【CEO × Leaders】 Expectations for First-Year Participants and the Future of TRIBUS


The TRIBUS program is in the second year. Before the final pitches, we asked team leaders from the first year and President Yamashita to discuss with each other the significance and potential of TRIBUS. At the beginning, we heard from each leader about their activities over the past year and the current status of their business. President Yamashita spoke in between. It is clear from his remarks that he consistently thinks in the best interests of the progress of the first-year businesses. Although “business development and commercialization are the top priority,” “TRIBUS may also be training talent over a fixed period of time,” said President Yamashita. “I hope it will establish itself as a program that transforms culture.” President Yamashita spoke about the various aspects of TRIBUS and added, “It’s impossible to define it in one word; it is a living program.” The team leaders agreed it was difficult to verbalize what TRIBUS is. It is evident from their comments that they strongly believe the future can be envisioned only through practice. COVID-19 has fundamentally changed society, and Ricoh will shift to a new company structure. As both society and the entire Ricoh Group undergo major changes, we take another look at TRIBUS.

Yoshinori Yamashita
Representative Director, President and CEO, Ricoh Company, Ltd.

Saki Wataishi
Rangorie team. Makes and sells women’s underwear with Indian print to empower and create employment for women.

Toshihiro Nomura
StareReap team. Uses special 2.5D printing, a spinoff technology from industrial printing technology, with the goal of creating an art brand.

Tsuyoshi Maehana
XR team. Aims to realize a comfortable and convenient work style in a society where VR is commonplace. Closer to developing a philosophy than solutions. In November 2020, presented a proof of concept with Tokyu Construction.

Akira Saito
WEeeT-CAM team. Uses 3D printing technology to develop pico-hydropower generation business in developing countries. Aims to conduct demonstration tests in Japan as the Life Parts brand.

TRIBUS as future finance

――What are your thoughts regarding TRIBUS, which is in its second year? Could you please share with us your comment or assessment?

Yamashita  The program is in the second cycle. This year, pitches are made mainly remotely. I am finally getting used to remote pitches, and I plan to continue watching the rest after this. I can sense that those inside and outside the company are paying a great deal of attention to the first-year participants. At the company, there are of course some people who ask why we are doing this program when business performance is not strong. There are two types of indicators for evaluating finances: current indicators and future financial indicators. Right now, Ricoh does not have a very good balance between the two. As management, it is my job to maintain this balance while monitoring the situation. In this sense, TRIBUS is something we must continue to do going forward.

The first-year participants who passed the final screening became full-time employees formally in April 2020. By all means I want them to succeed, and I want to make them succeed. Expediting them will also help them decide when to terminate the project. It is not good to just do this endlessly. We have set a deadline of two years, and the second-year participants will be joining next. I have hopes for the first-year participants in terms of making these activities into a reality.

I also hope the first-year participants can become role models for autonomous talent. Talent specifications are difficult to define. It is easier to understand if you say, “Be like that person,” and I want to foster such a culture. I have tried to help do this over the past year.

We avoided having the participants give presentations at management meetings or the like. It would be a lot of work, and it is difficult for even board members to evaluate a completely new business that has never been done before if it is outside their expertise. A number of the topics dealt with by TRIBUS are new for the company, and the process of implementing on a small scale is also new for us. In general, when a company considers a business, aspects such as the market size and the business potential are reviewed. Then the proposal is approved before it is implemented. But, instead, we gave priority to listening to why participants wanted to address a particular topic, whether the business is needed by society and clients, and so on.

――Have you yourself done anything for the company’s future finances?

Yamashita  If I may give one example, about 30 years ago, I attended a seminar of Prof. Ikujiro Nonaka, Prof. Hirotaka Takeuchi, and Prof. Yoko Ishikura for my outside training. That was before my overseas assignments, and I did not understand the English lectures at all. Prof. Nonaka’s works were extremely difficult reading, but I was very fascinated by them at the time.

Changes TRIBUS brought to the company

――Did TRIBUS bring any changes to the company?

Yamashita  There are two types of people who try to be involved in TRIBUS: those who want to challenge themselves, and those who do not have any ideas at the moment but want to support the program. In the second year, the number of these latter supporters increased significantly. My sense is that the number of people participating in their 30s and 40s has increased.

Wataishi  We participants strongly agree with you. If we consult the TRIBUS community about whether something would be feasible, they send back a quick response right away. It is very helpful.

