Minebea Co., Ltd.
Minebea Co., Ltd.
Incorporated: 1951 as Nippon Miniature Bearing Company Ltd.
Sales: $2.677 billion (2007)
Stock Exchanges: Tokyo
Ticker Symbol: MNBEY
NAIC: 332991 Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing
Publicly listed Minebea Co., Ltd., is a Tokyo-based company involved in two business segments: machined components and electrical devices and components. Machined component products include miniature- and small-sized ball bearings (the company's original business), fluid dynamic bearings, roller bearings, medium- and large-sized bearings used in aerospace applications, sleeve bearings, pulley bearings, and machine tool bearings. In addition, Minebea offers pivot assemblies, tape guides, fasteners, magnetic clutches and brakes, and defense-related components used in submarines and aircraft. The company's electronic devices and components include computer fan motors, blowers, stepping motors for printers and copy machines, hard disk drive spindle motors, brush DC motors used in audio visual equipment and automotive electronic components, vibration motors used in cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), computer keyboards, speakers, magneto-optical disk drives, floppy disk drive magnetic heads, black light inverters to illuminate notebook computer screens, lighting devices for cell phone and PDA displays, color wheels used in digital light processing (DLP) projection systems, strain gauges, load cells, pressure transducers, digital indicators, and a tensile and compression testing machine. Minebea maintains 29 manufacturing facilities in nine countries, employing nearly 50,000 people, and 43 sales offices in 13 countries.
COMPANY FOUNDED: 1951
Minebea was founded in Tokyo in July 1951 as Nippon Miniature Bearing Co., Ltd., by Nissan Motor Company. The ten-employee venture, relying on machine tools from the United States, produced ball bearings needed for automobiles and other industrial applications. A year later the business was acquired by a wealthy investor, the father of the man who would lead the company for four decades as a virtual autocrat, Takami Takahashi. In 1957 Takahashi inherited Nippon Miniature Bearing and two years later took charge. In that same year the company built a new plant and headquarters in Aoki-cho, Kawaguchi, Saitama. Takahashi faced a challenging situation: Japan's economy was booming and rival ball bearing companies were threatening Nippon Miniature Bearing's position in the marketplace. Takahashi had no choice but to expand or perish, but at this point he did not venture far afield, focusing all of the company's resources on miniature ball bearings. In short order the company was Japan's market leader and the world's sixth largest miniature ball bearing manufacturer.
Expansion came quickly for Nippon Miniature Bearing. In 1960 it forged a marketing arrangement with the United States' Miniature Precision Bearings Corporation (MPB). A year later it made an initial public offering of stock to raise funds for further growth and in the fall of 1961 gained a listing on the Second Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. A sales office was then set up in the United States in the fall of 1962 to drum up further business, primarily in the aerospace industry, and by the start of 1964 it no longer needed MPB so the marketing agreement was terminated. Nippon Miniature Bearings spearheaded Japan's ball bearing industry's entry into the United States and within several years the Japanese captured a significant share, forcing firms like MPB to shut down plants.
LOS ANGELES SUBSIDIARY FORMED: 1968
To meet rising demand, in the meantime, Nippon Miniature Bearing opened a plant in Karuizawa in 1963. Two years later the Kawaguchi facility was closed and all production was carried out at the new plant. Production capacity continued to increased at Karuizawa, and by the late 1960s about 70 percent of the bearings it produced were sold to the United States, where the company commanded a 40 percent share of the aerospace ball bearing market. To help stimulate sales, a U.S. subsidiary, Nippon Miniature Bearing Corporation, was established in Los Angeles, California, in 1968. The parent company also looked to Europe for new customers, setting up an office in London in 1967. Four years later a sales subsidiary, NMB (U.K.) Ltd. was established.
The success of Japan's ball bearing companies caused major concern in the United States, especially in the military, which had not forgotten the importance bearings played during World War II when the Allies focused a great deal of pressure on Germany's bearing plants, the destruction of which greatly hindered the Germans' war effort. In 1971 the U.S. government intervened, establishing a policy that defense contractors would source ball bearings up to 30 millimeters in size only from companies in the United States and Canada "to the maximum extent practical." In response, Nippon Miniature Bearings established manufacturing capabilities in the United States. In 1971 it acquired U.S. Reed Instrument Corp. from Sweden's SKF and began producing bearings on U.S. soil to skirt the new regulations.
