On March 30, Sharp announced a strategic alliance with Foxconn, the contract electronics manufacturer best known for its relationship with Apple. The Taiwanese company took a 66% stake in Sharp in return for an investment of €3.1 billion. Following the announcement, PrintIT spoke to Jun Ashida, President of Sharp Information Systems Europe, about what the agreement means for Sharp and its Document Solutions Business in particular.
PrintIT: Why does Sharp refer to Foxconn’s investment as an alliance and not a take-over?
Jun Ashida (JA): Because it is an investment of €3.1 billion by Foxconn in Sharp. We continue to be Sharp, an independent company. We a
re the ones who decide our strategy, our direction and also how we maximise the power of that investment.
PrintIT: Do you have a specific fiure on what is being invested in the Business Solutions Group?
JA: Roughly €310 million. But this is not an investment from Foxconn; it is Sharp’s investment. Foxconn is investing €3.1 billion to become a major stakeholder in Sharp. Thereafter, what we choose to invest in is up to us. Sharp’s investment plan is divided into several product categories – display technologies, consumer electronics and so on – including Business Solutions Group, our B2B business, which is getting a total of €310 million. How we invest that is something we are now discussing.
PrintIT: What does Foxconn bring to Sharp, other than cash and stability?
JA: This collaboration, this alliance obviously brings stability to Sharp Corporation – there is much less to worry about in our global day-to-day business operations and Foxconn’s fiancial backing lets us pursue our investment goals more positively. Another major benefit is the opportunity for synergy. Foxconn has the most advanced manufacturing technology and massive purchasing power, which offers major possibilities for Sharp. Then, there are things that we have that they don’t, like the Sharp brand and product innovation and technology. The synergy of those ingredients gives us major opportunities, which both parties want to pursue.
PrintIT: Foxconn is reported to want Sharp’s expertise in displays. Does the alliance make it more or less likely that Sharp Business Solutions Group will be sold?
JA: (laughing) Business Solutions Group has been, and continues to be, one of Sharp’s core businesses. In fact, it is probably becoming more important. That’s also how Foxconn sees it. They view this as a big opportunity as well. So, there are no such discussions. Rather, we are having very positive talks with them about what the synergy between the two companies can do for Business Solutions, as part of Sharp. Of course, in their joint press conference, our President Mr Takahashi and Mr Terry Gou [founder and CEO of Foxconn] emphasised the technology synergy of the display areas. This will benefit Sharp overall and should also benefit Business Solutions Group.
PrintIT: Will Sharp Business Solutions Group continue to be run as a separate business, in line with your recent corporate restructuring?
JA: Yes. Inside the Sharp Corporation we have created fie internal, virtual companies, one of which is the Business Solutions Group. That structure remains the same. The direction remains the same.
PrintIT: Last autumn, you said you were focusing very much on the B2B market and withdrawing from some consumer markets in Europe. Yet Mr Gou wants to make Sharp a massive consumer brand again.
JA: You are right. Sharp Corporation has been restructuring the consumer electronics (CE) business, starting in Europe. Apart from the Italian and Russian markets, we basically ceased our Sharp brand CE business in Europe. At this stage, there have been no particular discussions about the European CE business. But you are right, Mr Gou wants to invest in the consumer electronics and home appliances areas. I am not sure if you are familiar with our latest product, the Robohon, an AIintegrated smart mobile phone and robot lookalike. That is one area of consumer electronics in which Sharp will want to go further and where Foxconn is willing to help Sharp invest.
PrintIT: Mr Gou also mentioned an air purifir.
JA: I don’t know about that specifially. But Sharp’s ideas already include investment in the consumer electronics area, particularly where internet of things technology can contribute to the smart home, and that could include air conditioners or refrigerators or microwave ovens.
PrintIT: Has uncertainty over Sharp’s future been damaging to Sharp Business Solutions Group globally and in the UK specifially?
JA: I don’t believe it has been a major problem, as Business Solutions’ performance has been strong and steady. But I would like to personally thank all our partners and customers, because they will have heard reports that Sharp’s overall situation hasn’t been great, even if Business Solutions has been OK. That might have concerned some partners and customers. Yet they continued to do business with us. I think that’s a really good thing for us, because we can now go back to them and say ‘Thank you. Sharp Corporation has been going through some diffiult times. However, our business is stable and strong and with this alliance we can now do even better. I want to say thank you for your continuing support for Sharp Business Solutions. Now we want to go even further’.