Big news was announced at Avex’s financial result briefing this year held on May 11th (Fri). Starting as of June 22th (Fri), the new CEO and Chairman would be founder Masato Matsuura, the new COO would be Katsumi Kuroiwa(then Group Executive), while Shinji Hayashi would be the new CFO. This year, 2018 marks the company’s 30th year anniversary, and with the new slogan of “Really! Mad+Pure,” Avex is ready to take on the future from the ground up. After taking over the wheel from Chairman Matsuura, Kuroiwa sat down with us to offer some insight into the future of Avex and entertainment.
Taking the “1.0” you already have and
fusing it with a new “2.0” to make a “1.5”
“There is a lot to do now that I’m in my position, but there was always a lot to do when I was the president of Avex Entertainment Inc.. But there are new departments and new projects and since Chairman Matsuura and CFO Hayashi and I need to talk about much more now, our number of meetings has increased too. But we work closely together and try to keep unneeded meetings to a minimum — to shape what we can with the time we already have and make time to do new things.”
From a distance, it seemed as though Avex had announced their new team line up after thorough preparation and exquisitely aimed timing. At least that’s what we all thought. But when we asked Kuroiwa about what led the team to make the move, we weren’t expecting his answer — “Chairman Matsuura said it ought to happen before Golden Week.”
“At first, all he said was ‘I’m gonna be the chairman.’ So we said ‘Of course, that’s great.’ But then he tells me ‘Kuroiwa, you take over as president!’ I replied with something along the lines of ‘There is no way I can,’ or ‘That would be too much weight for me.’ The difference in the amount of ground you have to cover and play defense on between being a president of operations and a president of business projects, is just immense. I was still growing and learning, myself, as the president in the business of music and I was under the impression that I would be for a while longer, so I didn’t see it coming. But after thinking it over, it was a rare opportunity that I should be grateful for. Plus, Chairman Matsuura was going to try his hands in something completely new, which was something really positive for the company. He said, ‘You’re gonna take care of the 1.0 we already have and I’m gonna start a new 2.0. We’ll fuse them together to make an Avex 1.5.’”
Working together organically among comrades with similar thought processes, without worrying about things like the boundaries of a company or organization — this is the gist of “Work 2.0”, a term that we are hearing more and more of in business these days. Chairman Matsuura chose to transpose this notion with his company, and in order to have the preexisting “Avex 1.0” evolve, he decided to jump into the seen as a new entity, i.e., “company 2.0.” They would take what they could harvest, fuse it together and make their own Avex 1.5 — with a style of its own.
As someone who has supported the preexisting elements of his organization and has provided them with growth as a leader — not to mention successfully executing a multitude of projects — It is safe to say that Kuroiwa is COO material. Though this sudden turn of events may have played out like a Golden Week human affairs drama, Chairman Matsuura was sure and steadfast about one thing.
“Not only did I accept the offer with the mindset that there was no turning back,” he says, “I did it prepared to resign from the company, if need be. When you become the president of a company, you can’t say ‘well if it doesn’t work out I can always go back to my old position.’ It comes with responsibility. I of course talked it over with my family as well. To be honest, though, I was a bit skeptical at first. It all happened that fast.”
Now that Kuroiwa has taken over, he has established a much closer relationship with the former president, and commented, saying “Now I know very well just how much Chairman Matsuura was in charge of.” He also filled us in about something Matsuura had said that really left an impression.
“He said, ‘Now that you are president, a lot of people are going to approach you. You have to be able to look carefully and judge wisely.’ He also said, using an example regarding our company, that ‘If you can get your hands on someone like Tetsuya Komuro, you win.’ And just as Matsuura’s words come at a time of transition for the company, using our thirtieth anniversary as a way to start anew, I won’t be able to rely on old tactics just because I’m taking care of ‘Avex 1.0.’ It will come down to how well I can get people outside the company to take notice and be fond of Avex, and how well we can work together to provide the world with new entertainment. With that said, I believe Chairman Matsuura meant that people will appear, and if I can determine that I’ve found someone who can represent or symbolize a generation, then we’re set.”
There is no peak for a company
that has built up their physique,
starting with their legs
Known for their big name artists like Ayumi Hamasaki, TVXQ, BIG BANG and their major concert events like a-nation, ULTRA JAPAN and STAR ISLAND, Avex has an illustrious and colorful career record. Even so, not many people know exactly what brought Kuroiwa to join Avex and take the path that he did.
