Nintendo Names 65-Year-Old Human Resources Head as President

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Nintendo Co. promoted a 65-year-old human resources executive to lead the company’s push into smartphone gaming and development of a new console as president.

Tatsumi Kimishima will succeed the late Satoru Iwata, the company said Monday. Kimishima has worked for Pokemon Co. and was chief executive officer of Nintendo of America Inc., where he oversaw the U.S. introduction of the Wii console and the 3DS handheld device.

Kimishima faces challenges revitalizing Nintendo, where its business model has been undermined by competitors’ free-to-play games on mobile devices and weak sales of its Wii U machine. Nintendo is set to release its first game service for smartphones this year and is preparing a new console code-named NX.

“It’s a very orthodox choice, which sends a message that the company is choosing to stay the course,” said Mitsushige Akino, executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. “Investors expecting growth would have preferred to see some bigger changes. Someone with a direct experience in designing games would have been better.”

Nintendo fell 1.3 percent to 22,620 yen in Tokyo. The stock has advanced 79 percent this year on expectations the company’s move into smartphone games with DeNA Co. will spark sales.

Smartphone Partnership

“The basic direction and strategy won’t change,” Kimishima said in comments released by the company Monday. “I will continue along the path set by President Iwata.”

Iwata was the face of Nintendo for 13 years, fronting everything from product announcements to analyst meetings. Iwata, the first president from outside the Yamauchi family since the company was founded in the late 19th century, tripled revenue through new devices and interactive figurines called Amiibo.

“They’re very cautious and set in their ways,” said Andy McNamara, editor in chief of Game Informer magazine. “Every time I say I think they made a mistake, I almost always eat those words. They do find ways to make things work.”

The Wii U hasn’t replicated the success of its predecessor against Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox, Sony Corp.’s PlayStation and Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad. The competing devices now sell in China after a ban was lifted, putting the Wii U further behind.

The company last week announced a new Pokemon title that uses a Bluetooth-ready button to interact with characters displayed in the real world. Nintendo has 32 percent of Pokemon’s voting rights.

Nintendo also is working with Universal Parks & Resorts to offer attractions based on its intellectual property.

‘Collective Approach’

Nintendo’s revenue has fallen six straight years, dropping to 550 billion yen ($4.6 billion) in the 12 months ended March 2015. That is less than when Iwata took the role. The company has sold about 10 million units of the Wii U since its introduction in 2012.

Since his death in July from bile duct cancer, the Kyoto-based company has been led by Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the Mario and Zelda series, and Genyo Takeda, the architect of the Wii console.

“We thought it’s better that Takeda and Miyamoto manage hardware and software, and I control administration,” Kimishima said. The new system is meant “to bring up the next-generation executives of Nintendo,” he said.

Miyamoto and Takeda will take the roles of “Creative Fellow” and “Technology Fellow,” respectively.

“It’s a collective approach to leadership,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute in Tokyo. “Kimishima’s executive experience in the U.S. means he has an understanding of that very large market.”

(Updates with closing share price in fifth paragraph.)

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