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Sun 20 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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The paper chase

OKI Printing Solutions president and CEO Mikihiko Maeno tells Rhys Jones how he plans to take on the printing industry’s hierarchy and make the Japanese company a household name and a globally renowned brand.

|~|Maeno-200.jpg|~|Aiming high: Maeno wants OKI to be the number one printing business in the world.
|~|OKI Printing Solutions president and CEO Mikihiko Maeno tells Rhys Jones how he plans to take on the printing industry’s hierarchy and make the Japanese company a household name and a globally renowned brand.

Every now and then, an underdog comes through and humbles one of the big boys. In biblical times, David defied the odds to beat Goliath. In 1965 an unknown boxer called Mohammed Ali knocked out the apparently invincible heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Unfashionable footballing minnows Wimbeldon FC even beat the star-studded Liverpool team in the 1988 FA Cup Final.

These acts of giant killing fill Mikihiko Maeno, the CEO and president of OKI Printing Solutions (OKI) full of optimism as he attempts to steer the little-known Japanese company to the top of printing business — ahead of market leader Hewlett Packard (HP) and industry stalwarts Epson and Canon.

“I believe that the small companies can come through and beat the big players eventually,” explains the diminutive, bespectacled Maeno. “Microsoft beat IBM and Intel beat Motorola so I believe we can beat our competitors — not tomorrow but one day we will,” he confidently asserts.

OKI designs and manufactures a wide-range of business printers and has continued to invest in the development of its Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology since it developed the world’s first LED device back in 1981. The company’s LED machines are quicker and smaller than those of its rivals but despite being the acknowledged leader in terms of printing technology the company has a lot to do to topple its rivals.

“Our main competitors are now HP and Canon and I want us to beat them both,” Maeno says keenly. “Technically we are on top and the likes of HP and Lexmark are coming out with what they call ‘OKI killer machines’ to try to compete with us on a technological level, because they know we are best in terms of technology. They are scared of us,” he adds gleefully.

Maeno’s company, which recently set up a regional office in Dubai, is the trading name of OKI Data Corporation. And although the company doesn’t have the brand recognition of its venerable competitors, it is a household name in its native Japan and has an annual turnover of some US$1.4 billion. However, this isn’t good enough for the ambitious Maeno, who wants more.

“In five years, I want us to have annual revenues of over US$5 billion,” he asserts. “My big goal is for OKI to be a major-league company — my definition of a major league company is one that makes US$5 billion a year and that’s my ultimate goal,” he adds.

OKI, which is represented in 120 countries worldwide, sells the majority of its printers in Europe where it has made significant inroads. In Spain, the company has the dominant market share of 38.6% and also has the number one spot in the Ukraine where it took the top slot from HP with a market share of 55%. The company also performs well in the United States and Asia but is now looking to hit the emerging markets — one of which is the Middle East.

“Our business in the Middle East is still relatively small, but now we have opened up in Dubai it will become bigger and bigger,” he explains. “The results in Saudi Arabia, for example, where OKI now has 7.5% market share from zero last year, is evidence of what we know we can achieve in the region,” he adds.

OKI established a distribution centre in Dubai back in 1999 to serve the region as a whole. And the printing market in the Middle East has since developed and matured at such a pace that the company felt the time was right to set up a full-time regional base in the UAE.

“The dynamics of the Middle East printing market is changing. Companies across the region have moved from inkjet and laser printers to LED digital technology that can better produce their colour business documents in-house, quickly and cost-effectively,” continues Maeno. “When we started in the region in 1999, the business was about US$1 million and this year we’re planning to do around US$10 million. Now we have established the office in Dubai we want to double that in two years so it’s quite an aggressive growth plan we have for the region, but we have aggressive growth plans across the board,” he adds.||**|||~||~||~|As well as the Middle East, the company is looking to set up a presence in the emerging Asian markets and has China, Korea and Taiwan in its sights. OKI also has its eye on Latin American countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, where it sees huge potential growth. However, Maeno says he will leave these long-term aims to his successors.

“We have ambitious growth plans, but the goals definitely won’t be reached during my era,” he says. “I don’t want to mention any numbers, but I’m over 60 years old now, so the young guys will take over soon,” he jokes.

The next OKI boss has a lot to live up to. Maeno has been with the company for 39 years. And despite his age he takes care of the day-to-day running of the firm and makes sure he oversees all aspects of the business including sales, research, development, marketing and manufacturing.

Maeno joined OKI immediately after graduating from the Department of Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering in Japan’s Kyoto University in 1967. He started at OKI Electric as a mechanical engineer and has been involved in leading technology and product development for printers, banking terminals and other peripherals for over 20 years. He was twice stationed in the US where he headed up engineering and software businesses there, and also set up the company’s UK manufacturing operation in Scotland in 1987.

“I probably have a world record for moving house and location — I have moved 24 times since I’ve been with OKI,” he recalls. “I’ve been everywhere imaginable from Japan to the USA to the UK. It’s not always my preference, but I do it for the company — someone picks me up and I just go,” he adds with a shrug of the shoulders.

More recently, Maeno has been in charge of the implementation of the company’s integrated global strategy and was instrumental in aligning the company’s identity around the world to OKI Printing Solutions. Today Maeno is happy with OKI’s technology and the majority of its products, but is aware that the company needs to improve its marketing strategy.

“Of course it’s important to have a good product, but you need to back that up with good marketing. We’re not as strong as we would like to be in terms of marketing, but we are strengthening,” he admits. “In Europe we have established 19 self-operating companies and now we are continuing to grow and want to establish a bigger and bigger presence wherever we are. We’re confident in the products we have and now we’re ready to market them aggressively,” he adds.

The company put the wheels of its global brand strategy in motion two years ago and has since signed a two-year shirt sponsorship deal with the Premiership’s Portsmouth Football Club in a bid to raise the profile of the firm. The next step is to sell more printers on the back of all this marketing activity.

“Once someone buys an OKI product, they know how good it is, but it’s not that easy for us to sell it in the first place,” Maeno explains. “People will become more aware of the brand over time, but brand awareness is not just made by advertising — we have to show the customer how good and how reliable the product is. It’s a combination of both you need in order to succeed,” he adds.

Having sold over six million of its LED printers worldwide since the first machine rolled off the production line in 1981, you wouldn’t bet against OKI continuing its rise to the top of the printing pile. The big boys had better watch out — the little guy is coming and he wants the top spot. ||**||

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