Takaki Maeda, senior general manager of Casio Computer Co. Ltd.’s Electronic Musical Instruments Business Division, talks about 40 years of electronic keyboards and much more.

For a special edition of Five Minutes With, we reached out to Japan to contact Takaki Maeda, senior general manager of Casio Computer Co. Ltd.’s Electronic Musical Instruments Business Division, a position he has held since April 2018. Maeda has served Casio in various capacities since joining the organization in 1986, immediately after graduating from college. Before being named senior general manager, his role in the keyboard business pertained to the domestic sales of keyboards in Japan.

In 2012, Maeda became the general manager of the electronic musical instruments business strategy department in the global marketing headquarters, due to his contribution to cultivate new markets with the compact Privia line, and the keylighted line of portables. In 2017, his role changed to the product planning department as a general manager. It was in this capacity that Maeda oversaw the development of the entire EMI product lineup. He continues to explore new and unique concepts to add to the Casio line in order to advance the industry globally. He is a native of Tokyo, and his main hobby is playing the keyboard, particularly in the rock genre.

The Music & Sound Retailer: Please take us through your background and career up until today. Also, please tell us about your family.

Takaki Maeda: I studied classical piano from the age of 4. Upon entering junior high school, I became interested in rock music and formed a rock band with my friends. Since then, I have enjoyed a variety of music — rock, funk, jazz and fusion, etc. — and have continued playing in a band with various friends. When I was a college student, I dreamed of becoming a professional musician. My parents, however, persuaded me to get a proper job, and I joined Casio in 1986. I worked in front-line sales in Japan for about 10 years then. I became involved in sales planning, marketing and business administration for the global market at Casio headquarters. I was able to take charge of not only musical instruments, but also Casio’s various business segments, so it was exciting to acquire new knowledge and experience. For the last about 10 years, I have been focusing on musical instrument business strategy and new product planning.

My family also loves music; music is played all day at my home on weekends. Our listening tastes vary. We especially like Earth, Wind & Fire; TOTO; Deep Purple; Return to Forever and The Crusaders. I also listen to music from various countries, especially African and Southeast Asian music. My wife also plays the piano, and my grown son plays the guitar. My daughter loves to sing, and her first name in Japanese means “beautiful sound” in English.

The Retailer: What are some of your business philosophies?

Maeda: It is my hope that Casio products and services bring new value to the world. It’s my belief that, to provide the best products, you must have a passionate team to help you in the process. Casio’s global MI team is very passionate. We work well together to bring product to market for each region. This is what I am most proud of and derive the most satisfaction from. After all, a band is also a team, isn’t it? I’ve become aware of this as I watch the activities, songs, performances and comments by the many bands I have loved in my life. Passion drives success.

The Retailer: Take us back to Casio’s entry into the electronic keyboard market 40 years ago. Why did you make the move? What market niche were you trying to fill?

Maeda: The philosophy of Casio’s musical instrument business is “to spread the enjoyment of playing a musical instrument.” This was an extremely important belief of Toshio Kashio, an inventor and one of the four brothers who founded Casio Computer. Casio entered the musical instrument industry in 1980 with “Casiotone 201,” which became notorious for its ability to play various instrument sounds in one keyboard. I would say that, rather than entering the industry, we created a new consumer market of musical instruments. Casio’s aim is to combine people’s interest in music and musical instruments by making it easier to play a keyboard, enabling the people to pick up a keyboard and learn to play it with little difficulty.

The Retailer: What are your keys to success? And what will keep electronic keyboards popular in the future?

Maeda: The needs and culture surrounding musical instruments continue to change, depending on the country and cultures. We are always proposing new functions, services and designs, and reflecting the trends of the current era. We also evaluate other interests in our target market to incorporate any trends that can be used within a musical instrument. My desire is that people will purchase musical instruments, not just to learn, but because they dream of how that instrument will enhance their life.

The Retailer: Casio is also known for many nonmusic products. Tell us the importance music products have at the company.

Maeda: Casio aims to contribute to society through a variety of products within the electronics industry. In general, musical instruments aren’t a necessity of life, but they do contribute to humanity. I personally think that, without music, society would be missing out on something important because music connects us in a way that guides us as people and then, in turn, as a community. As a business for Casio, it’s important because it stems from our early development as a company. As I stated earlier, Toshio Kashio oversaw the development of this product category, and as such, it is a part of the company’s roots. This plays an important role for the entire Casio brand. Considering that the musical instrument business is very popular among young university graduates, those graduates will hopefully seek out a company that supports their passion and interest. So aside from the revenue side of the business, it is also important in terms of securing future human resource needs.

The Retailer: 2019 seemed strong for the MI industry. How was it at Casio? Are you encouraged about the rest of 2020?

Maeda: In 2019, the business grew significantly with the launch  of many new products, all of which were well received in the market. With the launch of the newest additions to our Privia line and the Grand Hybrids as well as Casiotone, our customers are pleased with the direction we’ve taken. It is our belief that in 2020, we will be able to cultivate many new customers with these new products and our retail partners.

The Retailer: Regarding the overall music products industry, are you optimistic today? Why or why not?

Maeda: Changes in the trends of computers, smart media and even the way that artists are creating new hit songs have forced the music industry to undergo a structural transformation. We have seen a rise in the number of people who are interested in making music as witnessed by some of the programs that are broadcast on the internet and TV. This makes us optimistic that people will continue to want to create music and learn to play an instrument.

The Retailer: Tell us about some recent product launches you’ve had and why they are cool.

Maeda: Our latest introduction in the Privia line has been successful. I believe it’s because the new cosmetic design combined with the updates to the product are changing consumers’ minds about digital pianos in general. The consumers who feel an acoustic piano is necessary for an authentic sound have discovered the advancement in digital technology and are now reconsidering their opinions of digital pianos. This is exciting. Also, the Casiotone rebranding is introducing a whole new generation to the benefits of portable play and how they can now make music anytime, anywhere.

The Retailer: What is your philosophy toward music instrument retailers? How do you keep them happy as partners?

Maeda: At the start of my career, I visited MI retailers every day as a salesperson, and my territory included 30 stores. I was also responsible for a much larger number of non-musical instrument retailers. As partners, MI retailers and I had a bond and trust, since we both would benefit from a positive sales environment. If sales struggled, we worked together to find a solution. I am convinced that this experience and how I managed the business is why my territory expanded to include all of Japan, and eventually the global market. This is the only customer contact point when you can provide customized proposals according to the customer’s needs, aside from price and specifications. It is important to plan and promote the product in a manner that is suitable to each retailer’s location, demographics and psychographics. Ideally, sell-through is much greater when the sales staff has knowledge of the benefits of the product than when product is merely merchandised, and no one is available to assist the consumer. I would like to establish a mechanism to share the necessary marketing information with our partners to ensure success for all.

The Retailer: Let’s end with a fun one. What do you most enjoy doing when not at work?

Maeda: Spending time with my family. We often drive the suburbs and enjoy hot springs. If we find a reputable hot spring, we will go even by airplane. We also go to music concerts with the whole family. We have been to Earth, Wind & Fire; TOTO; Deep Purple; Lee Ritenour; Ray Parker Jr.; etc. Maybe I am imposing my own tastes on the whole family….

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