With a rich history that began in 1908, Brother International has grown from humble beginnings into a diversified multinational corporation. While its technology and business activities have evolved over time, a foundation of strong leadership and the harnessing of the power of innovation has remained a constant throughout Brother’s history.
Challenges lead to opportunities for the leading Japanese maker of printers, Multi-Function Centres (MFCs), fax machines, labellers, label printers and sewing machines, which is branching out into new ventures.
While the majority of companies are hobbled during times of market uncertainty such as recessions and downturns, Brother International has achieved some of its best growth and innovated tremendously during challenging economic times.
While the company tends towards the conservative, it has grown steadily over its 105-year history, recognized for delivering product innovation and customer satisfaction, evolving with the times through its ‘Customer First’ approach and an uncanny ability to stay ahead of the pack through innovation.
Today, the company has manufacturing and sales facilities in more than 40 countries and regions, with over 31,000 employees.
Brother’s Global Charter defines the group’s vision for the third wave of its growth to include ‘commitment to quality’, ‘customer-first’ and ‘caring for the environment’.
According to Ichiro Sasaki, Managing Executive Officer of Services and Solutions, Brother has innovated through the decades to keep pace with the changing times and is not averse to risk as it expands its portfolio of products.
“Brother aims to be an evolutionary brand, which means that we change ahead of customers needs, and we innovate our products so that they match the changing usage, lifestyle and business collaboration styles, with an underlying commitment to create and deliver superior value to customers through high quality products and services,” Mr. Sasaki said.
“Understanding how Brother is able to be ahead of the times requires an understanding of our company’s history, because we have built on each successive wave of innovation,” Mr. Sasaki explained.
In the Beginning
Kanekichi Yasui, sowed the seeds of future success by selling and repairing sewing machines through the Yasui Sewing Machine Company in 1908.
Masayoshi Yasui, the eldest of Kanekichi Yasui’s ten children, began helping his father at the age of nine, and at 17 he began working as an apprentice in Osaka.
Sewing It Up
Imported products dominated the sewing machine market in Japan at that time. Masayoshi was determined to reverse the tide by creating a made in Japan sewing machine that would fulfill the needs of the domestic market, and could also be exported.
The belief was that the lack of production facilities and advanced processing technologies made it impossible to produce sewing machines in Japan. Masayoshi set out to prove the market wrong by carrying out research on sewing machine manufacturing.
The sewing machine research paid off when Jitsuichi Yasui, Masayoshi’s younger brother and co-founder of Brother, succeeded in developing shuttle hooks, a main component of sewing machines.
“In 1932, the Yasui brothers successfully introduced the first sewing machine made entirely in Japan for the domestic market before the export business took off. They managed this while the world was experiencing global recession known as the Great Depression,” Mr. Sasaki said.
Brother, Not Sister
“Interestingly, ‘Brother’ was not the first brand name considered by the Yasui brothers when naming their first model. Initially they chose ‘Sister’ because the majority of sewing machine users were women, but it turned out that the name was already registered as a sewing machine brand name,” Mr Sasaki related adding that the company may have grown in a very different direction under a different name.
Drawing inspiration from their strong family ties, founders Jitsuichi and Masayoshi Yasui then decided to go with the name ‘Brother’.
In 1933 the company built a new factory in the area that is now the Mizuho Ward, Nagoya City, for domestic mass-production of sewing machines. Taking the next step towards mass production, the Yasui Brothers Sewing Machine Shop was liquidated to enable its incorporation under the name Nippon Sewing Machine Manufacturing Co., which subsequently began to manufacture industrial sewing machines in 1936.
In 1941 Brother Sales, Ltd. was established in order to develop a sales network in Japan.
“Innovation is always at the heart of Brother. Using the technology it had developed through the manufacture of sewing machines, Brother started to diversify into other business fields such as the production of knitting machines and home electric appliances, and experimenting with electronics. We even had Brother bicycles,” Mr. Sasaki recounted.
The Beginnings of A Global Brand
In 1947, at the request of the Japanese government, Brother exported 200 sewing machines to Shanghai. This was the first step in developing the local sewing machine industry into an export-based industry, which was Brother’s ambition since its founding.
In 1954, in an effort to increase exports, Brother International Corporation was established as an exporting company. With the establishment of a sales base in New York in 1954 and its first European production base in Ireland in 1958, Brother actively promoted internationalization in advance of other Japanese companies.
“Being a global company was always part of founders’ vision for the company and the brand, and they did get to see it happening in their lifetime,” Mr. Sasaki shared.
From Sewing Machines to Typewriters
In the 1950s the company was quick to see the potential of typewriters as an office essential. Brother’s engineering team developed a lower-cost model that was of higher quality and greater durability than those marketed by their competitors.
Brother typewriters were then exported to the U.S., where they soon acquired a reputation for high quality, marking the company’s entry into the information and communications equipment field.
In 1961 the Headquarters building was completed in Japan, and 1962 saw the corporate name changed from Nippon Sewing Machine Manufacturing Co. to Brother Industries, Ltd to reflect the growing stable of products manufactured by the company.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, Brother provided 300 typewriters for journalists from abroad, which greatly helped improve recognition of the Brother brand.
By 1971, Brother was making typewriters in more than 20 languages and exporting them to 110 countries around the world. Along with sewing machines, typewriters became the company’s flagship export product.
The company innovated yet again by introducing the electric typewriters in the 1970s. In 1980, Brother developed an electronic typewriter (EM-1) for office use that featured daisy wheel printing using a linear pulse motor, and the product soon acquired an excellent reputation. As an official supplier of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Brother provided 3,000 typewriters, thereby gaining international recognition as the No. 1 typewriter brand.
