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Interview with Yoshihiro Hidaka.

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Interview: Mr. Ken Nemoto and President and CEO, Yoshihiro Hidaka - Interview with Yoshihiro Hidaka.

Yoshihiro Hidaka is the president of Yamaha Motor, but he is also a YZF-R1M owner and a genuine motorcycle enthusiast. Fueled by his passion for riding, he is a leader brimming with positivity and speaks on the difficulties of striking a balance between keeping Yamaha unique and addressing diversifying global needs—while staying true to his own beliefs—as if it is a trivial matter.

Interviewer: Ken Nemoto
Photos: Toru Hasegawa

Yoshihiro Hidaka

Yoshihiro Hidaka

Born in 1963. Graduated from Nagoya University’s School of Law and joined Yamaha Motor in 1987. President and Representative Director of Yamaha Motor and Vice Chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Inc.

Ken Nemoto - RIDE HI Producer

Ken Nemoto - RIDE HI Producer

Born in 1948. Winner of All Japan Road Race Championship 1973 - 750 cc class. Competed in FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix races in 1974-1978. Appointed editor of a motorcycle magazine on return to Japan. Has since begun many hobbyist and other magazines. Also has publishing experience in Taiwan. Ken has been enjoying competing in the Suzuka 8 hours Endurance Road Race, 24 Hours of Le Mans, Daytona AHRMA Vintage and other races.
In 2020, he began “RIDE HI” simultaneously in magazine and web formats. He provides various YouTube content including his popular “RIDE LECTURE” channel and talk shows.


Yamaha’s more human side is what drew me to join

Nemoto I understand that you rode in college and were a Yamaha fan back then. For motorcyclists, just hearing that a fellow enthusiast is steering the company is heartening news.

Hidaka Yes, that’s right. I got my scooter license when I entered university and used it to get to and from school, my part-time job, etc. And riding is fun, right? So I decided I’d get onto a proper-sized bike and quickly got my 400cc license through an accelerated course. Afterwards, I went straight to a big bike dealership in Nagoya and was looking at a CBR. Then one of the dealership guys who was a bit older told me—almost like it was a secret—that Yamahas were the hot thing right now. The FZ400R had just come out and I liked the design when I saw it, so I ended up buying one. As you can imagine, once I started riding it, it was nothing like my scooter!

Nemoto It’s a pretty common story for how people get into riding, but for you it was a huge, life-changing first step.

Hidaka I was enjoying my life as a college student as well as my life as a rider. Time flew by and all of a sudden, it was time to start deciding on a career. For me, I loved riding motorcycles as a hobby and felt that if I entered the industry, I’d lose my love for them, so I had basically eliminated going down that route.

Nemoto What happened for you to go that far, to not consider a career with a motorcycle manufacturer?

Hidaka I thought life at a bank or securities company probably didn’t suit me. I wanted to go to a place that put forth an honest effort to manufacture and sell something respectable. So I took the employment exams for major steel manufacturers and leading electronics companies. But at the same time, and mostly out of curiosity, I took the exam for Yamaha since it was the company that built the FZ I’d spent so much time together with in college. I got offers from several places and was looking to join a major electronics company.

Nemoto Why is that?

Hidaka Yamaha had also given me an offer and when I called the HR department to decline it, they asked where I was going to go instead. When I said which electronics company, the person on the line said rather matter-of-factly, “Can’t blame ya for that.” A while after that, I got another incredibly informal call from the department along the lines of, “Hey, how you doin’? You change your mind?” In my head I’m thinking, “Of course I haven’t…” but at the same time, I was also pretty bemused at how up front this Yamaha HR guy was. With the steelmaker HR rep, you had to quickly fire off answers to the barrage of questions, but then on the other hand, you have this really frank atmosphere over the phone with Yamaha Motor. That left an impression and I randomly thought that, maybe...just maybe...if I worked on motorcycles at Yamaha, I could still have fun as a rider. So I decided that if I got another call from Yamaha, I’d tell them I’d changed my mind and was interested. If the call never came, so be it.

