Throwing a TKO: An Interview with Steve Mullin, President of Panasonic Communications Company of North America6 Jun, 2007 By: Editorial Staff imageSource
Throwing a TKO: An Interview with Steve Mullin, President of Panasonic Communications Company of North America
Whether or not you are a boxing enthusiast, Muhammad Ali brought
unprecedented speed and finesse to his sport, changing forever what the public
expected a champion to be. His accomplishments in the ring are the stuff of
legend – and while he had to prove it every step of the way, round after round,
bout after bout, he beat the competition. No wonder he could proudly proclaim he
was "The Greatest."
Today, when contenders are determined in the Wide World of Office Equipment,
judges’ scorecards are circling a fierce OEM to be reckoned with—Panasonic. And
much like Ali, the company is weighing in as a Heavyweight.
Q: Steve, what are Panasonic’s
strengths in the office equipment space today and how would you characterize
Panasonic’s differentiation versus other vendors in the office equipment
Since what separates us from the pack is exactly what validates and ensures
our roadmap for the future, I'd like to answer the second part of that question
To start, we do not compete with our dealers. We made a decision to grow
through and with our business partners and we are staying focused on just that.
Our partners have told us that they can feel our commitment, and it allows them
to truly know that we will listen to their needs and follow through on all that
we can implement, in order to grow their business.
Second, you must understand the nature of our parent company. Panasonic has a
research-and-development depth – in both financial resources and engineering
brilliance – that we believe is simply unsurpassed in this industry. The company
does an enormous amount of basic research in imaging, color rendition, light
sources, materials testing, lasers, as well as microprocessors, LEDs, LCDs and
related disciplines. The fruit of that research drives development of our MFPs,
scanners and other products just as they do other technologies such as our
plasma televisions, Lumix cameras, Toughbook computers, etc. Because of this,
we are able to sell Panasonic as a leading edge technology solution instead of
just another copier company.
Let me add that the ability of our in-house engineers and the quality of our
manufacturing facilities has won us two significant things: A host of
performance and durability awards, and more importantly, much of the industry's
best dealer network. And it's those great dealers who are the key to our
strength in the market.
Q: There’s been a major
restructuring within your company during the past year. Discuss the reasons
behind these changes and how these changes will impact the organization.
The restructuring actually dates back to the 2005 creation of the Panasonic
Corporation of North America. Prior to PNA, Panasonic's various divisions on
this continent were separate entities, which somewhat limited our efficiency in
implementing programs intended to leverage the synergies of the various
Our transition of going from Panasonic Digital Document Company to Panasonic
Communications Company of North America (PCCNA) this year, has merged us with
our factory and fully integrated us into PNA with immediately discernable
benefits, particularly in total multi-product solutions.
We’re also proud of the fact that a major northeast realtor has allowed us to
furnish their corporate headquarters with SD Card-enabled networked C3 MFPs, SD
Card-based digital cameras, and flat panel plasma TV’s for property
presentations. This cross pollination of different Panasonic products is a
perfect example of the change in PNA’s marketing culture that we are
experiencing now. The impact is being realized within our own ranks, and the
thanks goes to a more unified approach to jointly marketing our MFPs, scanners,
and white boards, among reasons of why.
Q: What kind of feedback do
you hear from dealers that you’re acting on?
Since we get so much feedback, let me give you just one example of a real
victory based solely on dealer requests; our sales representative recruitment
Dealers told us that the cost of recruiting and qualifying sales reps using
traditional methods was going up and the quality of the candidates was going
down. We responded to their concerns by implementing a third party program
constructed from the latest technology to screen qualified candidates, then pass
them on to our business partners who were serious about hiring. The net result
has been the recruitment of some great sales reps, whereby we have received
overwhelmingly positive feedback from those dealers for this value added support
Q: Why do you think the company has
been able to maintain dealer loyalty?
We are very lucky to have their loyalty especially in a time when this is not
common on either side. This is one thing that truly differentiates us from
other manufacturers. We need our dealers to grow so that we can grow. We do not
compete against them – we work with them. We listen to the needs of our
partners and we try to act on all their requests. We implemented the
recruitment program because they had a need for good sales reps, we re-vamped
our training to be more customer service based because we understood the
importance of this. And we deliver the product that will perform well and will
give our partners the confidence they need to recommend Panasonic before another
brand. That said, it's really all about and always about the people and the
product. End-users love our machines. Panasonic dealers do not have to defend
their product recommendations. They have great support from us and proactive
factory help on any problem they can't immediately solve.
Q: Panasonic has a strong brand that
is beginning to be leveraged in the office equipment space. Discuss some of the
plans to leverage that brand going forward.
We're working hard and will continue striving to maximize our radar-screen
visibility. In the past year, we've done an excellent job of spreading the word
about things like our J.D. Power & Associates and Bertl awards and our
end-users' success stories. With the advent of the new colorful C3 MFPs we
envision a stronger brand presence and point of differentiation in the office
systems category. We also launched Suite Solutions, a quarterly custom magazine
we expect to mature into a truly upscale, authoritative and highly effective
vehicle for winning dealers and influencing end users.
Q: Discuss your vertical
market strategy and the opportunities it presents?
Our strategy is based on network and product convergence. It encompasses
everything from the esoteric – research into how office-machine color affects
the mood and efficiency of workers in different industries or office
environments – to the expansion of our Total Network Application Solutions
package of IP-integrated applications, zero-distance management technology
(remote automation), teleconferencing capability and advanced network file
sharing and storage capability. There is a lot of opportunity in vertical
markets like real estate and health care where information processing, e.g.
motion – the ease with which a product can securely organize, route and share
data between different devices, multiple databases, even between in-house
workstations and third-party data warehousers or processors – is just as
important as its ability to capture or output raw materials.
As you know, we already specialize in office equipment that is meant to
optimize the maximum positive impact on workflow, and we intend to intensify our
efforts in that direction. Frankly, we see virtually unlimited future
vertical-market opportunities. These include creating complete data-management
hardware/software systems that handle all information, regardless of whether it
originated as a paper document, a scan, a fax or an email, with equal
Panasonic's full color C3 Series - now available in
choice of four hot designer colors. This colorful line of copiers
gets your ideas noticed with brilliant colors designed for
maximum impact and visibility.
Q: What projections can you
provide for PCCNA the next few years?
With our celebrated expertise in color imaging in both the document and
digital domains, we expect our market share and unit sales to benefit
substantially from the continuing shift from monochrome to color document
capture and production.
We also expect our ongoing initiatives in networked control interfaces to
increase the ability of one employee to run multiple machines, thus reducing
costs and increasing ROI for our end users. This is one of the most promising
and exciting areas to fuel future growth for PCCNA. Totally networked
application solutions utilizing Panasonic’s extensive product lineup will be our
mantra for the coming years.
Most of all, we expect to become much more than just a manufacturer and
vendor of state-of-the-art office machines. The PNA umbrella is huge. By
extending it to cover even more of our current and future user base, we expect
to end the decade as America's dominant one-stop provider of highly
sophisticated document capture, management, and distribution solutions.
For “big guy” competitors thinking of holding a defensive clinch, best to
look out for that straight right power punch coming your way. It will be hard to