Find your passion, and you will never work a day in your life, is not something many can jump out of bed declaring. That is partly because they either have yet to meet, or do not work with, Somesh Adukia, the Managing Director, Canon Central and North Africa, (CCNA). This is a man who has leveraged his time at Canon, growing through his roles and carrying others with him. Here is how he did it, and who he became in the process.
Why did you join Canon?
It was pure destiny. I did not apply for a position at Canon, and I had not realised they had a position to fill. In 2007 Canon wanted to expand its business outside the UAE. It was the only focus for Canon save the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia had been identified as markets for expansion. At the time, I was working for Sony in Iran – music systems and home theatres. I had ex-colleagues who had joined Canon who encouraged me to apply. What impressed me during the interview was how fantastic Canon was as an organisation. It was a multinational, but it did not follow the usual protocols. There was a lot of independence and an entrepreneurship spirit. I decided to join. I have never once regretted that decision.
When you say they were operating differently, is this one of those instances where a company is a big multinational yet they think like a start-up?
A start-up is someone without vast resources, less staff, finance and starting capital. They start on a smaller scale when it comes to needs. Other than that, they have innovative ideas. That is how they prosper and fight the might of the big market. We are not short of human resources or working capital. But as far as innovative ideas and empowering the youth is concerned, it is in abundance. It is how we set ourselves apart from our competitors.
What is the company culture like?
Very open. We promote youth, provide them with independence and do not micromanage. Our mantra is Closer to market; Closer to customer. Although CCNA headquarters based in Dubai, we have opened up six local offices in Africa, with more than 60 local employees who run our offices independently and freely. The objectives and strategies are briefed at the beginning of the year and reinforced mid-year with the rest left to the team. This is like working for your own business without investing in it.
What would you say make up the Canon values?
Our corporate philosophy is a Japanese word: Kyosei – two Japanese words – Kyo (共) and sei (生), which mean living and working together for the common good. It simply means we are treating our employees well and also try to contribute to the community wherever we are operating our business. This is mentioned in all our induction programmes. However, if I zoom in to Canon Central and Northern Africa, in the position of MD, I have slated our company’s new mission, vision and values. What we believe in as an organisation is the customer will be our number one priority as a company, and we will have proper channels of communication of autonomy to all, regardless of who or where they come from.
That is amazing. It sounds almost like the UN. What has your experience been like as part of the team since you joined them in 2007 as Area Manager?
It has been excellent. I have learnt a lot. I have learnt the art of diplomatic negotiation, relationship management, and how to get and make use of marketing sites. I was a very good salesperson but not a very good manager. I also got the opportunity to manage different countries in the Middle East and Africa, travelling to almost all the countries in the former as well as quite a number in Africa.
This has given me a glimpse into how different mindset and cultures are. I have learnt to adapt. I have learnt what is sacrosanct in one place can be offensive in another. I have learnt first to understand a country then come up with a direction, communication and strategies. I look forward to more in the future.
Would you say your journey reflects every employee’s, or is it unique to you?
Canon does not believe in the number of years someone has put into the company. We have more lady directors in comparison to many. As long as you are passionate, committee, hardworking and talented, we have a place for you.
I love that. It also makes me curious. You have been in sales and were swiftly promote. What makes a good head of sales?
Good marketing insights. Constantly discusses good marketing strategies with their team. Takes a lot of input from people on the ground be they his team, distributors or partners. When he makes a strategy, it comes from the ground. He doesn’t need to sell the strategy because it is already actually bought.
What are some of the notable qualities of your top performers? The people who make the ground move.
Self-belief, a lot of passion for making CCNA succeed as a top brand month on month year after year, and sheer commitment. They have a can-do mindset and are not dejected by the challenges they face. CCNA is not doing badly. I am not sure if you are surprised by this, but we are doing well as far as our bottom-line is concerned.
What is Canon’s agenda when it comes to Africa?
This is something very close to me. When Canon North Africa was formed, I was key in creating it from a start-up to where it is now. It used to be fragmented. Before 2016, half of the Canon North Africa market fell under the Middle East. South Africa covered the other half of the Canon market from Johannesburg. When managing big markets like Saudi Arabia, Dubai. Iraq, and Iran, your primary focus goes to the market requirements and dynamics of the big ones. You hardly have any time and resources left for the rest of the market, which has completely different dynamics. What works in Saudi Arabia would never work in Africa.
“When managing big markets like Saudi Arabia, Dubai. Iraq, and Iran, your primary focus goes to the market requirements and dynamics of the big ones. You hardly have any time and resources left for the rest of the market which has completely different dynamics. What works in Saudi Arabia would never work in Africa.”
Similarly, our domestic presence in South Africa is robust, and the focus lay there rather than exploring countries like Nigeria. This approach was not giving us a benefit which was identified by our headquarters. To dedicate attention in Africa, Canon North Africa was established with 44 African countries.