I asked if I could ride together with Hidaka-san, thinking I could understand him better as a rider. Watching him safely but deftly handling the latest R1M on the road left me simply and honestly impressed by his level of skill and experience.

Nemoto Talk about a bet!

Hidaka So then the call comes, and I finally say that I’ll relent and join Yamaha. And what do they say? “Huh?! Really? Are you sure?” I’m like, “You guys are the ones who gave me an offer...”

Nemoto So after all that back and forth, how did things go once you finally joined the company?

Hidaka The company culture was just as I imagined it would be. That’s not to say there was no discipline or things were lax, but I could really feel a more human side to the company.
My first placement was in the procurement department. I spent the next five years handling parts procurement in Japan and then another five years doing the same thing in France. After returning to Japan, my next five years were in the strategic planning department for the motorcycle business. Then it was six years in a strategy department in Europe, handling all aspects of management. I was then sent back to Japan and joined the corporate planning division for the global group, and that’s when the 2008 financial crisis hit.
To help rebuild the business, I headed to the U.S. in 2010 and came back to Japan three years later. After I became responsible for the motorcycle business in emerging markets, my work took me to India, China, Brazil and other Latin American countries, as well as ASEAN markets. My superiors also told me to go see the developed markets as well, so all in all, I spent four years in that role.
Then I was suddenly told to get a better understanding of the company’s business figures and I think I spent about a year as the head of the Corporate Planning & Finance Center. Yanagi-san was president at the time and one day he called me to a meeting and said, “You’re up next.” That was in June 2017. I became president in 2018 and here we are, so that’s basically my career history.

If discussing bikes, Hidaka turns from being the president of one of the world’s leading motorcycle companies into your everyday rider: “When I came back in 2008, I figured if I was going to buy a bike, I wanted a big one. So I went to the driving school, quickly got my unrestricted bike license, and bought a 2007 R1, even though I was a little intimidated by it. I thought a liter bike would be really heavy and tough to ride, but weight-wise, it was no different than my old FZ400R. Except it was really powerful, the brakes were too, and it leaned into turns so easily. I was like, ‘Wait a sec, this is way easier to ride than my FZ!’ That surprised me more than anything else. I then got sent to the U.S. and after I came back, I heard an all-new R1 was coming, so I waited for about half a year and bought the R1M. And then what do I find? The bike is even lighter and further evolved everywhere, surprising me again. What in the world...”

Others won’t do it, but we want to, so then we go for it

Nemoto You’ve spent much of your career overseas.

Hidaka To my good fortune, Yamaha has customers all over the world as well as manufacturing bases, and there are all manner of roles to play in that sense. From ways of thinking to market needs and use environments, I was able to feel and experience all these differences firsthand in my career, and that is incredibly important when serving in the management of a global company. Hearing about it is nothing like seeing or doing it yourself. These days, “diversity” and “inclusion” have entered the common lexicon in Japan, but I’m really thankful that Yamaha gave me so many opportunities over my career to personally experience and understand what these really mean.

Nemoto It’s really just like your career. Things got started as part of your daily life a convenient way to get around. And then one day, things moved more toward the hobby side. Then it becomes a lifestyle, a continuous cycle of evolution.

Hidaka An institutional investor from overseas once asked me what my management style is. After I said this and that, he said, “You know, your company has to be an engineer’s paradise. They can do whatever they want.” I answered that he may very well be right, but that we also have fans around the world that pay their hard-earned money for what we offer and understand our unique style, about what makes a product a Yamaha.

Nemoto Ah yes, the Unique Style of Yamaha. Hearing that from the top is encouraging as well.

