Two months after the unexpected passing of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, the company has selected a replacement for its affable leader. Tatsumi Kimishima, formerly the chairman of Nintendo of America (one of his many roles within the company through the years), will be taking the reins beginning September 16.
Kimishima seems the very definition of a safe choice, with decades of experience at Nintendo and considerable time in an executive role already. Still, Kimishima will almost certainly run the company differently than Iwata did. Iwata became known and loved by fans for his warm, approachable persona — how many presidents of major corporations are willing to goof around on camera the way he did for his Nintendo Direct skits? — and while that's certainly an approach the new president could theoretically choose to adopt, he'll have a far more difficult time making up for his predecessor's grounded perspective.
Much of what made Iwata so unique as an executive resulted from his background as a programmer. Unlike most executives, who tend to come from managerial or financial background, Iwata got his start making video games from deep within the trenches. Even after he rose to become HAL's president, and later Nintendo's, Iwata continued to get his hands dirty with the creative process. While this degree of involvement may or may not have contributed to his famously humble personality, it certainly complemented it. More to the point, though, it ensured Iwata had an intimate connection to the products his company sold — something that made him a very different leader from his own predecessor, the notoriously game-averse Hiroshi Yamauchi.
Kimishima, on the other hand, comes from a banking background. While he left that career behind decades ago, he's never served in a creative capacity at Nintendo. That's not necessarily a bad thing; if Yamauchi was perhaps too detached from his company's core business, Iwata seemed to err toward the other extreme, making passionate choices from the perspective of a games enthusiast rather than a business-driven pragmatist. Ideally, Kimishima will be able to split the difference — in his various roles at Nintendo, including a stint with the Pokémon company, he's become intimately aware of the company's products and its place in international markets. At the same time, Kimishima's removal from the day-to-day processes of game development could afford him the distance necessary for an effective perspective.
Nintendo's choice of leaders seems a deliberate statement Kimishima takes over for Shigeru Miyamoto and Genya Takeda, who stepped in as interim leaders in the wake of Iwata's death. Both Miyamoto and Takeda come from a similar background as Iwata; Miyamoto, of course, has been one of Nintendo's key designers for decades, and Takeda has a long history of development as well (with credits including Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! and StarTropics). There was some speculation that Takeda would take the top office, but in choosing someone with a different background than Iwata — and therefore, presumably, a different outlook — the company appears to be acknowledging the challenges it faced under Iwata and moving to sidestep them going forward. The question is, will they be able to hold on to the successes?