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Now is the time to engage in work we can be proud of in the future: Evolving beyond NEC's image as a technology company

Masakazu Yamashina, Co-Chief Operating Officer

In today's rapidly changing world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to contribute to society with technology alone. Over the 125 years since its founding, the NEC Group has been providing value to society through cutting-edge technologies befitting each era. Rather than focusing on technology alone, we are now approaching our business initiatives from diverse perspectives to determine where social value and customer value lie, what elements are required, and what business models should be pursued. Masakazu Yamashina, Corporate Senior Executive Vice President (SEVP) and Co-Chief Operating Officer (Co-COO) of NEC, has also dealt with these changes and challenges in his career as a researcher, general manager, and executive officer. We asked Co-COO Yamashina, who is currently in charge of the social infrastructure business, about the path the NEC Group should take and his expectations going forward.

──How have you leveraged your experience in both research and business divisions in your career thus far?

When I was a young researcher, I devoted myself to creating the best technology in the world. Later, I moved to a business division to engage in delivering technology to society. It was there that I experienced failure despite NEC and the customer spending billions of yen. It was a shocking experience because, until then, I believed that things would go well as long as we had excellent technology. Technology alone was not enough for the business to succeed. Nevertheless, I was not discouraged. I remember trying hard to figure out why I had failed and what I should have done to succeed.

When I was a graduate student, I tended to give up whenever I felt I couldn't do something. My mentor, who was unable to just stand by and watch, asked me to tell him why I couldn't just do it. According to him, "There are two reasons you can't do something; either it's fundamentally impossible, or you don't have the ability to do it." In other words, is it due to a lack of knowledge or physical strength, money, or a lack of people? He also said, "No one can help you with your own lack of ability, but you can make up for the other insufficiencies. If you can prove that something is fundamentally impossible, it's Nobel Prize-worthy." I think what my mentor wanted to teach me was that I should not easily give up but do my best to figure out how to do something that's seemingly impossible.

Looking back on my career at NEC, I have been responsible for a lot of challenging projects. Each time, my mentor's words became a source of inspiration. Perhaps because this way of thinking has become ingrained in me, I like ironing the best out of all household chores. It's because you get results right away, and if you fail, you can start over.

──You are currently leading the social infrastructure business, which is one of NEC's two major business segments.

NEC's social infrastructure business includes telecommunications, aerospace, and defense. In the field of defense, we have many unique technologies that other companies cannot imitate, such as radar technology, and we have sent more than 70 satellites into space. In the communications field, which has continued since our founding, we boast high technological capabilities in wireless and optical communications, and we are one of the top three companies in the world in submarine cables. However, as I mentioned earlier, possessing individual cutting-edge technologies alone does not make the world's best business. Think of what we could achieve if we were to fully leverage these technologies. Sales for the social infrastructure business are currently at one trillion yen, and I am excited at the thought that we still have room to grow.

For example, NEC has been engaged in building satellites based on orders, but if we have our own satellites, we can deploy our own services. Since we also make equipment and cables, if we can provide services that connect space, the ground, and the seabed with optical communications, we can provide new value to society. Of the seven billion people living on Earth, only 1.5 billion people are able to communicate freely. If communication barriers can be eliminated, the gap between the rich and the poor and the conflicts caused by it can be reduced. If we merge these pillars of space and communications, we can create a very large business over the next 10 to 20 years that can significantly contribute to the world.

──How do you intend for the social infrastructure business to contribute to NEC's Purpose of "creating the social values of safety, security, fairness, and efficiency to promote a more sustainable world where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential"?

The aging of Japan's population is inevitable. If we build an infrastructure that allows elderly people to easily communicate with anyone, we will be able to alleviate loneliness and provide them with a sense of purpose in life. Since the working population is decreasing, we should create an infrastructure that enables the elderly to work in good health. Instead of forcing technology on people, we should create solutions that cater to the values of various people. Our predecessors have created and nurtured businesses that are useful to the world in this way.

──To this end, diverse values that go beyond the norm are likely to become even more important. Is the NEC Group working to cultivate such diverse values?

Communication is vital. Relationships that go beyond language, borders, gender, and age foster trust. Mutual input of information serves as a stimulus, leading to the emergence of new insights. When I listen to what other people have to say, I feel that it leads to new ideas. For example, even if you are looking at the same view, people pay attention to different things. I think this is an important consideration.

──At the information session held for shareholders and investors in FY2023, you emphasized the need for a change in mindset within the NEC Group.

There were actually some objections to including this, but I made sure that it was included because I felt so strongly about it. I believe the employees of the NEC Group have really begun to change. I have publicly stated that I encourage everyone to contact me directly, and I find that young employees often come to me for advice. When I was younger, it would have been unthinkable for young employees to directly consult an executive officer about the problems they are facing. I am amazed by the way they take action and perceive things. There is so much we can discover and learn from each other.

──What are you doing to encourage the organizations and employees of the NEC Group to ensure that it continues to provide social value?

While the Mid-term Management Plan 2025 includes some extremely challenging targets, I sense that we are starting to feel more confident in our ability to achieve these targets. However, NEC's mission will not end in 2025. To create a world-class business, we must continue to plant seeds for the future.

Although it is important to talk about these things, it is also vital that we swiftly take action. I believe that looking outward to the world and setting and demonstrating an example will serve as a message that will help move the NEC Group in the right direction. While ensuring that all 120,000 of our Group employees are on the same page is incredibly difficult, we can't leave anyone behind. I will continue to communicate our aims to all employees until everyone fully on board.

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