YSI is a developer and manufacturer of sensors, instruments, software, and data collection platforms for environmental water quality monitoring and testing. YSI has had a presence in Japan for over 20 years, initially through dealers and then 10 years ago after taking control of Nanotech, giving YSI a direct presence inside the country.
Japan Today chats with Damian Roach who became representative director for YSI/Nanotech a little over two years ago.
What is your background?
I am originally from Auckland in New Zealand, but like most New Zealanders, I have lived all around NZ with personal favorites being Wanaka and Dunedin. I have been working in the environmental market for the last 10 years, and have always been looking for an opportunity to work in Japan.
How well known is the company’s name within the water technology industry?
The YSI name is incredibly strong within the water industry market particularly in the USA and Europe. YSI started 60 years ago in America as the first commercial maker of dissolved oxygen probes and was very influential in the first heart transplant surgeries where measuring dissolved oxygen was crucial. From there, the name has dominated the water quality industry in the U.S., in particular. A little over a year ago, we joined the analytics businesses of Xylem a spin-off company from ITT. Xylem is fast becoming well known in the industry with a number of incredibly strong brands behind it including YSI.
What products does YSI/Nanotech sell in Japan?
Predominantly we sell instruments into the water quality and water flow market. As our company has expanded, we have started moving into other areas such as laboratory and pharmaceutical markets wherever chemistry/quality control is important in the manufacturing process.
Who are your main customers?
Our main customers vary from market to market and country to country. The market and the need for certain products is highly dependent on the geography and needs of individual areas. Countries like Japan where we have an abundance of fresh water will see less of need for water flow and therefore, governments are not as big of a customer. Whereas research and water quality is a big market, so we see our main customers in Japan being universities and consultants.
How do you market the company in Japan?
In Japan, we use all areas of marketing, whether it’s web-based, face to face, conferences etc. Word of mouth is also huge in this industry with researchers, in particular, always looking for the latest technology. With limited budgets, a push for more reliable and durable instruments is a must. Poor performing companies are weeded out pretty quickly.
How did the events of March 11, 2011 affect your business?
Internally everyone coped incredible well. I think we are lucky to have strong team in Japan but also the mentality of getting on with day to day life and ignoring distraction as much as possible was a great experience for me. The effects were difficult with freezing of research budgets, in particular, having a negative short-term effect. This, however, has somewhat turned around now with research going on in the Tohoku region really helping push our business forward last year. This year is also shaping up well.
Since the disaster, has the issue of water quality monitoring become more important? For example, monitoring water for radioactive elements?
Water, especially drinking water, has always had high importance. Since the disaster, particularly in coastal regions, we have seen an increased interest in real-time water quality monitoring. Radioactive elements in the water have obviously become of more interest and everyone is trying to find an accurate real-time solution.
What are some unique characteristics of the Japanese market? Does your company “think globally but act locally,” so to speak?
We try to take the best of both worlds. I think everything that works globally will not work in the Japanese market and vice versa. We try to push the envelope in Japan as much as possible and I think this helps us in a technology-driven market like Japan to introduce new technologies through different means. At the same time, we try to keep a traditional Japanese sales approach to the majority of our operation.
How important is the Japanese market in the company’s global pie?
Japan and Asia Pacific are very important growth areas for our company, and as such are seen as a very important part of our global pie.
Do you conduct R&D in Japan?
Large-scale systems in Japan always require a certain amount of R&D. This will vary project to project and is typically based around the interface of the systems with software and adaptation to the local market.
Tell us about your team. How many staff do you have?
We have a small office in Japan, 15 of us currently—an extremely dedicated staff with a real interest in the market that they service. The majority of the staff come from an environmental or engineering background and so have a strong applications knowledge base to help support the customers.
What is a typical day for you?
I start around 9 a.m. and finish around 6:30 p.m. Dealing with the west coast of America also involves a lot of either early morning or late-night calls. I try to get out as much as possible as it’s so important to get among the customers and see first-hand how they are using the equipment and any thoughts or issues they may be having.
What areas of the business are you hands on and what areas do you prefer to delegate to your team?
My preference is to be involved in the initial set-up of new areas and systems inside the business and then pass them over to the team. With things that are working well, I try not to get involved unless I am needed. With a lot of system development, it is necessary to be involved in nearly all the projects that that are shipped from outside Japan. We always want to ensure the equipment meets the customers’ requests and expectations.
When you are not working, how do you like to relax?
Japan has some of the best snow in the world, so I go skiing in Minakami, Toyama or up in Hokkaido, if possible, in winter. In summer, the beaches at Minami-Boso and Izu really feel a world away from Tokyo.