With disclosures in late September that Japanese telecom giant NTT Corp. would make a sweeping change to its mobile carrier NTT Docomo, Inc. making it a wholly owned subsidiary sent shock waves through the unit.
This being because NTT Docomo was all the while used to doing things without having the parent company keeping an eagle eye trained over it.
Some NTT Docomo employees were overjoyed with the move. Their take on the matter was that they will not be able to beat huge IT companies from the United States and China if they did not pull up their socks and get competitive. However, the unilateral view was that differences in their operating principles and corporate ethos could be a major sore thumb.
In the mobile phone industry, you need to be able to deliver the goods on the back of nothing, as expressed by a midranking NTT Docomo employee. Such a concept is completely alien to the mobile carrier NTT, which harbours such starkly different corporate cultures. This has developed between these two companies in the NTT Group which originates from the early days of Docomo.
DoCoMo was established in 1992 as NTT split-up its mobile communications unit. Way back at that time, most phones were landlines and very few people had mobile phones. Within NTT, employees who were relegated to DoCoMo were nicknamed radio guys and considered to have been demoted.
Despite this bias, the employees powering Docomo during the early days were proud to begin work sincerely and they threw themselves headlong into the operations of a completely new company. Docomo’s first president, Koji Oboshi, even randomly displayed his rivalry for the parent company by suggesting ‘NTT’ be dropped from the company’s name. In Docomo’s free and open-minded work atmosphere, the employees threw themselves into creating services for the fast- approaching mobile phone era.
Docomo’s recruitment drive from outside the company also was unthinkable at NTT. In 1999, Docomo launched i-mode, the world’s first fully dedicated internet service for mobile phones.
The i-mode services revolutionized mobile phones, which had been a gadget simply for making person-to-person calls. Now users could send messages containing small images and symbols, and check train schedules. Phones became an essential instrument in everyday life.
The popularity of i-mode resulted in Docomo scooping up more than 50% of the domestic market. In fact, the company even mulled over stopping its share from growing too large or stricter regulations would come into force.