This week has brought the launch of Disrupting the Game, From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo by Reggie Fils-Aimé, a business leadership book from the former Nintendo of America President that offers plenty of interesting insights. While it’s selective and careful about detail it gives around Nintendo’s operations, one theme that develops nicely in the book is the evolving relationship between Fils-Aimé and the late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata.
Iwata-san was hugely respected, of course, and 2021’s Iwata Asks book is well worth a look for direct insights from his career. In Fils-Aimé’s case we see the influence that Iwata-san had on his approach to business, and indeed to life more broadly. It is clear that a strong friendship formed, as outlined in very touching early sections outlining visits to see Iwata-san when he was ill and recovering in hospital, for example.
A section that stands out, perhaps, is the mentoring that Iwata-san gave to help the NoA executive work more effectively and harmoniously with his colleagues in Kyoto. Fils-Aimé had already built a very successful career in corporate America, yet was encouraged to shift his approach to combine his skills with a more subtle touch.
Initially addressing their similarities as ‘outsiders’ that had only joined Nintendo in the 2000s, Iwata-san encouraged more listening when dealing with employees, saying the following:
“We have a unique challenge to understand and keep the company’s culture while also pushing the company forward. I want you to really listen to all our employees. I want you to try to really understand their perspective before you begin to push your own ideas. You are very forceful. Our people, even NCL employees, want to please you. And you have very good ideas. But you won’t always be right. Please make sure to think out the perspectives of other people.”
It was a profound conversation. He continued, “I have to do this too. I am trying to push Nintendo in a new way. Yet Mr. Miyamoto and others have been part of the company for a very long time. I need to make sure they are with me as we go on this journey.”
It was at the conclusion of this dinner that I felt we went from being in a boss/subordinate or mentor / protégé relationship, to being friends. I would incorporate his insights into all my future work, at Nintendo and beyond.
Though the book outlines occasions when there would be disagreements, it’s evident that there was a strong mutual respect that underlined the relationship. That, no doubt, helped lead to a number of successes in their years working together.