An old Apple a day keeps Jobs-san away? Higuchi joins Microsoft Japan

new shacho at MSFT Japan - Yasuyuki HiguchiChanging jobs is always an emotional experience for the best of us, but what do you think was going through Yasuyuki Higuchi’s (樋口泰行) mind when he accepted the job of Microsoft Japan COO last week, switching Jobs in more ways than one.

While he was notably cagey at the press conference, it feels as though existing CEO, Darren Huston, has decided that he’s had enough of the land of the rising sun. Why else would Higuchi (who has recently served as the President of both Hewlett-Packard Japan and Daiei) accept the role of number two unless it came hand in hand with a guarantee of the top job when Huston gives it away.

What surprised us most here at stippy.com was Higuchi’s career path. Born in Hyogo, Higuchi was a stereotypical Kansaijin (関西人). Why worry about Tokyo when you can go to Osaka University (大阪大学工学部) in Suita? Why think about joining Sony when you can work for National/Panasonic (松下電器溶接機事業部) just around the corner in Kadoma. Having spent a first years living in Osaka myself, I understand that attraction, that sense of stability. The attraction to the people, the food and the philosophy. So there is something about Higuchi that attracts me to him and his upbringing. I’m even more fascinated to think what must have been going through his mind when he decided to join Apple Computer in the mid 1990s after coming back from his MBA at Harvard. While we all claim that we’ve been Apple fans forever, let’s be honest, it wasn’t so cool to be an apple lover 10 years ago. It takes a special type of person to take on a challenge like that.

Did I hear you say “Hold on a Sec?!” Yes, you certainly did read right. How could an Apple man ever accept a job at Microsoft. Isn’t that sacrilegious? You got it. Maybe this means something special for Microsoft Japan going forward but I do have my reservations. What do you think? What is a job? How do you chose one? It’s hard enough to shift jobs to an unrelated, neutral company, but assume that you were a hard-core Apple fan, moving… there. The thought sends a shudder down my click-wheel finger.

Could this be a perverse strategy to seek a truce between Steve and Bill like this Youtube video?

YouTube Preview Image

My personal guess is that Higuchi was just itching to get back into his sweet spot of IT. After twenty years in the technology industry it was always a strange choice that the IRCJ made to recruit him as COO/President of Daiei. Although a bunch of the Japanese tabloids (週刊誌) speculated about infighting between Marubeni, original Daiei employees and the IRCJ at the time, maybe he had just had enough of dealing in a commodity business with no obvious brand value. To his credit, he did help slash Daiei’s debt so it is no longer referred to as a “zombie” (just “balance sheet challenged”) by cutting Daiei’s store numbers by a third but the company still makes no money retailing. A few days after quiting, Higuchi was rumored to have said that Daiei really should have closed another third again and that political pressure to keep the company alive had been the straw that broke the donkey’s back. While he doesn’t have pressure from politicians (or from 60,000 employees that have to feed their families), joining Microsoft at this stage in the company’s maturity might not be as easy as it looks. As a fellow Osakan at heart, I’d love to wish him luck, but to be honest, I wish he had’ve gone back to Apple.

What would go through your mind if you received an offer from Microsoft?

2 thoughts on “An old Apple a day keeps Jobs-san away? Higuchi joins Microsoft Japan”

  1. You paint this guy in a positive light, Red, but if he was such a great IT man, how did he end up working for a grocery store anyway?

  2. Richmond, you’re missing the point. Daiei is more than just a grocery store. Daiei is – or should I say was – the jewel in the crown of the entire IRCJ project. The list of people who quit high profile, well paying jobs to join the IRCJ (on a much smaller salary) in order to serve their country was amazing. Higuchi was one of many. While the job won’t have been easy, he’ll look back with pride on taking on the challenge and saving the jobs of so many Watanabe-sans. You’ve gotta give someone like that credit for taking such a huge pay cut in order to help his fellow countrymen. I don’t have much of a view on the relative merrits of Microsoft, but his choice to go work for a “grocery store” was high quality. Cheers to the man.

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