May 4, 2022 - Technology

Former Nintendo president saw his differences as strengths

Headshot of Reggie Fils-Aime in sport jacket and crewneck shirt
Reggie Fils-Aimé. Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé urges people like him who feel like outsiders to the organizations they join to see “advantage to your uniqueness.”

Driving the news: The longtime head of Nintendo’s business in the Americas is opening up this week in interviews with Axios and others, as he promotes a business memoir, "Disrupting the Game," that focuses on lessons from his 16-year run at Nintendo.

  • From 2003-19, through the launches of the Wii and Switch, Fils-Aimé became the most prominent non-Japanese leader at the house of Mario and a celebrity to millions of gamers.

What they’re saying: “I celebrate that I am a Black man that had success not only in the video game industry, which is not dominated by Black men, but that I succeeded at Nintendo as a Black American,” Fils-Aimé said.

  • The executive rarely made reference to race during his run at the company but knows he stood out in a field in which the people running game companies are either Japanese or white.
  • “The reason I was able to be successful is that I brought my whole self to the role,” Fils-Aimé said. “I advocated strongly for what I believed in, and I leveraged my personal experiences in life and in business to push points of view. And, fortunately for me, those points of view not only were more often adopted than not, but more often than not they worked in the marketplace.”
  • Fils-Aimé noted that for diverse workers to succeed, it’s essential that leaders create a culture that makes people who are different feel valued.

Fils-Aimé bonded with Satoru Iwata, the late president of Nintendo who, he writes, saw himself as an outsider to Nintendo, in his own way.

  • Both men joined the company deep into their careers and were newcomers compared to the lifers around them.

Fils-Aime never learned much Japanese, though he tried to understand the culture he was joining.

  • “I was told that I would be much better off investing my time and my effort on marketing related issues, cultural related issues, all of the big things that we need to do.”
  • Instead, he cultivated relationships with bilingual staff in the U.S. and Japan and with Iwata, who spoke English fluently.
  • “I learned how to say sake,” he quipped.

Among Fils-Aimé and his team’s achievements, aside from blockbuster launches, was better representation in the company’s games.

  • “We pushed for all levels of diversity,” he said, referring to the American team’s communications with Nintendo developers in Japan.
  • Fils-Aimé remembers his team pushing for more hairstyles associated with people of color for the avatar-like Miis on the Wii, for same-sex relationships in a sword-and-sorcery Fire Emblem game.
  • “It was a constant push to drive, an acknowledgment that in games where you had human representation, we needed to have much more diversity and enable the player to make choices that they felt they should be able to make.”
  • He described the process as “an education” and is proud of the results.

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