Brother Conquers the Office
Adding electronics technology to a mechanical base was a natural step for Brother, which from the beginning has been actively engaged in the development of new products.
In 1971, Brother successfully developed the world’s first high-speed dot-matrix printer, an achievement considered to be the origin of today’s printing technology. This product, developed jointly with a U.S. venture company, earned a reputation both in Japan and abroad for its impressively high print speed compared to contemporary machines of the time.
The 1980s saw Brother International becoming a truly global brand with the introduction of commercial, office and home-use label printers and facsimile machines.
Following this period, Brother released a unique “Labelling system” product, which used thermal transfer technologies developed through the production of electronic personal printers and Japanese word processors.
In 1987, Brother began the production of facsimile machines, further strengthening the company’s position in the information and communications equipment field.
In 1992 Brother introduced its new ‘FAX-600’ facsimile machine in the U.S. and it quickly became a big hit, catapulting Brother into the next era-the real Network & Contents era.
Following its success, Brother developed a competitively priced, high-performance multi-function fax machine. Brother hit the jackpot when it decided to tap an emerging customer segment that its competitors had not noticed: the growing numbers of venture businesses (SOHOs) with small offices requiring inexpensive office equipment.
In the 1990s and 2000s the Brother International brand as we know it emerged with a wide range of printers from the dot matrix, to laser and inkjet printers, document scanning and imaging as well as multi-function centers that combine printer, scanner, copier and fax capabilities.
In 1995 Brother marketed its Laser Digital Multi-Function Centre, which integrated printing, faxing and copying functions into a single unit. This newly integrated machine accelerated the growth of Brother’s printing business. Brother then introduced a Colour Inkjet Digital Multi-Function Centre. As a result of these product innovations, Brother’s information and communications equipment business expanded exponentially.
“Our brand’s success with typewriters made us realize that there was a huge market for office automation products, from the largest of corporations to single person operations. Everyone needed to fax, print, copy and scan. Brother was ahead of the curve again with the introduction of the multi-function center category that could do a variety of functions such as printing, scanning, copy and faxing through a single machine,” Mr. Sasaki explained.
Resilience During Economic Downturns
Where some companies panic during downturns, others gather their strength and emerge in stronger positions. Brother falls into the latter category.
“From the Great Depression, to wartime, inflation, stagnation, and repeated cycles of recession, the Brother brand has continued to thrive through research and innovation, well planned and executed strategies and its customer focused ‘At Your Side’ approach,” Mr. Sasaki said.
‘‘Sewing machines were the first wave of innovation. Typewriters, printers, fax machines and scanners were the second wave and we are now looking forward to the third wave which will have document management systems, remote collaboration services and online solutions,’’ says Sasaki.
He added that innovation is the key as the company develops proprietary technology that will fuel the third wave of the group’s evolution, ultimately to achieve its ambitious target of USD10billion sales in 2021, under its Global Vision 21 plan.
Web Conference Solution By Brother
Brother is venturing into web conference solutions with OmniJoin that the brand has started marketing in Australia since earlier this year.
“According to information shared by Wainhouse Research, web conferencing hosted services worldwide will reach USD2.5billion in 2016, and Brother is eying this lucrative market,” he said.
The new cloud-based system offers businesses of all sizes a high-quality online meeting experience, with robust, cutting-edge features.
OmniJoin’s innovative technologies provide leading-edge video image (up to HD) and audio quality, along with an intuitive interface, to help businesses get together quickly, have enhanced collaboration and potentially save travel time and expense.
“Until now, experiences with web and video conferencing have often been disappointing and frustrating,” said Mr. Sasaki. “Due to inconsistent video quality and poorly synched audio, online meetings have not always been acceptable substitutes for in-person meetings. The new OmniJoin service from Brother changes that. It offers crystal-clear video quality and seamlessly-synched audio, along with fantastic collaboration tools. Finally, businesses can enjoy productive online meetings that virtually feel like being face-to-face.”
In OmniJoin meetings, teams can interact with, and edit, documents in real time, and can then save the marked-up files for future reference. Secure video meeting recording lets hosts concentrate on the discussions, knowing they can replay the meeting again later. The OmniJoin service also offers users a secure, encrypted connection and free customer support for the life of their licenses, providing them with peace of mind.
“Despite its advanced features, OmniJoin web conferencing is surprisingly simple to use,” said Mr. Sasaki. “We designed its user controls – like on all Brother products – to be clear and intuitive. This ease of use, combined with free customer support for the life of your license, makes our OmniJoin service a smart, worry-free choice for any business.”
Brother Enters Into The Future with AirScouter
Two years ago Brother unveiled AiRScouter, a head-mounted, see-through type display that allows images from computers and smartphones to be viewed by the wearer. Images appear as if they were in front of the user. The technology includes a high-definition liquid crystal panel, with mirror reflected light making the image visible, as if they were shown on the translucent display.
AiRScouter will be marketed in Japan, United States of America and the European Union and the company is looking into enhancing the product further to suit customer needs.
The application of AiRScouter includes device assembly support, remote operation support and stock picking support.
“The third wave for Brother has come a long way from the sewing machines that we started with but the basic principles remain which is to create and deliver superior value to customers through high quality products and services, always keeping the customer first, caring for the environment and innovating at every turn. And yes, we will continue to achieve high profitability,” Mr. Sasaki said in closing.