Hidaka Well, a lot of the products we make are for escaping your everyday routine. You could even go so far as to say that if Yamaha Motor were to suddenly disappear from the face of the earth, a lot of people probably wouldn’t be too troubled by it. That’s how much our portfolio is dedicated to fun and recreation. There are those who use scooters in their daily lives, so it’s not made up entirely of that, but do we really need a 425 hp outboard? Even with the R1 you rode today, do we really need to offer the market that level of performance? Maybe not, but why not? It’s fun! You want one! That’s what we make. “What exactly are the customers hoping for? Others aren’t doing it, so let’s go for it.” We have these kinds of discussions often at Yamaha.

When the conversation about bikes gets deep, Hidaka-san reveals his considerable knowledge as a longtime rider.

Nemoto Well, from the fun angle, there are riders and Yamaha fans who are worried that the move to electric vehicles will kill off the fun of motorcycles.

Hidaka With EVs, we launched our first electric scooter with the Passol, and more recently, we’re keeping a close eye on our customers with the E-Vino. We have targets to meet for carbon neutrality and the right timing for a rollout is sure to come at some point, so we’re constantly evolving our platforms and preparing for that. I’ve personally ridden EVs for the sport bike segment and felt how fun they can be. But as long as the right infrastructure, standards, and the like aren’t in place, I don’t think we will be able to provide with batteries the same level of fun, convenience, and more that customers enjoy with the gas-powered motorcycles they ride as enthusiasts.

Talking about Yamaha’s signature handling always gets me fired up.

Nemoto I see. You yourself ride an R1, so I really am curious to see where future Yamaha motorcycles that aren’t for daily errands are headed and what about them will strike me as interesting.

Hidaka I want to help users better understand the joy that comes from feeling one with your machine when you lean into corners. Technologically, we’ve established a three-wheeled solution that adds to the safety and fun factor, and we’re also researching autonomous riding with two-wheeled motorcycles through projects like MOTOROiD, for example. As new technological developments emerge, I hope we take things in a direction that offers that fluttering, flight-like feel to more people.

Share and refine our five values to
make us even more unique

Nemoto Then where do you think the Unique Style of Yamaha should go from here, including what you’ve just mentioned?

Hidaka Well, we asked ourselves what it is that makes Yamaha different or unique, and we solicited input and feedback not just from management at our subsidiaries around the world but also our employees. We put that all together into five elements or values that we agreed were important for us.
The first is Hatsu or Innovation. We need to create things with new value or bring something new to the world. People expect Yamaha to offer unprecedented value, things that get people saying, “Yamaha’s gone and done something crazy again!”
The next ones are Etsu and Shin, Excitement and Confidence. With Etsu, if you can’t feel a rush of excitement or joy when using the product, then it’s not a Yamaha. For Confidence, as we’re in the transportation and mobility business, people entrust our products with their lives, so ensuring excellent quality, reliability, and things of that nature is vital.
Then there’s Mi or Emotion. This is about crafting a design with things like beautiful surfaces or a stunning silhouette that, with just one look, makes you really want the product itself. Creating good designs that appeal to human senses is another long-held Yamaha value. The last one is Ties, or Ketsu. This really comes from Yamaha Motor’s friendly disposition as a company. Whether it’s engaging with our suppliers and dealerships or interacting with the riders that race for us, there’s a familial, relaxed tone we take across the board. We have always treasured the ties joining people together, and what stands as most important of all are the ties we have with our customers. If our stance is to open our doors wide to others, we can form all kinds of new ties, and that openness and honesty is a great part of Yamaha Motor’s corporate culture.
We decided to make these five values core parts of the company going forward. By diligently communicating them to our employees so that they feel and share the message, and by continuing to refine what the values stand for as time goes on, we can make Yamaha even more unique and thereby make our fans more enthusiastic about our brand. That’s the kind of positive place we hope everything leads to. I think we need to stay faithful to who we are as Yamaha as we better ourselves.

Nemoto And that connects to the Unique Style of Yamaha you felt when you first joined the company. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with me.

Hidaka with his FZ400R in his college days

With the president himself owning a YZF-R1M and the company’s stance on being an engineer’s paradise, it seems only natural that fun-filled creations are what emerge from the factory.

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