OSAKA — From its humble beginnings almost 30 years ago, Roland Corp. today is one of the world’s top electronic musical instrument manufacturers. In fact, nearly any musical performance features the ubiquitous brand name somewhere on stage.
Chairman and founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, who established the company in Osaka in 1972, attributes his success to simply following his interest: using electronic instruments to create new sounds.
While the 71-year-old’s pioneering spirit has not ebbed to this day — he started his first business aged 17 — he has doubts about present-day entrepreneurs, saying they place too much emphasis on getting their stock listed rather than understanding the ramifications of the move.
“A lot of entrepreneurs nowadays do not understand that once their stock goes public, they can no longer control their companies as they wish,” he said. “Even their position is not secure because it is investors and stockholders who decide what company presidents do.”
From experience, Kakehashi knows these novices often misunderstand a key rule of business.
“Stock listing is the result of business success, not its goal,” he said. “And young entrepreneurs should give greater thought to what they want to do after raising money and listing their stock — something which would become possible by finding experienced advisers.”
When he launched Ace Electronic Manufacture, an electronic musical instrument company, in 1960, he owned only 20 percent of the company and concentrated instead on manufacturing and making a profit.
But when Ace Electronic’s parent company was taken over by Sumitomo Chemical Co., Kakehashi saw all his profits channeled into the rehabilitation of the parent firm and lost control of his company.
He left Ace in March 1972 and set up Roland the following month.
“In retrospect, I did not think too much about the long-term future. I kept going, thinking, ‘It’ll be all right tomorrow.’ And in the end, I reached the point of no return so I had no choice but to fight on.”
Unlike many Japanese manufacturers that attempt to stabilize their home base before expanding outward, Roland’s first taste of success came overseas, where the electronic instrument market was 10 years ahead of that in Japan. The domestic market was also a scant 10 percent of the overseas market in terms of size, Kakehashi explained.
“When entering foreign markets, many Japanese firms are disadvantaged by a lack of personal contacts” despite the top quality of their goods, he said. “In my case, I was able to manage because of contacts from my Ace Electronic days. After that, the high quality of (Roland’s) products became popular and they sold well quite naturally.
“Japanese manufacturers can boast high quality technology in many fields. But because their perspective is too narrow and they are not confident enough, their technology is not fully utilized,” he pointed out.
Although Roland’s head office is in Osaka, Kakehashi lives in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, the location of the firm’s de facto headquarters and main factory in Japan. Nearly half the firm’s products are now manufactured overseas.
While he no longer holds much hope for a revival of Osaka’s fortunes, he believes that when grouped together with Kobe and Kyoto, the three cities have more potential than Tokyo.
Kakehashi never considered moving Roland’s head office to Tokyo because the capital “is too full of music industry rumors which distort the place.”
“I would not voluntarily put myself where things are expensive and trouble is more likely. Besides, there is no space near Tokyo to build factories.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.