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Panasonic’s Customer-First Approach to Innovation

Episode 78

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After more than 20 years with Panasonic, Magnus McDermid (LinkedIn) has learned a lot about what it means to truly partner with a customer, and the types of innovations and advancements that can be born out of those relationships.

Magnus holds a number of positions within Panasonic, including SVP of Panasonic North America and Panasonic Canada, President of Heartland Customer Solutions, SVP Mobility Solutions USA and VP Enterprise Solutions Canada. But regardless of what title he holds, Magnus explains that his success, and the success of the company as a whole, all comes down to the relationship with the customer. It is through those relationships that some of Panasonic’s most popular and important products have been created, and the partnership between company and consumer continues to be a well of innovation. On this episode of IT Visionaries, Magnus talks about all of that and more, plus he gives his advice on how to stick with and grow a company for decades.

Best advice to stick with a company for a long time: “With any organization is really [about] understanding how it actually works. Every organization has a structure. Panasonic is a combination of a North American and Japanese business so it’s really about understanding the fundamentals of how the company works, what it’s really committed to… I always believe you should listen more than you talk. And I think anybody joining a big company like Panasonic should just spend some time and get to know how it works. It’ll be different because, you know, Japanese companies, I’m sure, are very different from Korean companies, or very different from German companies. Each has an identity, and you’ve got to figure out what the identity is and where you fit into that.”

Key Takeaways:

Magnus’s Role at Panasonic — 2:30

Magnus is based in Toronto, Canada, and is in charge of running the B2B Solutions Business in the Canadian market. He also runs the Toughbook mobility business in the U.S.

The Toughbook Backstory — 6:00

In the mid-1990s, Panasonic’s customers were giving feedback that they wanted mobile workers using software applications and they were frustrated with the quality of the products on the market that could not withstand hard days out in the field. Panasonic responded by creating the Toughbook, which became popular in the military, with police and emergency workers, and with others who spend a lot of time in vehicles or out in the field. In the years since its inception, the Toughbook has evolved into a catalog of devices and applications for all sorts of work environments, including vehicle-mounted devices, handhelds, and more. There are plans for wearables, facial recognition and other technology to be introduced in the future, but Magnus stresses that, as always, it comes down to what will serve the customer best. And, no matter what they deploy, everything they produce has to function reliably because the Panasonic tech is more often than not being used in environments where technology is critical.

“[Our tech is] really allowing them to drive more applications out to the field, more applications to their field workers. And that has just evolved and continues to evolve. Since we started this business, now it’s almost like all workers are equipped with devices, so we have a range of devices to do different things.”

“We deploy these devices in areas that are very mission critical. They just can’t fail. So the commitment that we have is to build things that can withstand because if the device breaks or the hardware breaks, the technology breaks, you can no longer apply the software.”

The Panasonic Customer — 9:30

So much of Panasonic’s business comes from the blue-collar world, and Magnus explains that staying close and maintaining strong relationships with those customers is extremely important to the company’s success. Engineering teams work with specific customers on future tech to make sure their needs are being met. Panasonic also holds advisory groups where they bring in different engineers from all over the world to discuss the future of the industry and innovation.

“It’s very much face to face and personal. And through that, we have worked with major corporations to develop new types of products and solutions. To me, sales and marketing are really less [about] numbers and more about relationships with customers.”

What is the Gemba Kaizen Process? — 11:00

According to the Panasonic website, “the Gemba Kaizen approach is a Japanese concept of continuous improvement designed for enhancing processes and reducing waste. The concept’s core objective is operational excellence.” Magnus explains that the word “Gemba” is simply translated to “work being done.” Panasonic is applying this approach to innovate solutions in a number of areas all driven by E-commerce, such as supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, and others. The question they are always asking themselves is “how can we make things more efficient in whatever industry we are working in.”

“We take our core customer relationship where we’re driving devices and then we try and work with them to solve additional problems and build new technology and technology solutions that will help them drive business. Essentially that’s the essence of Gemba process innovation.”

Internal Innovation at Panasonic — (16:30)

Everything goes back to the customers, Magnus explains. Panasonic creates innovation groups and then pairs them with customers. Sometimes they work together to come up with technology, but other times engineers and innovators are simply coming up with ideas and new tech that is a good idea, regardless of if they have a use case for it or not. Additionally, a technology that was developed for one business can then be adapted for other business sectors or industries.

“We really want to start looking at how we build specific applications driven by our customers and then build the whole services portfolio around it.”

The Challenges of Being a Leader — (20:00)

Magnus manages many people in various countries, states and departments. The way he finds success all boils down to always hiring the right people. From there it’s about maintaining open communications, meeting often and making sure everyone is on the same page.

“My philosophy around leading organizations is really relatively straight forward — my main job as a business leader is to find the right people and put them in the right jobs, communicate our strategy clearly, and then allow those people to do the job. And I find that effective. So to me, it’s all about team development and putting the right people in place. If everybody’s buying into the strategy, the messaging and the overall business structure, I find that the most effective way to organize.”

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Magnus McDermid, who holds a number of executive level positions with Panasonic, discusses all he has learned about what it means to truly partner with a customer, and the types of innovations and advancements that can be born out of those relationships.

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