Pursuit of Happiness

Ping pong way

Table tennis helps Canon India CEO Kazutada Kobayashi unwind and read minds

Vishal Koul

“The CEO has to be healthy both mentally and physically. The other thing is strategy. Since I play table tennis, i read the mind of the opponent and structure the way i am going to play. But others also do,” laughs Kazutada Kobayashi, CEO, Canon India, when asked how the game helps in business. Typically Japan expats, in and around Delhi, love to slug it out in golf courses. Kobayashi, too, admits that being a Japanese, he loves golf. “But you have to sacrifice half the day, plan extensively,” so ping pong is more like it. “You just need one partner to play.”  Kobayashi is patriotic when it comes to following ace players in Ping Pong. “We are still behind China but it is heartening to see Japanese players claiming second or third rank in the TT world. I follow Ai Fukuhara amongst women and Koki Niwa amongst men, ” he says.

Kobayashi doesn’t claim to have maintained a continual relationship with table tennis. He was introduced to the game in his school. “I started playing table tennis at the age of 7, an elder cousin taught me,” he says. He was coached by one of his teachers in high school. Later, he went on to win a couple of tournaments in junior school and municipality competitions. But stopped playing as he joined Canon in 1980. He calls it semi-retirement from the game. From 1984, he spent 18 years in Europe, working with Canon in different stints. In 2008, when he returned to Asia (in Hong Kong), he resumed playing table tennis. “Of course, physical fitness was much lower than my student days but I realised a part of my body still remembered the game. So in a month or two, i was back in form,” says Kobayashi.

In 2012, Kobayashi took over Canon India. He talks about instilling the table tennis culture at the India office. “Recently we held an internal TT competition, I didn’t win because there are better players. Good thing is, I managed to reach the semi final,” he grins. He feels at home in India but it has taken time getting used to. “This is my fifth  country outside Japan, (after USA, Netherlands, Germany, Hong Kong). It’s not a part of Asia or Europe, Very different in terms of culture, behaviour, people’s mindset, music, food, fashion, and weather. Which means I had to take more time to get associated. Normally its half a year to three quarters to feel like a resident. But here in india, it took me two years,” says Kobayashi.

The avid ping pong player must have read the mind of smartphone makers by now. They want to reduce the camera to an unnecessary gadget. It is in Canon’s favour, he feels. “It is expanding the pleasure of taking pictures. But if you are serious and want to make a photo album, mobile phones can’t supply good enough quality," says Kobayashi. But don’t the likes of iPhone have the potential to reduce his business? Kobayashi does not feel so. “They can’t make mobile phones thicker. Since there is not much distance between lens and sensor, there will always be limitations in picture quality.” Like in Ping Pong, the ball never stays on the rival’s side for too long and the lensman is sure of returning his best shot always.