The addition of U.S. Reed was just one of a number of acquisitions Takahashi engineered in Japan and abroad in the 1960s and 1970s to not only increase his miniature bearings' assets but to also add precision equipment assets. By the early 1970s Nippon Miniature Bearings was the world's largest company in its field, holding a 70 percent market share, but Takahashi believed that miniature bearings was a relative small market offering little opportunity for growth. Instead of entering the market for larger ball bearings, he opted to pursue vertical integration, establishing manufacturing capabilities in his customers' markets (such as the Reed Instrument acquisition, although that deal was also born out of necessity). He also sought to move Japanese production offshore as a way to cut costs and enter new markets, and to take advantage of the company's engineering skills to diversify into other markets. A strategy heavily dependent on acquisitions was antithetical to Japanese business culture, which assumed that only organic growth was acceptable. Quickly gaining a reputation as a maverick, Takahashi simply viewed acquisitions as a quick way to add manufacturing capacity and technology. He also raised eyebrows in 1972 when he formed a subsidiary in Singapore and began manufacturing bearings, thereby breaking an unwritten rule forbidding overseas production. Takahashi denied that the move was made to procure inexpensive labor. Rather, the company maintained that because the Karuizawa plant was secluded by mountains it was unable to attract skilled labor, a situation exacerbated by the rapid growth in Japan's manufacturing sector that reduced the available labor pool. According to a 1992 profile of Takahashi in the Economist, "This claim is disingenuous. Though skill shortages are a growing problem in Japan today, few Japanese engineering firms complained of them 20 years ago."
As a comprehensive manufacturer of high-precision components, Minebea aims for further growth and development through cutting-edge ultra-precision machining technologies and mass production technologies.
The 1970s brought a spate of acquisitions as Takahashi took advantage of the company's expertise to move into precision machining, which involved the use of specialist materials and the hardening of the metal coating of small components. In addition, the electronics needed to control such delicate manufacturing operations gave Nippon Miniature Bearings an edge in the small components field. "To exploit this know-how," according to the Economist, "Takahashi bought firms making gauges, fasteners, loudspeakers, small transformers, die castings and computer keyboards." In 1974 gauge manufacturer Shinto Communications Industry Co., Ltd., was acquired, followed a year later by the addition of small precision motor manufacturer IMC Magnetics Corp., fastener maker Tokyo Screw Co., Ltd., and Shin Chui Kogyo Co., Ltd, an electromagnetic clutch manufacturer. Then, in 1977, the company purchased Osaka Motor Wheel Co., Ltd., an automotive wheel manufacturer; motor manufacturer Hansen Manufacturing Co., Inc. In that same year, Nippon Miniature Bearings established a manufacturing subsidiary in West Germany. The company closed the 1970s with the acquisition of Hokuto Onkyo Co., Ltd., maker of speakers; Hata Radio Co., Ltd., which manufactured transformers; and Teikoku Die Casting Co., Ltd., which produced die-cast products.
In a further effort to increase production while controlling labor costs, Nippon Miniature Bearings opened manufacturing subsidiaries in Taiwan and Thailand in 1980, and acquired a Singapore factory to begin manufacturing small-sized ball bearings. A year later the company absorbed four of its non-bearing subsidiaries and was renamed Minebea Co., Ltd., a name that better reflected the diverse nature of the business. Over the next few years Takahashi would make it even more diverse, not always with success and sometimes merely to satisfy a whim. In late 1981 Minebea acquired a furniture importer, Actus Corporation. Two years later a cooling fan manufacturer, Kondo Electric Works Ltd., was brought into the fold. A die-cast products manufacturer, Teikoku Die Casting Co., Ltd., was acquired in 1984. In 1988 the company added a British maker of rod-end and spherical bearings, Rose Bearings Ltd., and a year later purchased a Taiwan audio speaker box manufacturer, Hwan Chong Enterprise Co., Ltd. Along the way, according to the Economist, at Takahashi's behest, "Minebea charged into business such as horticulture, cosmetics, jewelry, furnishing and home delivery, for which there was no justification at all. These acquisition were little more than personal hobbies for Takahashi himself." In 1989 he indulged his interest in pig farming by starting a pig farm in Thailand. When banned from importing his pork to Japan, he converted the operation into an orchid nursery and started a pig farm in Canada.
The 1980s also brought some controversy to Takahashi and Minebea. In 1984 he made an unexpected bid for New Hampshire Ball Bearings Inc., offering to pay $65 a share when the stock was trading at about one-third that amount. The offer prompted complaints of possible antitrust problems and national security concerns but in the end the deal went through in March 1985, and Minebea gained the ability to manufacture specialty bearings used in aircrafts and other applications. Takahashi also antagonized the Japanese business community in 1985 by attempting to engineer a hostile takeover of Sankyo Seiki Manufacturing Co., a maker of music boxes and precision equipment. Sankyo management was able to rally support from a group of Japanese companies and banks, who bought shares of Sankyo stock to thwart Takahashi, who was regarded in Japan as a "hijacker." Soon, Takahashi found his own company the target of American financier, Charles Knapp, and a company he controlled, Trafalgar Holdings Ltd. and its British associate, Glen International Financial Services. If successful it would have been the first hostile takeover of a Japanese company by a foreign concern, but in April 1986 the effort failed.
- Nippon Miniature Bearing Company Ltd. is established.
- Takami Takahashi inherits business.
- Stock is listed on Tokyo exchange.
- U.S. subsidiary is established.
- Manufacturing subsidiary launched in Singapore.
- Manufacturing subsidiary launched in Taiwan.
- Company renamed Minebea Co., Ltd.
- New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc., acquired.
