Interview with Director Satoru Tanaka

Satoru Tanaka

Director Senior Executive Officer
Satoru Tanaka

Satoru Tanaka took up his post as a director at Gigaphoton in 2015, following a period as Vice President of Komatsu Indonesia. Director and CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Tanaka speaks on a wide range of subjects including the special appeal of Gigaphoton, the ways in which administrative divisions can function within a worldwide industry, as well as a little about his own dreams.

-Now that around two years have passed since you became a director at Gigaphoton, has your impression of Gigaphoton changed at all?

Yes, firstly, having attended various meetings since I arrived at the company two years ago, I consider it to be an extremely open company, where discussion really flourishes. To put it simply, it didn’t seem we were always “on the defensive”. Normally, when you think about meetings, it would be common that when one person speaks, everyone else would appear to agree, as they feel bound by the usual concerns with regard to seniority etc., but at Gigaphoton, I got the strong impression that a section head could, without feeling constrained, express their opinion and freely argue their point with the president. I also felt that it is a company blessed with diverse fields of enterprise. In the field of excimer lasers, it has reached the stage where there is only one rival remaining, and we have set up a unique business model which is making sound profits. I think perhaps, when viewed from outside, the company can be seen to be in an enviable position. However, understanding the position from within the company over a period of time, and knowing its history, I’ve come to realize that this is the product of considerable hard work and struggle through past years. For example, during the joint venture period, co-ordination between the two companies must have been a major issue, and in the period following founding, when their sales were slow, there must have been many difficulties to contend with. People experiencing such times must endure real hardships. I think that to go through such times and yet build a business which is now in such an enviable position is amazing. And though it is, of course, a high technology company, I feel it isn’t a completely technology-focused company. That is because the business and customer support (CS) staff take such thorough care in their person-to-person relationships with our customers.

-What do you consider to be Gigaphoton’s strengths?

One example would be that we are the only company in Japan producing excimer lasers for semiconductor lithography. Rather than that just being victory in competition, while other well-known companies would come and go in making these products, it was that our company endured the hardships and persisted in development, establishing the technology and making it into an industry in itself, and that’s something of which to be really proud. A second point would be that the company itself provides a complete customer support service with both development and CS being organically linked. That is to say, it’s common, for example, that a completely technology-focused company might develop a good product and then consider their role finished, consigning the support to a separate company. In doing so a distance grows between the customer’s location and the development process, and it takes time for the customers’ voices to be heard. Gigaphoton takes care of such support internally so customers’ voices can pass directly from CS to the developers, who can then incorporate their points into the development of the next product. Hearing the customers’ complaints or proposals in situ can mean that even failures act to fertilize the company. You can call that a great strength – though it can mean hard work.

-The majority of Gigaphoton customers are foreign businesses so, as you have also spent much of your time working in Indonesia, what would you consider to be the important points with regard to the worldwide expansion of the business?

Firstly, we must always be aware of the fact that the core of our business is not in Japan but in its overseas development. Certainly, development, production and management take place in Japan, but the front line for trade operations and CS is now mainly overseas. So it is important that the people in Japan, even in Oyama and Hiratsuka, always to look outwards towards the world and develop a world mindset.

- In specific terms, what would that mean?

For example, if I was to speak about the people involved in administrative operations, it would be better for those in accounting and general affairs to be more familiar with foreign issues. Important information is always coming in from the overseas bases. So it is important that we, in Japan, remain aware that we are advancing the business together with these overseas bases and, for this to function successfully, it’s necessary constantly to “apply a little pressure”. Even if you don’t understand the language, systems and laws, the ways of thinking, customs, culture etc., if things are not going well at the base, we should maintain an attitude where we can set out from Japan and resolve the problems together. You “apply a little pressure” even if you worry that, in suddenly involving yourself with the people on location, you’ll be perceived as meddlesome. If you don’t, it seems you’ll continue to be working at cross-purposes with them. It would be better for all employees to be able to communicate freely with foreign colleagues, and we should be more aware that this is the actual environment we are working in. Given the nature of Gigaphoton’s business and the scale of the company it would be advisable for us to be better at this.

-Right, so those involved in administrative operations should look more towards overseas affairs like trade and CS do. If you could offer any other business advice what might it be?

I have always believed that there are “three principles for excellent work in administrative operations”: 1) compliance, 2) correct work, 3) smooth operation. The first two seem obvious. Be transparent in your compliance and you’ll be in a strong position. If you are doing anything even a little wrong or crooked, your own work is weakened, and you can open yourself to external attack. Additionally, carrying out your work correctly can secure a sense of trust. Then, the smooth operation refers to that smoothness which produces profit. For example, if you reduce your inventory, just a little, only to have what you need, disposal and transportation expenses reduce and the storage fees will too. Saving the time needed for care and cutting down on unnecessary information will reduce costs further. And it’s not only costs, less visible profits are generated through smoothly speeding up decision-making and reducing the times for information transfer. Various processes which have become stagnant begin to flow smoothly, and if the administrative divisions can develop mechanisms whereby information transfer becomes almost instantaneous, the company as a whole develops a smooth flow. For example, there could be improvements in the format of approval documentation. In making them, various processes become smoothed, extra cost, time and man-hours are reduced and the level understandability improves. This is what I consider to be the “profit-producing work” of administrative operations.
Typically, when working, you might obtain information from someone, process it yourself, and then pass the information to someone else. So, for the whole system to run smoothly, you should not only consider your own position, you should also understand the work of those upstream, and in doing so you can expect information should come to your position quickly, and when things seem to get stuck you should go and get it yourself and discuss with them what the source of the delay might have been. Conversely, if the person downstream seems somehow, dissatisfied with your work, try to find out why, perhaps asking if there might have been some sort of breakthrough if you had provided it a day earlier. That is, don’t just worry about your own work, but try to understand what’s going on in front and behind, maybe being a little meddlesome, but it’s important to “apply a little pressure”. I like that phrase. The reason being that if everyone does this, then the whole company will begin to work really smoothly. By confidently "applying a little pressure" outside of your own area, it’s not only your own division, but the whole company which moves smoothly. Whenever there is uncertainty in making a decision, I want people to choose the option where things will proceed smoothly.

-Finally, please tell me about any dreams you may have.

I’m fascinated by music at the moment. I have been playing alto saxophone in a big band jazz orchestra with about 20 people for the last 5 years. In the past, I’d just have fun playing by myself, but now I’m playing for other people to hear and it feels really fresh. Around once a year, there’s a regular concert, and apart from that we get on stage maybe 4 or 5 times a year at jazz festivals or sometimes as a backing band for professional singers. I get bored very easily. My family say that I’m a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none, and that I quit things as soon as I’ve got the basics, so it’s only the work with the band that that I’ve really continued. The truth is, when I’m performing on stage, I can’t really make out the sounds that I’m making or the sounds around me. In that situation, it feels really good when all the members play with the same spirit and the musical performance is tight. The audience applause is also wonderful motivation. I want always to be able to continue doing this great thing (laughs). I’d like to get just a little better, to the extent that I’m capable, and be able to develop a rich range of expression. Maybe that’s more of a want than a dream (laughs).