Suite Talk: The first step to being a successful leader is to ask, shares Kazuhiro Ozawa, President and CEO, Canon Hongkong Company

Suite Talk: The first step to being a successful leader is to ask, shares Kazuhiro Ozawa, President and CEO, Canon Hongkong Company

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The industry veteran believes thinking together with the team, and discussing with each other to find the best solutions, is the way for leaders to break through.

For someone who didn’t expect to work for so long at Canon when he first joined 33 years ago, Kazuhiro Ozawa has had a riveting career journey.

After graduating from Waseda University, his first role saw him as a sales trainee at Canon Inc., the company’s headquarter in Japan, cold-calling and going door-to-door to seek new customers. While the rejections frustrated him at first, he refused to give up – and instead focused on building up a liaison network with customers as well as his own database.

His hard work was rewarded by his superiors and peers, and the rest as they say, is history.

After stints as a founder member of Canon Middle East, Director of Canon Singapore, as well as President & CEO of Canon Marketing Philippines, Ozawa was newly appointed as President and CEO of Canon Hongkong Company in September 2022, spearheading the company’s overall operations in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and the Greater Bay Area.

In this exclusive, HRO's Tracy Chan finds out more about the career journey and the leadership lessons this veteran leader has learned along the way.

Q: First joining as a trainee in Canon, what prompted you to continue your journey in the company for 33 years?

Honestly, I did not expect to work for so long in Canon at the beginning! The story started when I was trained as a sales trainee just after graduating from Waseda University; however, it looked different from training.

We had to approach new customers by ourselves. We had to cold call, go for fieldwork, and knock on the door to find new customers. It was quite tough work indeed with so many customers rejecting us, and we had to set up a target of calling up to a hundred of them a day.

At that time, as a fresh graduate from university, I kept being rejected by others and this made me feel so frustrated. But I refused to give up and even demanded more from myself to build up a liaison network with customers, set up a database, and try to build a foundation.

My superiors and peer group recognised my efforts, and I have received appreciation since that time. That was the turning point, and also the starting point of my 33 years' journey in Canon.

Q: Throughout the past three decades, what were the most memorable experiences you have had at Canon?

For me, there were two memorable experiences: becoming the President and CEO of Canon Marketing Philippines in 2017, and being a founder member of Canon Middle East.

For the latter, I was one of the five founder members under the President. With limited resources and only a few staff, we established the business together in Dubai. After two years when I returned to Japan, Canon Middle East had already developed into a corporate with more than 100 staff. That was a satisfying experience.

There was another challenge when I became the President and CEO of Canon Marketing Philippines. Before I joined the office, one of the business units had suffered a loss for many years and certainly needed a reform. To do so, I recommended the recruitment of new top management. Together, we built a foundation and overcame different issues. After five years of effort, in 2021, Canon Marketing Philippines finally made a record profit after 24 years.

Those challenges became a terrific opportunity for me as well as my precious milestones.

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Q: You’re now overseeing the company's overall operations in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and the Greater Bay Area, what do you see as the top challenges and opportunities to expand the business in these markets?

The top challenges, of course, are the quarantine policies. Compared with the regions nearby, Hong Kong was the most challenging place to enter during the pandemic. However, I learned a lot about the Greater Bay Area after I came to Hong Kong.

We can see that the cross relationship between Mainland China, the Greater Bay Area and Hong Kong is strengthening. It certainly provides more opportunities in the future. As the border reopens step by step, this will be the foremost time to expand the business. And that is why we should have good preparation and wait for the right moment.

Q: What, in your view, is the #1 talent challenge in your industry at the moment, and what are your plans to tackle it accordingly?

We must admit that there have been difficulties and challenges in recent years, talents are leaving the place and we have many other problems to deal with. However, we should remind ourselves that opportunities always come along with challenges.

Our position in the business sector may change, but we ought to provide a great vision to the talents, work together with them to turn challenges into opportunities.

Q: With stints across the globe, including Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, what priorities do different talent have in the various markets?

European talent are more concerned about optimising their tasks, and they always target getting off work on time. Asian talent, and even some Middle East talent, do not mind staying in the office a bit longer, if necessary. Therefore, when we come to employee engagement, we have to tailor activities according to the talents’ needs.

For example, talent in the Philippines welcome corporate events on Saturday and Sunday, and we can also invite their family members to join. However, talent in Japan view their private time as precious and prefer to enjoy the weekend of their own will.

For employee engagement, we must first understand our employees’ preferences and habits.

Q: How closely do you work with your CHRO, and what skills should future-forward CHROs possess to navigate the future talent landscape?

For the talent landscape, the most important thing is not the skill set, but the mindset of the talent.

At the top management level, improving the approach of the talent will make more impact, and cross-training can help achieve this. Cross-training can also help to change the mindset of the management, and thus, make a more considerable proportion of the staff change their mindset, which will help to strengthen the company. 

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

I think I have an approachable and open leadership style. I enjoy discussions and arguments, and don’t want to put pressure on others, even if they report to me.

I try to understand others’ situations, and I like to think together with my team rather than blaming them.

People always ask top management to make decisions, however, there is always hidden information that makes it difficult to make judgments. So, throughout those years, I learned that asking is the key to success.

We must ask for more opinions and solutions from our colleagues and discuss them to find the best way out. There is no blaming and right or wrong in the process, as all of us have our own opinions. That’s why discussions are so important.

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Q: As corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability have now been top of mind for many companies, what are the strategies or initiatives Canon puts in place to embrace these trends?

Canon’s corporate philosophy “Kyosei”, conveys our dedication to seeing all people, regardless of race, customs, language, or culture, harmoniously living and working together in happiness into the future.

Apart from selling good products / solutions and offering excellent services to build long-term and close relationships with customers and business partners. Canon spares no effort in engaging in different local CSR and environmental conversation activities that cohere with the concept of sustainable development goals (SDGs) contributing to our community.

It cannot be achieved only by Canon, but we also need to gather the resources together with our business partners to magnify the effect.

For example, some logistics companies have begun deploying electric trucks, although only a small number of them. Maybe Canon could work with them to do something good with the electric trucks, or even be involved in other creative projects related to CSR. So that we can utilise the resources effectively and make things happen more quickly.

Q: What is the one thing you learnt or piece of advice you received coming up the ranks that you try to pass on to your team?

My key message here would be to "think together".

Q: What are the most important issues you think leaders will need to tackle in the next five years when it comes to company culture?

As "think together" is very important as my motto, leaders should create an atmosphere for the team members to discuss with each other.

It is quite standard that if the one leading the team does all the decision-making, there will be no argument or discussion. However, as a top company, this is not a good sign at all.

For leaders to break through, the only way should be by communication between teams and groups to find the best solutions together.

Q: If not this career, what alternative career path would you have chosen?

For the first choice, I want to be a musician! Second, I would like to join a trading company and experience international marketing. However, Canon has developed our own products and handled the trading ourselves, alongwith an international trading background, thus I think Canon is the best choice for my career.

Q: How do you take care of your wellbeing outside of work?

I like to play golf, sing, and meet friends. I used to go to a karaoke bar or karaoke box in Japan to enjoy singing. I would have liked to have been a musician if I was not in this career … more precisely a singer. That’s how I take care of my mental wellbeing.

This article first appeared in the Q4 edition of Human Resources Online's Hong Kong e-magazine. View the e-magazine here, where you'll find power-packed features and interviews with leaders from Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, the UK, India, and more!

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