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Q&A: Ryutaro Kotaki, Sato

Ryutaro Kotaki, president and CEO of Auto-ID specialist Sato

On April 1, 2018, Ryutaro Kotaki became president and CEO of Auto-ID specialist Sato. He had previously served as the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, and had been guiding Sato Group in collaboration with his predecessor, Kaz Matsuyama, since 2016.

Labels & Labeling (L&L): Please introduce Sato, its history and its products. 
Ryutaro Kotaki (RK): Sato provides on-site solutions for customers by attaching identifiers to items and people to ensure accuracy and sustainability, save labor and resources, offer reassurance, and build emotional connections between consumers and brands. We are a trusted on-site Auto-ID technology partner for our customers with a global presence and a 78-year history of pioneering game-changing innovations to automate processes. We strive to continuously make life easier for customers with tagging solutions that reduce labor and streamline workflows. 

L&L: What is your current role and responsibilities at Sato?
RK: As CEO, I aim to make Sato the leader and continuously most trusted and in-demand company in the Auto-ID solutions industry, by empowering our 5,000 strong workforce to engage in cross-border collaboration to exceed customer expectations. I want to maximize our strengths to establish sustainable growth and stable profits. 

In order to drive our Auto-ID solutions business worldwide, I am also working to ensure we nurture next generation global leaders by investing in and training our personnel. 

I am primarily focused on growing and evolving our Auto-ID solutions business worldwide, strengthening global alliances to grow business and commercializing our cutting edge DataLase solutions. 

L&L: What is your professional background?
RK:
I have spent 24 of my 30 years in the Sato Group directly and indirectly supporting sales in and around Tokyo. I oversaw our R&D and manufacturing units from 2012-2016 during which time I oversaw the development of our first IoT printer, the CL4NX. I also served as chief operating officer from 2016-2018.

L&L: What trends do you see shaping the market?
RK:
I see concerns around food and patient safety and the growth of e-commerce as driving growth for our industry. IT breakthroughs like IoT, AI, robotics, big data and Industry 4.0 also offer huge potential. Our customers are striving to utilize these new technologies to take their businesses to new heights. However, they face various challenges on their frontlines of operation such as worker shortages, regulatory issues, security challenges and more. The result is a wide gap between what corporate management aims for and the reality of those on the ground. 

L&L: How will Sato react to these trends?
RK:
Our Auto-ID solutions can help bridge this gap and solve challenges while delivering a win-win. 

To make it happen, we seek to forge global technology partnerships and alliances to maximize value for customers and drive growth.

L&L: What technologies will be central to the future of the industry and Sato?
RK:
Rather than focus on certain technologies, we take a customer-centric approach, visiting customers’ sites of operation and identifying their needs to select the right technologies to use in solutions that provide the optimal value for the customer. That said, we do see high demand these days for RFID, location based services and direct marking technologies. 

L&L: Which investments is the company making to support its future?
RK:
We have identified several categories for investment in the medium-term to fulfill the current and anticipated needs of customers around identification and tagging. These include consumables production, the B2B2C business, the expansion of our Auto-ID solution services and RFID solution business to improve in-store customer experience, DataLase in-line digital printing solutions, global expansion of CRM tools, maintenance of an up-to-date ERP infrastructure and personnel training.

DataLase is a versatile laser reactive color change pigment technology that is inkless and uses zero consumables for printing of variable data and tailored messages right at the point of packing, filling or distribution.

Our DataLase in-line digital printing (IDP) solutions for product and case coding are available now and reduce SKU and reduce consumable waste with higher print quality. We are currently focused on the development and commercialization of a new point-of-sale personalization system for restaurants and a high volume, high speed solution for the beverage industry by 2019. We are also developing multi-color technology with commercialization planned for 2021. These technologies will enable exciting new applications such as marketing campaigns with near real-time personalization to boost consumer engagement.

L&L: What plans do you have for the future of the company?
RK:
With skilled worker shortages becoming more prevalent around the world and businesses rushing to use technology to adapt, we see great potential to help customers streamline their operations with Auto-ID solutions. We will strengthen and expand this business as well as global technology partnerships and alliances to meet new customer needs.

Through our on-site troubleshooting expertise and technology alliances we are building our capabilities to enable total process optimization of customers’ operations through a single warehouse from receipt of goods to dispatch. Sato enables data collection through barcodes, RFID, sensors and more. The addition of our visual warehouse location tracking solution enables improved space efficiency and shortest picking route for significant labor savings. By integrating this with our strategic technology partner JDA’s WLM – warehouse labor management – platform which boosts productivity and improves labor utilization, we believe we can further streamline the warehouse through the synergy of small data collection and big data analysis to provide decision-makers with insight to make continuous improvements with confidence. 

We are also focused on the development and commercialization of our DataLase business.

L&L: Which principles and values underline Sato and all that it does?
RK:
Yo Sato founded the company with the goal of making difficult operations easier. We have always developed innovations by going right to our customers’ worksites to identify and solve their problems with unwavering persistence.

Our business style of going right on site to identify issues is what differentiates us, so it is imperative to train personnel that can execute and this is why we are working to instill our corporate values globally. At Sato, we see building people as essential to building business and we will grow our business with a diverse global workforce that embodies a shared set of values.

L&L: How does the TEIHO system benefit the company and its employees?
RK:
We rejoice in small changes at Sato. Fundamental to the way we live our motto of ‘Ceaseless Creativity’ daily is our TEIHO system, in which employees submit simple daily reports and proposals to top management every day. Anything – from the latest information on competitor activities to suggestions about the open hours for the cafeteria – goes into these reports. Some 40 TEIHO reports are forwarded to me daily and reading them helps me understand what is happening in the field in real time. For individual employees, submitting TEIHO is a good opportunity to speak their mind and participate in the management of the company. This style of bottom-up management also contributes to our corporate governance.

L&L: What activities do you enjoy as a pastime outside of work?
RK:
I like to switch into ‘relax mode’ by watching movies, shopping and going for a drive.

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David Pittman is deputy editor at Labels & Labeling.

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