Is Satoru Iwata a Bad CEO?

Do financial woes paint trouble for the Big N’s CEO?

Satoru Iwata may be a bad CEO…

Sometimes I sit down and wonder to myself just what the hell Nintendo is thinking. It should come to no one’s surprise that Nintendo is my favorite video games company, and that most of my favorite games are from Nintendo themselves. But that’s also the precise reason why I’ve come to grow increasingly frustrated with them; I want so badly to see Nintendo succeed, but sometimes their decisions make me want to slam my face into the wall.

Part of this problem, I think, lies in Nintendo’s current CEO Satoru Iwata. To give you a brief history, Iwata became CEO of Nintendo in 2002 after then-CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi decided to retire. Back then, Nintendo was in a bit of a pickle with the underperforming launch of the GameCube. It’s funny how today, in 2013, we’re seeing the same exact thing happening with the Wii U. So… is Iwata to blame for this? Is Mr. Iwata a bad CEO?

… because he isn’t a businessman…

Most Nintendo fans know the story of Satoru Iwata. He was a programmer who spent his early years working at HAL Laboratory and was responsible for helping create classic games as Balloon Fight and Earthbound as well as the Kirby series with Masahiro Sakurai. He later left HAL to take up a job at Nintendo’s planning division in 2000 and then became CEO in 2002. What?

Iwata isn’t a businessman. He’s a game developer. He lead Nintendo’s planning division for two years before transitioning to CEO. What experience does he have with running the biggest video games company in the world? Nothing, really. His recent decisions with the slow launches of both the Wii U and 3DS perfectly reflect Iwata’s inexperience. Sometimes I doubt he even has a plan with either console, and just desires to go with the flow and see what happens. That’s no way to run a company.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Iwata isn’t a businessman. He’s a game developer.”]

… and he constantly apologizes…

And that’s not even considering all the other mistakes Iwata has made in the past. As many of you guys have noticed, Iwata is always apologizing for his mistakes. But that’s not the thing that bothers me; what bothers me is that he keeps on apologizing for the same thing. GameCube, DS, Wii, 3DS, Wii U… all of these consoles had software droughts near launch. Every time, Iwata apologizes.

Said Mr. Iwata about the GameCube: “We could not provide the market with strong software titles in a timely fashion.”

Said Mr. Iwata about the Wii and DS: “The momentum dropped when there was a gap in software releases.”

Said Mr. Iwata about the 3DS: “The company was unable to launch much-anticipated first-party titles… in a timely fashion in the first half of the term.”

And finally, just last week about the Wii U: “The worldwide sales of ‘Wii U’ hardware and software were [underwhelming] mainly due to the release of few key first-party titles this quarter to strongly drive the hardware sales.”

I understand people make mistakes, but these statements should speak for themselves. Iwata doesn’t know how to fix the problems that have plagued his company for over a decade. He promises to fix them, but he always fails. Is that what makes a great CEO?

… but he’s so loveable…

But as much as I hate it when Iwata apologizes, it really does prove something about Iwata that’s uncommon among CEO’s: Iwata feels human. When he apologizes, it feels like he really means it, and it almost makes me feel a bit sorry for the man. He’s so dedicated to his fans, too. Like I said earlier, he’s a game developer, so he clearly loves games, and you can tell by how he runs things at Nintendo. What other CEO spends time interviewing his own developers, or talks to his fans directly through video broadcasts? He’s such a likeable guy.

That’s also why I hesitate to criticize him further. I love Mr. Iwata; he’s so funny and so passionate about what he does. He’s upfront about his flaws and he’s honest about his mistakes. He doesn’t feel like some corporate robot in a suit spitting out numbers and letters that mean little to us. He’s a gamer, just like you and I. Yes, there are times when I question Iwata’s skills as a CEO, but there are many other times when I feel Iwata is the perfect man to fill that position, especially at a charming company as Nintendo.

… and he’s had success before…

And I’d be foolish to say that Iwata hasn’t had success before. Two of Nintendo’s biggest success stories, the Wii and DS, took off under his leadership. Nintendo made a ridiculous amount of money thanks to him. Even looking at 3DS right now, seeing that it’s poised to become the best selling console of all time, it’s clear that Iwata is able to make good decisions. Perhaps it was all luck, and Mr. Iwata was simply at the right place in the right time, but not all of this can be coincidence, right?

… so maybe he isn’t a bad CEO after all.

So perhaps Mr. Iwata isn’t such a bad CEO after all. I think it’s telling enough that so many people believe he can turn the Wii U around.

Recently, Iwata said that he’d cut his salary to avoid laying off workers for fear of lowering company morale. I’m not a game developer or anything, but I think that’s pretty cool. To see a CEO care more about the well-being of his company than the money he gets at the end of the day makes me happy, for some weird reason. Sure you might say, “Well of course he cares about his company; he’s CEO after all,” but I think the difference here is that people feel Iwata earnestly means it.

And yes, Iwata has his own flaws. He isn’t a businessman. He tends to break promises. But he’s also human. He’s been successful before. I don’t see why he can’t be successful now.

Only time will tell if Mr. Iwata’s plan for Wii U succeeds. It’s easy to criticize him now, but let’s not forget about what he’s done in the past. And yes, lightning does strike the same place twice (Empire State Building gets struck 25 times a year).

So tell me, my fellow MyIGNers: is Satoru Iwata a bad CEO? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “Is Satoru Iwata a Bad CEO?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s