During the Nintendo financial report — that took place on April 26th — it was announced that current Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima, would be stepping down and the incoming replacement would be Shuntaro Furukawa. Of course, we always knew that Kimishima would not be around for a long time, as he was appointed for a limited time, after the sudden passing of Satoru Iwata back in 2015.
So while it stands that since 2015 until now, Nintendo has will have had 3 different Presidents, it might surprise you to know that in their 128 year history (yes Nintendo was founded back in 1889), they will have only had 6 people leading the company. In that time, the company has made many things; from Hanafuda playing cards to instant rice meals, and of course the infamous Love Hotel, and even taxis. But for all their quirks, for only six people to lead a company that is over a century old, means people must have been doing things right, so join me as we look back.
The company’s first President was also the founder of the company, then known as Nintendo Koppai, that man was Fusajiro Yamauchi. When Nintendo was founded, the Japanese government was banning a lot of playing cards, due to their association with gambling, but there was a small set of cards, known as Hanafuda, that were devoid of numbers and instead featured art, that were exempt from the ban. While these types of cards were not expected to last, due to the limited nature of their use, Fusajiro Yamauchi saw differently and decided to act upon it, by creating cards that featured hand drawn illustrations.
The success of the cards took off, which gave birth to the company that would become Nintendo Co, and with the company based in Kyoto, manufacturing began. But Fusajiro Yamauchi could have not foreseen that the cards he was creating to avoid gambling restrictions, would be used to gamble with, and even find their way into the Yakuza. Due to the popularity, a factory was built, to help meet up with the demand. It was towards the end of the first decade of the 1900’s that Nintendo started to expand. Yamauchi made a deal with the company, then know as Japan Tobacco & Salt Corporation, to sell their cards in cigarette shops over the country. That same year saw Yamauchi’s only daughter born, who would later marry the next president.
In 1929, 30 years after the company was founded, Fusajiro Yamauchi retired and named his successor to be Sekiryo Kaneda, who was married to Yamauchi’s daughter, and in order to keep the company in the family, Sekiryo was adopted into the family and took on the family name of Yamauchi. In the early years of his tenure, he kept things relatively similar to how they had been, making few changes to the company, but in 1933, after some family issues, Nintendo Koppai was renamed Yamauchi Nintendo & Company. This was the largest change to the company while Sekiryo was in control, but it did not stop there.
In 1947 Sekiryo had the made the decision to create a new company, whose solitary goal was to make Hanafuda cards that Nintendo had created over the years. The company was called Marufuku Company and still exists today, though they have moved onto other business as well, and with its founding, let Sekiryo focus more on the main company. However, two years later in 1949, Sekiryo’s failing health resulted in him stepping down and the companies third and longest running President Hiroshi Yamauchi took over.
When he took over in 1949, the first things to change were the companies’ names; Yamauchi Nintendo & Company gave way for Nintendo Playing Card Co. and Marafuku Company was renamed to Nintendo Karuta Company, and the head office moved from their current office to a new location. Hiroshi was known by many in the video game industry as quite a ruthless and intimidating person, but in the early days, he knew things had to change for the company. While the first 10 years of his 56 years passed without issue, in 1959 Hiroshi met with Walt Disney and got the rights to the Disney characters to appear on the company’s Hanafuda cards. In addition the company released books, which gave information on how to play the various version of Hanafuda. The success of the cards and books had Hiroshi take the company public in 1962, with it being listed on the Osaka Stock Exchange, but it was a visit to North America in 1959 that kept him thinking, and in 1963 that Hiroshi Yamauchi would change the company in the biggest way.
The first thing to change was the name again. Now simply known as Nintendo Co, the change was to allow people to think of Nintendo as a company that did more than just make cards. With how limited the appeal of Hanafuda cards were in America, Hiroshi took Nintendo through its craziest period ever — this is where we got things from instant rice meals, to love hotels and beyond. But proving that no idea was too out there, Hiroshi gave the approval for the company to distribute the Chiritory, which was a vacuum that was controlled via a remote; think a 1960’s Roomba and you are on the right track.
While all the ideas the company made at the time failed, some took a while to do so. It was not until after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that the company took its largest hit to date, with share prices dropping from the 900 yen they were, to its lowest point of 60 yen. Hiroshi knew the company could not maintain its ways if nothing improved and at the end of 1964, they opened up a new division in the company, simply called Games, and started to make toys. In 1965 one of the most influential men of the company was hired, Gunpei Yokoi, and in his downtime he designed a toy which Hiroshi fell in love with when he saw it. Yokoi was given the task of enhancing the toy and once Hiroshi was happy, the Ultra Hand was released, selling 1.2 million copies across Japan. It began to change the fortunes of the company.
While the Ultra Hand did well for the company, Hiroshi knew they needed to keep things moving forward; things like the Love Tester did well for the company, but it was when Hiroshi hired Masayuki Uemura that they really started to change things up. Yokoi and Uemura worked together and created the Nintendo Beam Gun, which was the first entry into the realm of digital entertainment for the company. After a massive expansion in 1973, it was in 1974 that Hiroshi got the rights to the Magnavox Odyssey, and became the marketer and distributor for the product in Japan, which kicked off their love of games.
