Nintendo as a company has existed for over a century. But, the Nintendo that we know today as a major player in the video game industry has been around since the 80s. After the company became dedicated to mostly video games, it adopted a certain philosophy that has often set it apart from many of its competitors and contemporaries in the industry. On one hand, Nintendo is known as quirky and stubborn, but others consider it to be daring and innovative. Of course, the way a company runs has much to do with who’s leading the charge. In a recent interview with Japanese publication Nikkei, the current president of Nintendo, Shuntaro Furukawa, shared some of his thoughts about the three other CEOs who came before him.
The first man to led Nintendo as a video-game company was Mr. Hiroshi Yamauchi. He was actually Nintendo’s third president in all of history, having taken on the role in 1949. Under his leadership, Nintendo made the charge into the industry, which ended up playing a huge role in shaping the future of the industry as we know it today. In the interview, Mr. Furukawa admitted that he never got a chance to spoke with Mr. Yamauchi [who stepped down as president in 2002 and died in 2013].
Furukawa does acknowledge that he did inherit a phrase from his late predecessor, however: “Entertainment is valuable because it’s different to other things [we do in life].” Mr. Furukawa then went onto mention that it’s this phrase that shaped how Nintendo functioned under Mr. Yamauchi’s lead and that thinking hasn’t really changed until this day as the company seeks to stand out from the rest of the gaming giants.
In 2002, Mr. Iwata gained control of Nintendo from Mr. Yamauchi. Iwata is no doubt the best-known Nintendo president to date. He wasn’t shy about appearing live on-stage at events like E3, and then later being the main host for Nintendo Directs since their inception.
Mr. Furukawa mentioned that he worked with Iwata personally on many occasions and that he “learned a lot” from the former president. He refused to specify exactly what those things were, however. The reason for this is that Iwata apparently didn’t like people saying “I learned this from Mr. Iwata”. This may allude to Iwata’s perceived sense of humility that even gamers seemed to pick up on just from watching him through the years. Mr. Iwata unexpectedly passed away in July 2015 after battling complications with his bile duct.
Mr. Iwata’s passing came at a particularly tumultuous time for Nintendo. This was just a few years after the Wii U was released, yet the console’s sales performance was woefully low. At this point, it was mainly the 3DS that was carrying Nintendo on its shoulders, leaving a good chunk of the industry casting huge shadows of doubt on the Big N’s future.
It was at this point that Mr. Tatsumi Kimishima took on the role of president in late 2015. Having been with the company for quite some time, Mr. Kimishima knew the business well and had the task of restructuring Nintendo and getting it back on track. Mr. Furukawa acknowledges the work that Mr. Kimishima did, saying that Mr. Kimishima “worked on changing the way the company works so that it can be run without Iwata’s charisma.” Mr. Furukawa then mentioned that he’s continuing to lead with this same mindset.
Mr. Kimishima voluntarily passed the presidential baton over to Mr. Furukawa in late 2018 after the successful launch of the Nintendo Switch in March 2017. At that point, Nintendo seemed to be getting into a good rhythm, so Mr. Kimishima seemed to have considered his job done, leading Mr. Furukawa, a much younger man, to now take things from there.
The future with Furukawa
Mr. Furukawa has now been president of the company for just over two years and the Switch has absolutely dominated under his leadership. With the system poised to potentially outsell the Wii soon, Furukawa has stated in other recent interviews that Nintendo is looking for ways to extend the system’s lifecycle.
But, going back to this interview, Mr. Furukawa describes his current job as simply “[enjoying] the games and leave it to the people in charge [of those games] to judge whether it’s good or bad.” He says that the “core principles behind our finances are to ensure the company continues”, acknowledging that in the three decades he’s been with the company that he’s seen both the “good and bad” times. With that in mind, he promises that “as times change, our management will make level-headed decisions, changing what needs to be changed in the company.”
For right now, the biggest change that a growing number of people are looking for from Nintendo is better online infrastructure and a more powerful model of the Switch. While the online improvements seem to be coming along, even when directly asked, Mr. Furukawa has remained tight-lipped on the topic of the alleged Switch Pro. Nevertheless, Nintendo sure has come far since the days of the 2010s when things weren’t looking so hot. The future is always uncertain, but right now Mr. Furukawa is guiding a much larger and healthier ship.
[Translation of the interview credited to Nintendo Everything]