All the African countries in The Middle East were taken away. The same with South Africa, though it remained a domestic market. We had no intention of running this from Dubai. Our approach was Closer to Market Closer to Customer. We opened up six local offices wall run by locals. These have been very successful, growing at a rate of 20 per cent every year.
And how is the East African market performing?
Very well. Kenya is a leader for us as far as market growth is concerned. Kenya is a big market. The customers are more mature. They want new technologies. We also see potential in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania.
Do you provide Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)?
Yes, we do in our B2B segment. We have a unified software like uniFLOW. There are also document management solutions such as Therefore. Solutions is quite a significant business. Going forward, CCNA will be creating a department where solutions will be a dedicated focus in African countries where we will be making a giant step from next year.
Why did you choose to launch the mirrorless camera at this point in time? I mean, very few people, if any, are launching anything, and everyone is keeping their cards close to their chest.
You are right. This is because research and development (R&D) is one area we have never compromised. Every year. 8 per cent of our annual turnover is spent on R&D. New products are being researched and invented, and based on the market needs are launched. Based on that, we launched the R5 and R6 cameras.
These are the latest innovations professional photographers will have seen in the mirrorless segment. The R5 is the first camera which is 45MP, which can shoot full-resolution stills at up to 20fps per second. We are looking forward to launching these cameras in Africa. The launch will be in September. These are going to be game-changers when it comes to photography.
In what ways has your business continuity and disaster recovery plan shielded you from COVID-19?
Whenever we strategise for the next year, we always collect market input then decide on our direction. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, direct input has definitely been interrupted. But it is not entirely shut down. My team nor I can travel, but we have local teams. These are our brand ambassadors, who are still in touch with our market and channel partners. They are giving us market insights. We have increased communication with our employees. Every Monday for around two hours, I conduct sessions on what is on the ground and take feedback. I also video conference with all my partners. The health and safety of both continue to be our priority in the present time. The truth is, we have not been impacted much.
What are some of the challenges CCNA has faced, and how did you resolve them?
Our biggest challenge has been the camera market decline because of smartphones. Cameras constitute 60 per cent of our turnover. The advent of smartphones five years back has made picture-taking very easy and convenient, especially when it comes to sharing on social media. However, what we understood is that although our entry-level digital camera business definitely got impacted, there was a lot of interest in photography. Smartphones started producing more images and more photographers.
But there are many special occasions like weddings or the birth of a child. These moments you want to capture to preserve these memories. For these, people prefer professional cameras and photography. These are the results we identified. During COVID-19, we have identified and targeted the middle-user client; bloggers and vloggers who require live streaming for their messages. With these challenges, we have found new end-user segments, directed our resources and energies towards meeting the needs of these new markets.
What would you say are the top three problems that exist in your industry, and how would you solve them?
There is rapid technological changes in the market where technology grows outdated pretty fast, and consumer behaviour where a consumer uses this product but then suddenly decides one fine day to use another. We tackle these with constant R&D. The third challenge is particular to the African market, which is political instability. We cannot predict when political instability takes shape in Africa. This is something that is not in our control other than just staying in close communication with our partners. What we do is if one country is under political instability, we divert our focus to another African country which is more stable.
I understand where you are coming from with the political instability. It can be complicated to tell when something is going to blow up. So, what would you say that you are proud of – your achievements in your career? I am literally forcing you to brag.
Never say die. There was a time in my career that for 36 months in a row, I was not able to achieve my targets. And for a salesperson to not meet their targets, is not great. Many people thought I would not continue any further in the organisation because of this. However, I always believed in myself and knew it was not because of my capabilities but rather because of market dynamics.
I created a masterplan, presented it to management and created a timeline. In 2016 when I established CCNA I used just to work all the time. I had to set up every little detail from scratch. To my surprise, people would tell me they know of Canon as a camera-making Japanese company, and that was it. Yet that was not all we did. We came late into the African market though we were a well-known brand in other parts of the world. I’m proud of establishing CCNA and making Canon a successful brand in Africa after four years.
What is the most striking thing you have noticed about consumer behaviour?
It is continually changing. The shift came from DSLR to mirrorless cameras. And the change from laser printing. Now the world is dealing with COVID-19, and people are working and learning from home. Consumer behaviour constantly changing is one of the challenges we have as an industry. We are ready to come out with the right set of products to counter this unpredictability.
When you were promoted to MD, what were some of the issues on your plate you were prepared to tackle?
I wanted to have the team spirit Sales, and Marketing was one unit, and the others were separate from each other. What I did was combine the company. This was my message. The company could not achieve what it desired to by operating in silos. There is a need for each member to contribute to the success of the company regardless of which department they belonged to. The other thing was to establish a lot of communication with our partners. We wanted to have a lot of market insights, and create strategies around what our African consumers need.
How do you break silos? I’m listening to you right now and learning because you’re teaching!
