It’s not very often that the president of one company gets hired to become the senior vice president of sales for another company that he used to compete with. For you very, very old timers, it compares to when Leo (The Lip) Durocher shifted from managing the Brooklyn Dodgers to managing the cross-town, bitter rival New York Giants in 1948. How can that happen?
It did, again. Bing Liem is that man.
Bing was a 22-year veteran with Agfa and rose to the position of president of AgfaPhoto USA when the walls collapsed in Germany in 2005. The high regard for Bing by both his staff and his customers and the professional manner in which he conducted the shutdown of Agfa in North America must have caught the attention of management at Fuji Photo, USA, which had been undergoing its own serious cutbacks and re-organization woes. It had lost some of its prized major account business and was in need of some new blood and new direction.
Bing joined Fuji in April and by the time I met with him in July at Fuji’s Valhalla, NY headquarters, the ink on his third business card was barely dry. He went from being hired as VP of sales planning, to VP of sales, to senior VP of sales—all in three months. As I said, Fuji was in re-organization.
Being a new kid on the block has its advantages. For one, Bing was still on his 100-day honeymoon so he could do no wrong. Secondly, as a fresh face coming from his role as arch competitor, he had a unique perspective on the photo scene in general and Fuji, in particular.
He was kind enough to break into his busy schedule to answer some very specific questions for PTN.
Q. You’ve worn the Agfa uniform for 22 years. How does it feel to move to the Fuji green?
A. With Agfa no longer in business, the transition is a lot easier. Being Agfa for 22 years and trying to sell against Fuji, it’s now different going back to the same customers and saying, “Why Fuji?’ It would have been more difficult if Agfa were still here. What’s helping now is that with all of the dealings I had in trying to present an Agfa solution, I always heard the other side of the story—what was going on with Fuji. Now that I’m on the inside, it gives me a perspective. A lot of customers, because I’m so new, treat me not so much as a Fuji employee but they see me as an opportunity to build a new relationship with Fuji. They almost treat me as a consultant. After a meeting they’ll whisper to me about the things I should really look into. I don‘t know if old Fuji employees would get that insight.
Q. What are major challenges in your new job?
A. When I joined Fuji, a consolidation was already taking place. It meant changes in warehousing, billing, supply chain management, inventory, and more with the object of reducing costs, providing better service and staying competitive. All these things are being done to put us in a better organizational position for the future. My biggest challenge is to take this re-structured organization and continue to get ready for the future. People are in new jobs they haven’t had before, selling new products. The idea is to now bring the pieces together. The days of selling boxes is over. Now it’s more about selling solutions. Fuji has a lot of answers. Customers are struggling with what to do with their capital as we change from analog to digital. Customers are asking themselves, “Do we invest in a full wet solution?” There is a threshold of the number of prints being made and when it makes sense to go wet or dry. Everyone is holding very closely to their pocketbooks.
Q. What do you see as the industry’s major challenges?
A. Lots of images are being taken. Families are already on their second or third generation digital cameras, passing older ones down to children. There’s a 10-fold increase in the number of images being taken. How do we get these people to print? As an industry we have to get more involved in making people understand the value of photography and why people should print. In the past we have been concentrating on selling our individual brand of photography. Now we have to start selling photography in general. One way is to have PMA drive some sort of campaign that would be funded by the industry. It comes down to dollars and Fuji would be supportive of an industry-wide program. Another challenge is how to make money in the digital transition? The product cycle is very short and this puts pressure on us all.
Q. What are your goals for the next year?
A. My No. 1 goal is to pull this team together. It’s easy to call people in and give them new titles and business cards. But, it requires a lot of training as to their new responsibilities. My goal over the next year is to have the restructuring in place and everything functioning properly so that we have one face to the customer. Besides getting my face out there as a Fuji face, not an Agfa one, I spend a lot of time driving the new culture internally; not only the imaging division but the entire shared-services group. We have to restructure or we will drown. I am focusing to rebuild the relationship with retailers at all Fuji levels—not just sales but with all of the marketing services.
Q. There have been lots of personnel changes in your restructuring. Your customers tell me they don’t know who to speak to anymore.
A. That’s what we’re trying to get squared away. With all the changes, people have different roles and a lot more geography to cover. It’s an issue. We are looking at other ways to reach out to these people. One thing we have done is segment customer service so there is not just one telephone number for all customers to call. We now have seven or eight different 800 numbers so that each group can call its own special number in order to develop a deeper connection between the service group and the customer. We have separate 800 numbers for national accounts, professional accounts, regional accounts, retail customers, and special markets accounts, like the cruise industry. And certain national accounts do have their own number.
Q. What changes have you made since arriving here?
A. One of the things I’ve been doing is installing a new internal and external communication strategy so that we get everyone on the same page. We started with the first town meeting that was held here in some while. It was about getting all departments in line with what we’re going to accomplish. I went on a three-week road tour and met with the individual sales groups in the field to go over strategies, objectives, and initiatives. Overall, Fuji’s goal is to change and nurture the culture of photography, and we’ll do everything we can to support photography as a communication medium. As we move from analog to digital, Fuji will continue to provide different technology to leverage for growth. We’ve made a commitment that we will be the last man standing.
Q. How will you be spending the next 3-6 months?
A. I’ll be getting out and visiting more of our major accounts. I’ve already met with a lot of them, but there are still more to visit. Since I’ve been here I’ve spent 80% of my time in the field and the other 20% working on the internal processes that I discussed.