From 1977 until he stepped down in 2002, Hiroshi was responsible for leading Nintendo through the videogame market, in fact he was also known in the years of NES and SNES for being able to predict the twists and turns of the video game market, even though he himself only played a video game once in his life and hated it. While he stepped down in 2002, he remained with the company as he was the Chairman of the Board and remained there until 2005, his final impact would be with the Nintendo Wii. But by then, Satoru Iwata was leading the company and he lead it until he passed in 2015.
Satoru Iwata joined the video game company HAL in 1982 as a programmer, working on games like Balloon Fight and Earthbound/Mother, and in 1993 he was promoted to the head of HAL Laboratory at the request of then Nintendo President, Hiroshi Yamauchi. Iwata remained in that role until mid-2000 when he left HAL and joined Nintendo direct, as the General Manager of the Corporate Planning Division and, thanks to the demanding work, Nintendo grew. This had Hiroshi elect Iwata to be his successor, the first person outside of the Yamauchi family to do so, and he took on the role of President in May 2002.
During the 13 years that Iwata ran the company, they saw explosive growth and appalling sales, as the DS and Wii platforms were hugely successful, both selling over 100 million units a piece. It was during this time he put forth the use of the term ‘Blue Ocean’, meaning that the company would focus its attention on a more open approach to games, developing titles for people that were not traditionally thought of as gamers. However, the follow up platforms — the 3DS and Wii U — were not as successful, and while the 3DS did eventually start to gain ground, the company struggled. Iwata noted the deficient performance of the company’s hardware and took a massive pay cut, in order to avoid having to lay off staff, while they attempted to pivot back into the black.
In the final years of Iwata’s time as the President of Nintendo, plans were made to swing the company back into success, with the then-named NX home console and while Iwata would die before the platform was released, he laid a lot of the ground work for what would happen. In July of 2015, Iwata passed away, which left not only Nintendo devastated, but a lot of the games industry. While Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda temporarily assumed the roles of Representative Directors, it was in September 2015 that the company’s 5th President was named, Tatsumi Kimishima.
Tatsumi Kimishima came on board at a time when Nintendo was lost; the sudden departure of Iwata caused many to stop and think, but plans were already in motion for their next home console. Kimishima himself initially came from a background of banking, spending over 25 years with the Sanwa Bank, and it was not until the year 2000 that he ventured into the video game business, starting off with The Pokémon Company. Spending 2 years in the role of CFO (Chief Financial Officer) for The Pokémon Company, it was when then-Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa retired, that Hiroshi Yamauchi appointed Kimishima to that role, a position that he held until 2006 when he was promoted to CEO of Nintendo of America.
In 2013, Kimishima returned to Japan, when Iwata took over the CEO role of NOA, and he himself took on the role of Managing Director of Nintendo, as well as joining their board. While Kimishima took over the role of President, it was not until the Switch reveal event in January 2017 that we got to see him in person, as all of the Nintendo Directs, previously hosted by Iwata, were hosted by other people. It was always the plan that Kimishima would hold the position of company President for a limited time, giving the company a leader and time to find someone to fill the role. It was not until the recent April Investor Briefing that his replacement was announced, Shuntaro Furukawa.
While Shuntaro Furukawa is not a name that most people would know, he has been with the company quite a long time, starting back in 1994 in a marketing role. During his time with Nintendo, he spent 10 years working for the company, based out of their German office, with he eventually finding himself as a director of The Pokémon Company. But it was in 2015 that he saw the biggest shake up to his career, as he found himself appointed General Manager of Corporate Planning Department, meaning he was responsible for ensuring that Nintendo as a company was able to function. But it was a short position, as only a year later, he joined the Nintendo Board of Directors and was also given a new position within the company, Managing Executive Officer of the Corporate Analysis & Administration Division.
Coming in as President will be a big challenge for Furukawa; not only is he the companies 6th President, he also comes in at a time when the company’s future is uncertain. Having sold over 15 million Switch consoles in its first full fiscal year on sale, the company now aims to sell another 20 million this fiscal year, which for Japan runs from April 1st until March 31st. He also has the insight of a gamer, having played the Nintendo Entertainment System or Famicom in Japan, when it was released, he entered Nintendo, complete with knowledge of their products, from an outside point of view.
For a company that is almost 130 years old, to only have six leaders is impressive. Putting that in perspective, America has 23 Presidents in that same period. Time will tell what kind of leader Furukawa will be. While Kimishima was very much a man behind the curtain, the results the company has seen with him in control have been incredible, but he was very much a businessman, while Furukawa seems to be more of a gamer like Iwata. Unlike Satoru Iwata, he is not a game maker, but unlike the rest, Furukawa knows Europe well, something that Iwata and Kimishima did not understand quite as well.