Yamashita  It is a community of around 1,500 people. It is an excellent community with board members and managers also participating as individuals.

Nomura  It is like an amoeba. There is a climate of everyone filling in for everyone’s shortcomings complementarily. I think the organizational barriers have disappeared, and a very flat relationship has been created.

Saito  They come in and help without thinking about if they are being evaluated.

Yamashita  This is not the core work on which their performance is being evaluated. They are doing this outside the scope of their work evaluated by their superiors. You all have to appreciate them.

Maehana  Aside from supporters, I can really see that existing organizations and departments are also doing unprecedented things. TRIBUS itself is an unprecedented initiative, and so some things do not fit within existing practices. This creates an atmosphere of “let’s get it done somehow.” The fact that we can now get cooperation on intellectual property, legal affairs, and other matters is a major change.

Yamashita  Looking at the current situation of TRIBUS, I am often asked by people outside the company, “Is it a talent training program?” “Is it organizational reform?” People will not grow unless they experience success and failure repeatedly. That is why business development is the most important activity of TRIBUS. People will not grow unless they experience true hardship, success, and failure through business development. We must not deviate from that. Business development is the first priority. That is why I tell people that we will quit when it is time to quit and thoroughly implement activities we intend to implement. In the process, people may find partners, or a culture may be fostered. As individual talent gains more autonomy, they may eventually have a greater impact. Our intention is to see to it that this is achieved.

Companies must be sustainable going forward. Again, in order to do that, we need to slightly shift the direction of our investments toward future financial indicators and improve the portfolio balance. Of course, it doesn’t mean we can ignore the current financial indicators. Some may say, “If we focus on the present, we will be more profitable.” In that sense, it is foolish to ask at the beginning when the new businesses emerging from TRIBUS will generate profit or how much profit will be generated.

――I’m sure that each team leader has managerial opinions as the ones that oversee the projects. What are your thoughts regarding the comments just made by President Yamashita?

Wataishi  I can only say how grateful I am. I have a renewed attitude after listening to President Yamashita. I have come to realize once again that we are supported by President Yamashita and many people at TRIBUS. There are people in various positions at a company, and some of them may feel that entering into a new business is risky. President Yamashita has been communicating with all parties with the idea of improving the future finances of the company, allowing us to engage in our businesses freely. I could not have created such an environment on my own, and I cannot be any more grateful.

Yamashita  Freedom comes with heavy responsibility.

Maehana  I have been really impressed with the speed of the program. I feel that there is much flexibility provided in terms of the TRIBUS initiative and the organization required for business development.

Yamashita  Since this is an initiative like nothing else before it, we hope to create the best environment based on listening to people engaged in the program.

Nomura  I think TRIBUS gives us the opportunity to put our proposals into practice through our own effort. I am learning things that numbers do not show, such as the feel of the workplace and the subtleties of human emotions. You really can only learn these things on the job. Nowadays, people say you have to lead by example; TRIBUS lets you do this. I can’t thank President Yamashita enough for providing an environment in which to do this from a medium- to long-term perspective.

Saito  I have worked with other companies so I know what it’s like. It is amazing that Ricoh has established this bottom-up approach, including offering opportunities like this one. It is a bit unthinkable at other companies. It is not a top-down approach, so it makes you want to trust Ricoh and follow them. In that sense, I trust President Yamashita, and I myself want to become a person my team members can trust.

TRIBUS is a living program

――The COVID-19 pandemic has changed society. Furthermore, the entire Ricoh Group will shift to a new company structure. What are your expectations for TRIBUS in these rapidly changing times?

Yamashita  TRIBUS cannot be summed up in a few words. It is important that those employees and teams that applied, including teams that were not selected, challenge themselves to new initiatives. At the same time, the staff’s work at the administrative office running the program is also very tough, and this too is creating a new culture. The first-year participants and the second-year participants have respective roles. Management executives and peripheral staff need to change to support them. I think we have done pretty well, but there is still much to be done.

That doesn’t mean that everyone should work on developing new businesses or that they have to challenge themselves to new things. Also, it is okay if you pass the screening process but end up terminating the business. This experience may help you become a better manager or leader in the future and contribute to the growth of Ricoh.

Therefore, instead of condensing everything that can be said into a discourse on what we expect from TRIBUS, we should understand how TRIBUS is structured and what it does, and then think and distill what the company should do or support for each of those components. In the same way, I believe that TRIBUS will produce not only one output but a variety of outputs, including those that are not visible to the eye.

