Sumitomo Electric Group The Professionals ~Fred McDuffee~
Keep on moving forward for 32 years with the history of optical fiber
I was born and brought up in New Jersey, near New York City, in the northeastern part of the U.S. My university, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is located in a green environment in the mountains. I would often enjoy canoeing and hiking on weekends. I still really love doing exercise; actually, I’ve run the Osaka Marathon twice.
At university, I majored in physics, raising my interest in optical fiber, which was just beginning to be commercialized in those days. Since I was interested in how the physics theories that I had learned at university could be actually applied to products, I joined a major U.S. international telephone and communications company, in 1978. At the company, I had an opportunity to work in a group lead by Sir Charles Kao, who was recognized as the father of optical fiber and later won the Nobel Prize in Physics and this was inspirational to my career in optical fiber. I became increasingly absorbed in the latent potential of optical fiber. In 1982, I moved to a new company involved in lightwave network products located in the New England region of the U.S.. At that company I served as the leader of an R&D team and was engaged in a wide variety of technology development projects. Then came a key turning point in my professional career. My wife and I did not adapt to the cold New England weather and wanted to move to a more temperate climate, making me decide to change jobs. After working at the lightwave network product manufacturer company, I entered the company presently called Sumitomo Electric Lightwave Corp. (SEL) in 1985.
Since I had already had some contact with Sumitomo Electric as a business partner while working at the company in New England, I knew that the Sumitomo Electric placed a high priority on the development of optical fiber, meaning that its environment was ideal for me. After joining SEL, I was engaged in technology development as a design engineer of optical fiber cables. Afterwards, I was assigned to various departments, such as customer service, marketing, product management and operation management. In 2003, entrusted to provide effective leadership to manage the company, I took the posts of President and CEO. After entering SEL at the dawn of commercial optical fiber, I was involved in the development of many products that succeeded in the North American markets; my 32 years at SEL were very exciting.
Always return to the Sumitomo Spirit and the transparency
While managing SEL, I emphasized nothing more than the Sumitomo Spirit. Placing prime importance on Integrity and respect for each other – this is what I have always wanted to realize and tried to carry into action. When I face a difficulty, I return to the Sumitomo Spirit, which leads me to the right decision and action. The Sumitomo Spirit constitutes the cornerstone of my management philosophy.
In the early 2000 timeframe, I delivered a keynote lecture at a seminar in front of customers. During the lecture, I briefly mentioned the Sumitomo Spirit, and many audience members commented after the event that they had been impressed by that mention. In particular, the concept that “things important to customers are important to the company (Profit for Self and Others, Private and Public Interests, are One and the Same)” seemed to have struck a chord among them; as they appreciated strong values of Sumitomo Electric. Although the idea is typically Japanese, its essence has something in common with American business. Sumitomo has been following this tenet and putting it into action, which I think is truly wonderful.
Another thing that I would like to emphasize is the importance of transparency. I believe that the requirements of leaders are to clarify the decision-making process; to indicate the purpose and reason for doing things, namely to give the grounds; and to establish an open environment for taking action.
Every time I face a difficulty, I tell staff members about the entire vision, while keeping the common targets in mind. For example, when the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers triggered a worldwide financial crisis in 2008, many of our customers were negatively affected, making them avoid investment and delay placing orders. To handle this crisis, we stuck to the policy of remaining competitive and providing support for customers by reducing our entire business costs. Although we shed our blood in layoffs, all the remaining members became united toward accomplishing our goal. By increasing our business efficiency and our customer service quality, we overcame the crisis.
As one of the global leaders, I would like to be always open
Presently, as one of the global leaders, I’m in the position of seeing Sumitomo Electric’s business from an even wider and higher perspective. Since 2017, I’ve been the Executive Vice President of Sumitomo Electric U.S.A. Holdings, Inc. (SEUHO). As the regional corporate office supporting the Northern American business area, SEUHO strives to reinforce crosssectional management transcending the boundaries of the group companies in the area. In addition, I also serve as the chair of the Americas Area Committee. Area Committees have been designed so that global executives selected in the companies of the Sumitomo Electric Group form a network to share their knowledge and experiences accumulated in their business units and regions. By doing so, the committee strives to contribute to enhancing the entire group’s performance. My role is to encourage group companies to participate in the committees, provide advice and serve as a bridge between the group companies and the board of directors.
To this end, I would like to listen to many more voices. So far, I have shared the same sense of purpose with my fellow workers and cooperated in solving problems. There is nothing that I can accomplish alone. As one of the global leaders of Sumitomo Electric, I would like you to know that I’m always open and value your ideas. Sumitomo Electric is a global company operating in a wide variety of markets by leveraging a wide variety of technologies. I’m convinced that listening to each voice from each region and business site around the world will lead to the realization of our corporate strategy and vision.
Joined Sumitomo Electric Lightwave Corp. (SEL)
Vice President, SEL
President and CEO, SEL
Assumed his current position
* Since 2014, he is a member of the Sumitomo Electric Group Global Executive Conference and the chair of the Americas Area Committee.