The lights are on
Nintendo’s recent annual shareholder meeting was held without company president Satoru Iwata present, but that didn’t stop investors from asking a variety of questions. Some inquiries were hard hitting, while others seemed to be more focused on offering ideas for products and perks.
One investor suggested that Nintendo create a handheld device that’s screen could be “manually extended” to double its size both horizontally and vertically. Another asked Nintendo to offer shareholders benefits like free games (but not consoles, because those are too expensive).
Other shareholders seemed more interested in Nintendo’s ongoing financial problems. One noted that, with the exception of Iwata, key company officials own relatively few shares of stock. The investor questioned whether executives were personally invested enough in the success of the company or simply acting as salaried employees.
“We believe that there is no connection between the number of shares a director owns and the enthusiasm he has for company management,” replied Genyo Takeda, senior managing director and Iwata’s stand-in for the meeting. “I hope you will understand our resolve to improve our performance to return to profitability, regardless of the number of shares our management team holds.”
Other investors questioned the “business responsibility” of management, pointing to three consecutive years of losses. In response, managing director Tatsumi Kimishima identified successful use of the Wii U gamepad as part of the problem and something the company will be focused on improving. “We are still having a hard time to make the best use of its new controller, the Wii U GamePad,” Takeda said to another investor.
There was even a call for Iwata to honor his commitment to resign during the question and answer session. “I, for one, was flabbergasted that Mr. Iwata continues to hold his position although he had said that he would resign if the company’s performance were bad,” a shareholder stated. Takeda responded that executives are taking responsibility by “recovering our business momentum.” In June 2013, Iwata denied that he was considering resigning in the face of poor company performance.
Our TakeWhile some Nintendo investors don’t seem to be focused on things that matter at all (inquiring about game giveaways is a profound waste of time at an annual shareholder meeting), others are increasingly aware of the financial realities. Nintendo might still have a big piggy bank, but the hole is getting deeper and the company hasn’t thrown the Wii U a ladder yet.
Mario Kart 8 has been a success, but Nintendo hasn’t yet discussed how many consoles it helped move since release. There are no top-tier games to keep that momentum moving until Smash Bros., and I’m still not convinced that the Wii U version is a lock for 2014.
As for the story about Iwata’s approval rating, it’s a red herring. Companies aren’t democracies, and shareholders have as many votes as they have shares. Lining up a few powerful shareholders is all that’s necessary to keep someone employed. At some point, even the biggest investors are going to turn their backs on him, and time is running out.
With regard to Takeda's assertion that executives are as effective without significant stock ownership, I disagree. Protecting shareholder value takes on a more significant meaning when a substantial portion of your own value is tied to the company's performance.