that each of us brought to the company. Mr. Iwata was the brilliant game developer and programmer. He had made personal contributions to many of the greatest franchises in Nintendo’s history, including Pokémon, Kirby, and Super Smash Bros.
I was the marketer and business disrupter, integrating consumer insight and commercial knowledge into new initiatives. We trusted and challenged each other at the same time.
The launch advertising for Nintendo’s Wii console that I executed for the Americas is a great example. This was in the fall of 2006, after I had been promoted from executive vice president of sales and marketing to president and chief operating officer for Nintendo of America. The advertising featured two Japanese businessmen traversing the Americas and showing off this latest Nintendo innovation, with a focus on the controller: the magical Wii Remote.
Mr. Iwata had stewarded the development of the Wii Remote with the teams in Kyoto. The key innovation was motion-sensing technology that would enable you to move the remote to play a game. Players could swing the remote like a bat in a baseball game or move an arm to swing a racket and play virtual tennis.
The advertising was compelling because we communicated the broad range of game experiences players could have with the Wii Remote. And we made the ads fun and relatable, with the Japanese businessmen interacting with the families they encountered. The businessmen played a variety of Wii video games with the families, including some that had funny movements and mannerisms. This all took place in an easy camaraderie. Each ad would start with the now famous line, “Wii would like to play.”
I championed the advertising developed in partnership with our agency, Leo Burnett, and shared the finished advertising with Mr. Iwata in advance. A week before we were to start running the advertising, Mr. Iwata called me at home. “Reggie, I have been showing the advertising to people here in Kyoto, and there are concerns.” The issue for the Nintendo executives back in Japan: our Japanese businessmen in the ads were interacting with the Western families in a manner that was too familiar, too informal. “Reggie, you need to change the advertising.”
This issue raised by the teams at Nintendo’s headquarters cut at a core, successful element of the advertising. To change this would mean scrapping the work. My advertising experience suggested this was wrong. I knew the advertising was breakthrough and compelling. We proceeded to go back and forth on the issue, and why I thought the “excessive familiarity” was not a concern for our consumers in the US, Canada, and Latin America.
After making little progress, I said, “Mr. Iwata, you brought me to Nintendo because you needed a strong marketer for the biggest Nintendo region in the world. You have seen my performance. You just promoted me. You need to trust me that I know what will work. And I know this advertising will work here in the Americas.”
After a pause that seemed eternal, Mr. Iwata said, “Yes, Reggie. I trust you. Please go ahead.” The advertising worked, along with a number of other marketing elements my region implemented. We had the best performance for Wii in the world.
Mr. Iwata and I would have deep conversations about the business. We did not always agree. But throughout the discussion, we would typically get to solutions that worked brilliantly for the company.
It is fair to say that I pushed my point of view. I did this with a combination of persistence and empathy. I believe in the art of business jujitsu, where you push hard on an idea, and gather support, until the idea has a natural momentum that carries it forward.
Mr. Iwata was first diagnosed and had his initial surgery in the summer of 2014. While he was still in the hospital, I was due to be in Japan for our global strategic meetings. Leading up to the trip, I had asked Mr. Iwata if I could visit him. In our back-and-forth emails, he wrote, “No, this just isn’t done in Japan. Business associates don’t visit the hospital for each other.” But I pushed. I explained that after the summer, I was not to be back in Japan for some time, and I wanted to see him. I wanted to understand how he was really doing.
Mr. Iwata continued to push back, and he wrote, “Reggie, no one from the office has come to see me.” I challenged the notion that this was a business visit. I wrote back, “With all due respect, Mr. Iwata, I want to visit you not as the president of Nintendo of America but as a friend.” I’d like to believe my final push elicited that little smile he would give me when he realized that I just wouldn’t take no for an answer. He relented and agreed for me to come visit him in the hospital.
It was a trip that was coordinated by Mr. Shuntaro Furukawa, who would later become the sixth global president of Nintendo. At this point, Mr. Furukawa was the head of corporate strategy and acted as Mr. Iwata’s right-hand person in Kyoto. Mr. Furukawa spent years in Europe and spoke fluent English. He was to pick me up from my hotel and direct me to Mr. Iwata’s hospital room. On the drive there, Mr. Furukawa reinforced how unusual my visit would be. He shared that until just a few days prior, Mr. Iwata had not allowed any visitors from Nintendo to the hospital. Now that I was due to visit him, he had relented and during the preceding forty-eight hours he had accepted other visitors from the company.
Mr. Iwata was excited about my visit. His wife and daughter would be there as well. This delighted me, since having his family there would make it even more of a friend’s personal visit versus a businessman’s visit.
Getting to Mr. Iwata’s room was very challenging. Kyoto University Hospital was first established in 1899—ten years after Nintendo was founded. The hospital had been renovated many times, including the addition of a ward through the private donations of the Yamauchi family—the founding family of Nintendo. With almost no signage in English, and the labyrinth of hallways from the new wards to older ones, the only way I found the room was because Mr. Furukawa was along to guide me.
As we entered the room, Mr. Iwata was standing in his hospital gown with a big smile on his face. I did what I always did when I saw Mr. Iwata: I shook his hand. We slipped into a very easy and personal conversation about how he was recovering. He looked good. His face had a rosy glow and he radiated good health. His hair was combed in his typical style, parted down the middle. It was a little longer than usual, looking like a Japanese version of John Lennon from the 1960s, complete with the small oval eyeglasses. He introduced me to his petite wife, and he proceeded to do the translation back and forth as she did not speak any English. He also introduced me to his twentysomething daughter. She was very excited that I was there. Mr. Iwata said, “Reggie, she’s quite a fan of yours.” I said, “Really, Mr. Iwata? I didn’t know I had additional fans in your family!”
He chuckled and his daughter and I did some small banter, with Mr. Iwata doing the translating. His daughter took out her cell phone and asked if she could take a selfie with me there in the hospital room. This made Mr. Iwata laugh and he asked me if it would be okay.
I said of course, but there was a problem. I’m a tall man, and his daughter was small; capturing both of us within a selfie frame was proving to be challenging. With a mischievous little smile and twinkle in his eye, Mr. Iwata came to the rescue. He took her phone and proceeded to play photographer, taking several shots of the two of us together, making sure his daughter ...

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