“I first joined the company in 2001. That’s back when CDs were selling like crazy and HIkaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki could sell over 4 million of them. But the first job that I was a part of was concerts. In those days, there was hardly anyone in the company producing concerts. They all thought, ‘Concerts don’t make any money, just outsource them.’ Because of that, I barely received any attention. But once I started working, I discovered that it took a lot of work, a lot of technical knowledge and it was a lot of fun. I worked without anyone below me for about two years. The production company we were outsourcing to was really talented and capable, so I learned a whole lot.”
Around this time in The States and in Europe, the packaged music business was starting to go downhill and live music promoters were starting to take over the scene with 360-degree business models.
“I would tell my superiors that if we were going to do 360-degree business, we would have to start making live concert production one of our company’s departments. After a while I noticed more people thinking the same way, within the same group. So in 2005 when the company was going through a so-called ‘second establishment’ phase, I thought, ‘this is it!’ and I went above my bosses and spoke to operations directly. In the end, they chose to do it. From then on we produced concerts, did sponsorship sales, made merchandise, did the ticketing and much more, all under the new name of Avex Live Creative.”
When Kuroiwa thought about what would make them a hit, the answer he arrived at was to increase their scale of business.
“Hits don’t last forever,” he says. “There are peaks. They either level out or go back down. But there are no peaks in an organization. I thought that even though it would take some time, if we were able to build up our physique as a company and put on some muscle, starting with our legs, it would be a ‘hit’ for us. And I thought that would be my way of contributing to the company. So we trekked along, slow but steady, and now we’ve become an organization that doesn’t topple over that the slightest blow.”
They have built up quite a strong system and platform over the years which has allowed them to scale out in a variety of ways.
“I was like, ‘let’s collaborate with an artist from another label,’ ‘let’s do a theater piece,’ ‘let’s bring The Blue Man Group over from New York,’ or say, ‘let’s do a festival,’ or even ‘let’s bring an overseas festival to Japan.’ The whole time I just focused on one thing, as a member of a larger organization. Thoughts like, ‘I think we’ll compose some music,’ or ‘I think I might try managing an artist I like,’ never even crossed my mind. I was always thinking of what I could do to contribute to my realm of live entertainment, in a 360-degree business fashion.”
Mad and Pure —
what can you do when you fuse
two contradicting elements
It seems that he has found himself sitting in the COO’s chair now thanks to his pursuit of one simple thing. Taking a look back on his career, Kuroiwa says “Doing whatever and all I could inside a limited environment has led me to where I am now.”
“People tend to trudge along indifferently performing whatever task they’re given. In most cases, even if they come up with something new, they’re either stopped by the organization, or give up on the idea themselves. But I think that those who can question the things in front of them and pursue possibilities, are sure to forge their own path to something new.”
“Questioning,” it seems, is what has kept Kuroiwa moving along all this time.
“In the old days, you had a company that discovered new artists, a company that trained them, a company that managed them, and so on. But if you don’t take a comprehensive set of measures, you can’t cultivate a good artist. Even when it comes to releasing new material, many tend to have the bad habit of thinking, ‘Oh, we gotta put out something new.’ “Buy why?” I ask. When I don’t understand something, I want to be filled in about it. After I’m taught about it, I want to run it through logic,” says Kuroiwa. “Another important thing — profit is more important than sales. Sales figures only speak of the economic and scale side of things. If you set out to get a new market, sales will increase. But even though you might have to fight over shares every now and then, the size of the pie in the Japanese music industry is pretty much a given. Going out of your way to increase sales in a limited environment like that is utter nonsense.”
As we approached the end of the interview, we had to ask about the new slogan, “Really! Mad+Pure.”
“I think that ‘Really! Mad+Pure’ and ‘Avex 1.5’ are the same thing; plus and minus, yin and yang... Balance is kept by the existence of both. In that sense, you can’t just have crazy, out there, ‘mad’ things, just as much as you can’t have just clean, genuine, “pure” things. The key is what you get when you fuse them together. And when you get it right, you’re like, ‘What!? Really?! No way!’ And that’s what you should aim for. Well, that’s what we meant when we made that tagline. When it comes down to it, the things that become the standards, they all turn out to fuse the two together, no matter how much you try going into it with only one of the elements. They fuse, the pie gets bigger and the market becomes stable. This is also how we define ‘a hit.’”
The well needed character and original charm of this company, one that “must” continue to lead the entertainment industry, can be found seeping out the pours of its president’s words. This act of genuinely questioning habits not founded in logic and honestly taking on new challenges will prove to set the mold for a future “Avex 1.5.” What shape that will take, however, is for now, unknown. Kuroiwa has only just taken ahold of the captain’s wheel of this newly born Avex and is steering for the vast ocean as we speak.
Avex Entertainment Inc.
CEO & President