Tomomichi Takahashi is a Japanese entrepreneur who stumbled into becoming a multimillionaire by just doing his job.
A former Softbank employee and an early mover into robotic process automation, Takahashi eventually found himself running his own public company in a burgeoning industry. It’s a field he was forced into as a last resort when his consulting firm was close to death during the financial crisis, according to Bloomberg.
“It was like hell. We decided to do whatever it took to survive,” he said of the crisis.
Takahashi started out in the consulting industry working for Anderson Consulting before joining Softbank in 1996. When Softbank was a much smaller company, he was involved in corporate planning and accounting. He said the company’s founder, Masayoshi Son, had a profound influence on him.
Takahashi said: “I was lucky because I could work directly with Son. He always told us that if anyone was going to ride the digital and IT revolution, shouldn’t it be us?”
He established his own consultancy company in 2000, which helped larger firms enter the internet business. He drew upon his experience and knowledge of the IT world from his time at Softbank. He transitioned industries to robotic process automation years later during the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Now, his firm provides software bots for more than 500 companies like Nippon Life Insurance and Mitsubishi. These bots help companies automate routine tasks like data input and checking invoices.
“I thought the business I’d been building for eight years was going to disappear. Firms can cut consulting contracts with no problem. I wanted to do something where we’d have a deeper involvement with customers, where we’d be a source of value,” Takahashi told Bloomberg.
Taking Son’s advice paid off: Takahashi’s company, RPA Holdings, listed last year on the Tokyo stock exchange and, as a result, he saw his wealth and stake in the company become worth more than $360 million.
His company now sits on the forefront of an industry that grew to about $680 million in 2018, up 57% from the year before. The industry is on course to grow to $2.4 billion by 2022 and Takahashi’s native Japan has become the world’s first adopter for such technology.
Takahashi says the next step is to go beyond robotic process automation to create other services and businesses using artificial intelligence. And while the company forecasts that sales will more than double to 9.1 billion yen in the fiscal year ending February, he’s setting his sights on much higher revenue in the years ahead.
“There’s a huge market for software robots using AI technologies,” he said. “Just like industrial robots in factories, if software bots can take on the tedious routine work in offices, we can create a productivity revolution for white-collar jobs.”
As to whether Japan, which has virtually zero slack in the labor force with unemployment in the low single digits and yet still can not hit 1% inflation for decades despite the BOJ monetizing all debt, is the country where menial office workers should be replaced by robots en masse, eventually sparking a wave of domestic unemployment is where this robotic revolution should be tested out, that is a different matter entirely.