Seiko celebrates its 140th anniversary this year. How do you plan to mark the occasion?
To celebrate this important year, we have released various special creations from what we call ‘global brands,’ which are Grand Seiko and the four collections under Seiko: Prospex, Presage, Astron and Seiko 5 Sports. Each creation showcases our watchmaking heritage while exhibiting their unique identities as a brand or collection. I am delighted to see that they have been received very well by watch fans throughout the world.
As for some commemorative events, we held an event in June showcasing our 140 years history at Wako in Ginza, Tokyo. A special website on our Seiko global site is available, where I navigate viewers through the event and Seiko’s history. Please visit https://www.seikowatches.com/global-en/special/140th_event/ to join the tour.
In Malaysia, the first Grand Seiko virtual event was organised in May, and roadshows and private events will follow.
Has the current pandemic affected the way Seiko operates? If yes, what have you done to mitigate the effects?
The pandemic indeed changed our working reality drastically. Manufacturing-wise, we were forced to reduce working days and to change the shift schedule for a certain period, which caused a delay in the release date of some models in the first half of our fiscal 2020 (April- September 2020). Now, manufacturing has almost recovered to the same level as before COVID-19.
During the first quarter of the past fiscal year (April-March 2021), our business in some markets dropped sharply, mainly due to the closure of stores. To offer an environment where customers can enjoy shopping at home just as they would in brick-and-mortar stores, we accelerated our speed of digitalisation both in terms of marketing and sales, including the Grand Seiko Boutique and Seiko Boutique online stores in and outside of Japan. We are committed to meet the needs of today’s consumers, who desire to enjoy a quality shopping experience, whether virtually or at a physical store. We will be expanding our online store network in main markets throughout the world, and Malaysia is one of our next targets.
I have to admit that we had an extremely challenging year of many trials and errors. However, everything is now nearly back on track, and while there is still some concern due to the spread of COVID-19 variants in some regions, sales in many international markets have been growing. I am cautiously optimistic about the rest of the year.
What are the long-term plans for the brands under the Seiko umbrella?
We will further enhance the uniqueness and distinguished characteristics of our “global brands.” The Prospex collection is for serious sport enthusiasts and those who love sports; Presage is our mechanical watch collection that incorporates Japanese craftsmanship; Astron is our GPS Solar watch collection that can adjust to the local time wherever on Earth. Our Seiko 5 Sports collection offers mechanical watches that incorporate a wide range of designs that capture a contemporary culture favoured by millennials. Prospex enjoys the most popularity worldwide out of the Seiko collections, and it is my aim to make it a premium sports watch collection offered on a global scale.
In addition to our products’ designs and functions, we will communicate more about our brand’s history, the passion of the designers and craftsmen in making each watch, and the exciting technologies that make our brand unique and special.
How do you balance Seiko’s rich heritage with the need to keep up with the times?
One thing I am proud of about our company is that our founder Kintaro Hattori’s philosophy, of being “Always one step ahead of the rest”, has been passed down through generations and is still in the minds of all our employees. He teaches us that, every merchant needs to be one step ahead of the rest, but only one step. If you go too many steps ahead, you will become distant from the public and be closer to a prophet. In all our brands and all aspects of our operations, this philosophy guides us today and will remain to do so in the future.
Let me give you examples of how we balance heritage and innovation. Grand Seiko combines the most advanced watchmaking technologies of our company with craftsmanship and a dedication to detail deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Take one of our latest Grand Seiko creations, the SLGH007, as an example, whose dial is inspired by tree-rings and perfectly captures Kintaro’s spirit and words. It is equipped with the latest Hi-beat Caliber 9SA5, which delivers a remarkable 80-hour power reserve, exemplifying our continuous pursuit to make advances in our watchmaking. This revolutionary mechanical movement with a newly designed Dual Impulse Escapement was invented after years of painstaking efforts by our engineers based upon the Grand Seiko 9S mechanical movement, which already had a high accuracy of -3 to +5 seconds per day since its launch. Each movement is carefully assembled by hand by skilled watchmakers, and the series of delicate and organic lines of the dial denote each year of the company’s steady growth ever since its foundation.
Seiko 5 Sports is another example, whose sales grew tremendously even under COVID-19, and is gaining more popularity, especially among the younger generation. This is because the collection offers a perfect combination of heritage and “nowness.” While this series’ overall design pays respect to Seiko’s iconic watch from the late 1970s, it is equipped with our up-to-date and trusted mechanical caliber, and offers a wide variety of designs, collaborating with world renowned Japanese comics, games and up-and-coming artists.
What would you say are Seiko’s greatest strengths? And how would you leverage that to take the company into the next 140 years?
Many come to mind, but we are especially proud of our more than 100 years of watchmaking heritage, and the vertically integrated manufacturing capabilities that allow us to develop technologies, materials, components and designs for our products entirely in-house. We will continue to push ourselves to advance our technological innovations, and I firmly believe our manufacturing capability still has potential to grow. As President, I will work closely with the manufacturing sides to ensure that we can continue producing high-quality watches in greater quantity to meet our customers’ growing demand.
How has your experience overseas prepared you for this role?
Seiko is a global brand. It is also a brand covering a wide range of price points. Thus, diversity is an important aspect of our business. My experience and learning overseas, along with various positions I took within our organisation through more than 35 years of my career at Seiko, helps me think globally and from many different angles.
What are the qualities necessary for you to successfully fulfil the requirements of your job?
There are many things necessary for a successful manager, but I would pick three qualities. The first is to be faithful to common sense. We all have experience, out of which we tend to form certain beliefs, but we should always keep in mind our consumer and of common sense, which should be the basis on which any important decision is made.
The second, be open and transparent. It may be tempting to hide unfavourable information, but being open and transparent to your stakeholders is critical to gaining trust, and trust is the single most important thing in any business or relationship.
Thirdly, know what can and cannot be changed. To build a brand, we need to be both flexible and consistent. As consumers change, we need to adapt ourselves, but we must have a unique and consistent identity as a brand.
What would you say is your most important task as President of Seiko?
This is a difficult question to answer. Obviously, I am the person to bear the final responsibility in the organisation or, as a former US president puts it, “The buck stops here.” So, it is crucial for me is to make decisions in a timely manner. This is easier said than done because I do not necessarily have all the information on what is happening in the forefront of the business. There are layers of hierarchy in the organisation called “corporate ladder” and, more often than not, it takes more time for a difficult management issue to come to me as it involves many people in different managerial positions. To ensure that I have access to all the difficult issues in a timely manner, so that I can make a decision without delay is, I believe, the most important task for me as President.