I have come up from sales. That is where I started from Area Sales Manager to Sales Marketing Director. Until my last assignment, I was only responsible for sales and marketing. In the current scenario, when you want to take your business to greater heights, it is imperative to have a unified team. This was a strong message I gave during the kickoff in January. I also incorporate it in my Monday weekly meetings. I promote this again and again.
“We understand each other’s priorities more now as an organisation. You cannot just talk. You need to walk the talk. I talked about the silos, but I had to take the first step to break them.”
I take critical employees for a day off or a luncheon and thank them for their particular achievements; however small they are. I praise them in public. I am thrilled that COVID-19 has disrupted our lives on one hand, but on the other hand, it has also come as a blessing in disguise because our communication has vastly improved. We understand each other’s priorities more now as an organisation. You cannot just talk. You need to walk the talk. I spoke of the silos, but I had to take the first step to break them.
Who and what would you say has shaped you?
I would say my learning attitude. To date, I never say I know everything despite my experience. I believe one needs always to have a learner’s mindset. I have had experienced colleagues in my career, and I think experienced people still have something for you to learn. I have also had a supportive family. My wife is very understanding and supported me during the challenging times. These are the ones that have helped me.
What criteria do you use to decide which products you will launch into the market?
Our strategy is based on the ground. We communicate a lot with the market, channel partners, distributors, locals and take a lot of consumer feedback then provide this to the relevant teams (planning and product) then we come up with the right kind of product. We follow marketing dynamics, and in the midst of all this, we find out what is relevant.
Our latest R5 and R6 are created because of consumer feedback. Two years back, the market was expecting much more from Canon. We asked professionals what they expected, and based on this understanding and feedback from professional end-users, we came out with a product. Our product will be launched in September, but our books are already full till the end of the year.
That is amazing. What is the most innovative product you have worked with at Canon?
Thanks to our R&D practice, you are bound to see lots of products. But if you ask me, I will say the launch of R5 and R6. R5 especially is our first one which shoots 8k raw video. Other cameras offer 4k crop, but there is no other camera that offers 8k raw video. Canon is not necessarily the first one, but whenever it comes out, it comes out the best. I would say it is the best product that has come out from Canon in my career.
Are you a photographer and do you enjoy photography?
I am a photographer, but I would still rate myself an amateur. I am first trying out the R6 then slowly discover the R5.
What are some of the best technologies you have come across, used, or recommended to Canon over the years?
R5 and R6, of course. And the technology we use in our G printers. We call it the G-Series printers. (The PIXMA G-Series Megatank Printers were unveiled in April 2019 #PrintWithCanon).
What is it that you can say as an MD that you require from your people?
I require only two things: self-belief and total commitment.
Wow! You don’t ask for much, do you?
If you have these two, nobody can stop you from succeeding.
What changes are you looking forward to implementing in the first year?
Our expectation is after COVID-19, which we expect will be gone by the end of the year, we want to continue this growth for the next three years until 2023. I wish first to have my employees believe in this thing. I want people not to be afraid of challenges and never say die. Customer focus and regular contact is something I changed because I always felt we had not given that kind of attention and priority earlier.
“I want people not to be afraid of challenges and never say die. Customer focus and regular contact is something I changed because I always felt we have not given that kind of attention and priority earlier.”
This is one meaningful change I am introducing by having a lot of contact with our partners and customers, listening to their feedback while planning and strategising with this in mind. I also want to offer better pay and reward recognition. And if I am demanding self-belief and total commitment from them, I should also be able to give it. This is something I am looking forward to. I want to offer employees direct communication to management and HR. I want to assess our employees’ skillset, and based on that, derive their future custom-made training and development needs.
So you never ask for that which you are not prepared to give. Now I get it. Why are you so passionate about Canon? You have the sound of someone who really loves what he does.
I would say why shouldn’t I be passionate about Canon? This is a wonderful organisation to work in. It is cash-rich, a company which does not have debts, continues to invest in new products and technologies. Even during these times, people are seated behind closed doors innovating. It is bold enough to come up with new product launches. It also promotes entrepreneurship, talent, awards employees; I think anyone would be proud of it and passionate about it. I am delighted to be a part of Canon.
What kind of feedback have you received so far about the R5 and R6? What are people saying?
It has been more or less favourable. People feel that it is a game-changer for the professional photographers. They appreciate the 8k raw video because it gives them editing options. These are the few things I look forward to.
If I had to get myself a camera, what would you recommend? Let’s say I am an amateur.
We have a whole range of products for amateurs, professionals, enthusiasts, and it depends on what customer segment you are. I can’t offer a fan an R5, and I can’t give a professional EOS 200D.
Any final remarks?
I am eagerly looking forward to travel to Kenya because that is a market I really enjoy. Kenyans are very friendly, and my theme this year is the Swahili word wazo. I have been told it means “creative and innovative thinking.” I have given a message to our employees that this year shall be about wazo. We need to be creative, take risks and not shy away from challenges. I am looking forward to travelling the African countries, meet the people and enjoy good African food.