Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Masanari Arai, Kii Corporation

Masanari Arai

 Company: Kii Corporation

 Job Title: CEO

 Location: Silicon Valley, USA and Tokyo, Japan


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
When I was working at IBM in the ThinkPad group, IBM had a lot of technology for the PC, including hard drives, power managed CPU, BIOS, battery etc. At IBM, the default assumption was that you had to use these technologies without thinking about it, but my manager said, “You don’t have to use IBM technologies”. The lesson here is that you have to look around the industry and pick best of breed technologies to be #1.  

He also mentioned that when you look at other companies’ technologies, you have to look at their ability to sell their product and their business development capability. At the end of the day, the winner is the one that has the ability sell on a large scale.  Some companies have best of breed, but if they can’t sell, they won’t survive. This is why I started travelling to Silicon Valley and talking to lots of companies to see what they’re capable of doing.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
I think a lot of large companies are the same, but when I was working at IBM some of my managers said you have to come up with a product plan and a convincing story to keep current head count. If you shrink your spending plan, HQ will never give you a bigger budget. They kept asking me to come up with bigger plans every year. This kind of concept kills companies over time.  

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
There are two ways to think about your career. One is working for a small company or starting your own company. Another is working for a big company.      

Both have pros and cons. In a small company, you are more involved and can influence the company more. You feel strong ownership for what you are doing. This is very important and will help you develop quickly. On the other hand, in large company, you may feel like ‘a part’, but there is more stability. A small company can be more risky from a stability perspective. 

Another thing to think about is that a large company has established processes based on many years of experience.  When you spend time in such an organisation, you can learn a lot about how to scale a company. This is an important asset for a C-Level career. I see a lot of small companies unable to grow because of a lack of experience and resources.   

In my case, I started at one of the largest companies in the world and learned a lot from that. Then I started my own company. You just have to understand what kind of person you are.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
If you look at the percentage of people in C-Level positions, it’s quite small. IBM had 200,000 employees when I joined – to reach C-Level in a big company like that, you need to spend at least 15 years. On the other hand, it’s easy to become a CEO if you just start a company. In my case, I joined a five-person company and immediately reached C-Level. My advice is to start your own company and build a reputation, or move to a smaller company to get to a higher position. Smaller is faster.

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or of the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
We incubated an application development company about six years ago. This company was supposed to use our Kii Cloud technology. We discussed the strategy for a long time and developed a couple of solutions and spent quite a lot of money. However, after a couple of months, it wasn’t clear if these solutions were going to be a success. I told the CEO not to restrict the company (to using Kii Cloud), think about your team’s strengths, look at the market opportunities out there and trust your team.  

The CEO then came up with a very interesting location-based social gaming idea. However, Kii was not mature enough for the idea (it was more than 5 years ago, so very early days for us) and we couldn’t use it. I told the CEO to go ahead, and that Kii would catch up later to accommodate their requirements. My advice was just run with it and with confidence, and we gave whatever support we could. The company then went on to IPO in Japan three years later, and we learnt some important lessons about supporting the gaming sector.


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