Denso Corp. President Hiromu Okabe is a voracious reader. He devours 200 to 300 books a year. And he is near the professional level in Go, a game that former chess champion Bobby Fisher once called the most difficult board game in the world.
That strategic skill has been helpful to Okabe, who started out as a corporate planner. Among his accomplishments: introducing a long-term planning policy. His goal: Denso wants to be the top global seller in 19 parts categories by 2005, up from 12 two years ago.
Despite Okabe's strategic abilities, Denso remains tightly linked to its largest shareholder and customer, Toyota Motor Corp. The electronics supplier does not act as if it is master of its fate. It is simply not willing to launch new ventures if it would offend Toyota.
Denso's timidity is surprising. With more than 85,000 employees, the company is the world's fourth largest supplier, with net sales of $16.3 billion in the year ending March 2001. On the other hand, Denso depends on Toyota for 45 percent of its revenue. That rises to 49 percent if Toyota affiliates Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd. are included. Toyota also owns 25 percent of Denso.
Denso is not the only large supplier heavily dependent on a single customer. General Motors accounts for 75 percent of number one supplier Delphi Automotive Systems Corp.'s sales.
Aisin Seiki Co. books 71 percent of its sales with the Toyota Group. Nissan accounts for 70 percent of Calsonic Kansei Corp.'s sales.
But Delphi differs from Denso. Delphi has an aggressive plan to cut its dependence on GM. It does not feel that it has to ask GM's permission if it wants to develop a product, or offer the products to GM first.
Until Denso does likewise, it will have a hard time changing the perception it is like a 28-year-old who lives at home with his parents and takes only the occasional outside job.