When we shift to the new company structure, businesses will be viewed in a purer and simpler manner by each business unit. It may lead to a short-term perspective. However, the businesses of each business unit will become stronger. In this context, the Ricoh Group needs to have a strong centripetal force again. To serve as this centripetal force, we have, for example, the Fw:D Project Team and 3L (facility). We want to establish TRIBUS as one of them, so we are not thinking of putting it into any business unit. If you give it a single purpose, it loses its ability to execute. TRIBUS is a living program.

President Yamashita being interviewed wearing a suit from Unbuilt Takeo Kikuchi (Black Rams model) proposed by the Setuppers team, a collaboration between World Co., Ltd. and Ricoh which applied for the program in FY2019

Creating autonomous talent and a new Ricoh brand

――Could you please share your aspirations for the future?

Maehana  Listening to President Yamashita today gave me a glimpse of his background and thoughts. More than renewing my commitment, it affirmed my desire to stay on the path we have been taking. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the administrative office. They are key to the process. Their flexibility, the way they understand our thoughts, and the way they guide us are truly amazing. Thank you very much.

Social issues were not our starting point. Members with a technology focus have come together, and now we need to find a place where we can demonstrate our value. That is one hurdle. We intend to further accelerate our efforts to create a society where people can work conveniently in a society where VR is commonplace.

Wataishi  After listening to President Yamashita, I now know that what we are aiming for is exactly the same as the society that Ricoh is aiming for. Our goal is to free people from situations where they are unable to demonstrate their strengths because of fixed roles due to their gender and/or other factors. I think this is very similar to what the President referred to as “autonomous talent.” I am not talking just about women or India. To achieve our goal, we intend to start the Rangorie project in Japan in March.

Saito  In carrying out these activities, I really feel that the boundaries between teams and members are disappearing. Probably we are the ones who currently have most experience with the new in-house business development ecosystem. I want to let others know about its positive aspects. By doing so, I think we can create more value for society using the resources of the Ricoh Group.
Until now, I think many people have been conducting activities in the safe environment of the Ricoh organization. Through this activity, we will seek to be at that safety borderline or maybe even go beyond that boundary.
TRIBUS is really a living program. We hope to spread this seed of growth to various places.

Nomura  We have been given a great opportunity, and we are enjoying working on the project. I think one of our roles is to show people inside and outside the company that we are motivated to work. I hope we can contribute to Ricoh in this way.
As a first-year participant, our goal of course is to succeed as a symbol of TRIBUS. But if we fail to succeed, we will show where we failed to junior employees and make it an asset of the Ricoh Group.

Yamashita  If people fail, I hope they fail spectacularly, instead of finding themselves being asked whether they really worked on something. Sure, success is better, but I hope the business doesn’t end imperceptibly.

When I became president in 2017, I primarily wanted to realize a company where employees are working enthusiastically. To put it abstractly, I think people cannot demonstrate their strengths if they are exhausted. Also, we need to consider not employee number but the sum of their motivation. The only way to measure that is to see if employees are eager or not. It seems simple. It is the job of management to create such an environment.

I walked around the workplace nearly every day for the first year after I became president. When I was the president of a production company in the United States, I walked around the workplace there too nearly every day. The people on the production line said they saw the president for the first time in five years. Eventually, they began to wave at me whenever they saw me. As with these town hall meetings, I have realized, looking around the workplace, that there are two types of people: those who are motivated to work and those who are not. Those who are motivated to work can talk about their work with confidence. If people do not have motivation, it is not their fault; their organization or boss is probably no good. If all employees were able to work with enthusiasm, we would have an incredibly strong company. I decided to call such employees “autonomous talent.”

I have no clear-cut definition of autonomous talent, such as “It is blah blah blah.” If we become preoccupied with rules and format, it would become like screening criteria for a job. In the end, you cannot become autonomous talent by defining and understanding it; it has to be done through practice. And the Ricoh Way shows the direction.

Each employee eagerly produces good outputs at their own will, and they grow in this process. I believe that individual autonomous talent will form the Ricoh brand. This is actually indicated in the Ricoh Way. Although it is a broad definition, I call those people who put this into practice “autonomous talent.” In order to become a digital services company, we need to increase the number of such autonomous talent. I believe that the more of them there are, the stronger the company will be.

I think I too will apply for TRIBUS someday.