- Takahashi dies.
- Manufacturing subsidiary is launched in Shanghai, China.
- Company sells powers systems, automotive wheel, and furniture assets.
- Joint venture is forged with Matasushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.
TAKAHASHI DIES: 1989
Takahashi died of acute pneumonia in Tokyo at the age of 60 in May 1989. He had enjoy great success as well as notable failures, but the successes far outweighed the failures because he had always been flexible enough to change course. His most important decision was to abandon his assumption that the miniature ball bearing business was destined for slow growth. While many small bearings had been replaced by electronic components, the demand for the company's miniature ball bearings soared because of miniaturization in consumer electronics like videocassette recorders and smaller camcorders, and the rising popularity of front-wheel-drive vehicles which relied on the type of ball bearings Minebea specialized in. The acquisition of New Hampshire Ball Bearings and Rose Bearings solidified the company's position in this core business. In retrospect the supposedly exorbitant price Takahashi was willing to pay for New Hampshire Ball Bearings also turned out to be a prudent investment.
Takahashi was succeeded by Goro Ogino, who had to contend with difficult economic times that hit Japan in 1990. It would fall on his shoulders to extricate Minebea from some of Takahashi's less prudent investments over the course of the decade, including NMB Semiconductor Co., Takahashi's bid to become involved in the dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chip business as well as three consumer credit businesses own by Minebea. At the same time, Ogino was willing to invest in areas that offered more promise, as the company added assets that benefitted its core bearing and machined components business as well as its growing electrical devices and components segment. In 1990 Minebea acquired a U.S. manufacturer of switching power supplies, Power Systems, Inc., and in that same year formed a German joint venture to produce computer hard drive spindle motors, which Minebea would eventually buy out and rename Precision Motors Deutsche Minebea GmbH. Minebea added to its power supplies business in 1992 by acquiring Scotland-based Sorensen Ltd. Minebea also began doing business in China, establishing Minebea Electronics & Hi-Tech Components (Shanghai) Ltd. in 1994. Also of note during the 1990s, Minebea established a sales subsidiary in Korea and opened research and development units in both Thailand and Singapore.
Minebea sought to refine its business model and focus on core areas as the new century dawned and difficult economic conditions ensued. The company restructured its management organization and exited a number of businesses. In 2001 Minebea liquidated a civil engineering and construction equipment unit, a power systems subsidiary in Connecticut, an automotive wheel business, and the company's furniture store business. A year later a Malaysian speaker box subsidiary was closed and production shifted to plants in China. Also in 2002 a switching power supplies company based in the United Kingdom was dissolved, as was NMB Precision Tool & Die Ltd., a Singapore maker of jigs, tools, and dies used by other Minebea subsidiaries. The company closed its speaker manufacturer in 2004 as well as a PC keyboard joint venture in China.
Minebea enjoyed successes on other fronts, however. For example, a European-language PC keyboard operation was launched in the Slovak Republic in 2004. A Chinese unit began producing measuring components in 2001. Minebea and the parent company of the Panasonic brand, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., established a joint venture in 2003 to produce axial fan motors, stepping motors, vibration motors, and direct current brush motors. Minebea also enjoyed research and development successes, including new LED back-light systems unveiled in 2004 and a new high-performance color wheel for DLP projectors in 2006, and the world's smallest diameter stepping motor in 2007.
The focus on core businesses paid off for Minebea. After posting a net loss of more than ¥2.4 billion and seeing net sales dip below ¥2.7 billion a year later, Minebea enjoyed a strong turn around. Revenues grew steadily, topping ¥330 billion in 2007, while net income more than tripled over the prior year to nearly ¥13 billion.
New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc.; NMB-Minebea UK Ltd.; Minebea Electronics & Hi-Tech Components (Shanghai) Ltd.; NMB Singapore Ltd.
JTEKT Corporation; Nachi-Fujikoshi Corporation; NSK Ltd.
Furukawa, Tsukasa, "Supply, Demand Shape Minebea Foreign Growth," Metalworking News, September 21, 1987, p. 4.
Janssen, Peter, "Minebea on a Roll," Asian Business, March 1989, p. 18.
"Minebea Chairman Takami Takahashi Dies After Attack of Pneumonia," Financial Times, May 11, 1989, p. 35.
"The Noncomformist," Economist, August 22, 1992, p. 61.
Pasztor, Andy, "New Hampshire Ball's Acquisition Clears U.S. Agency," Wall Street Journal, February 27, 1985, p. 1.
Smith, Charles, "Predator Held at Bay," Far Eastern Economic Review, April 21, 1988, p. 84.
Tanzer, Andrew, "Good Luck, Charlie," Forbes, October 7, 1985, p. 72.
Thomas, Dana L., "Rough to Smooth: The Bearings Industry Is Making Competitive Gains," Barron's, March 6, 1972, p. 3.
Yoder, Stephen Kneider, "Minebae, a Japanese Maverick, Is Seen Losing Some Verve with Leader's Death," Wall Street Journal, May 11, 1989, p. 1.