Sixteen years at Nintendo and sixteen years of people badly mispronouncing his surname. We recently reported on the news that President and COO of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aimé (pronounced “Fee-Suh-May”) would be retiring from his role, replaced by Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Doug Bowser. And whilst I could just spend this article making Bowser jokes, I thought it was worth reflecting on Reggie’s public appearances on behalf of Nintendo and how he stood out among all the other games executives.
Nintendo fans, Reggie has a message for all of you. Please take a look. pic.twitter.com/EAhaEl5oEJ
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) February 21, 2019
Before he was President of Nintendo, he was President of fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa whilst at Cornell University studying Applied Economics. He was known for his love of public speaking, having been inspired by one of his professors who spoke with passion every time, even though he was speaking about the same material for years. He was also known for his personal discipline and cleanliness, as a fellow student once recalled.
He began his career in 1983 working in food and beverage at consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble. He would spend many years working for these same types of companies, spending time at Panda Management Co. (think Panda Express), Pizza Hut, and even working as U.S. Marketing Chief for Guinness Import Co.
In his role as a marketing executive, he used his experience working in TV advertising to becoming Senior Vice President of Marketing for VH1, a series of TV channels under the MTV brand. At the time, Reggie described himself as a “brand builder” and worked to establish a unique image for the channels by supporting charity initiatives like “Save the Music”, which supported music education across the US and creating his own initiatives. He worked specifically towards targeting the channels at younger viewers, succeeding at increasing ratings by 30%.
However, Reggie would only spend two years at VH1 before moving into the company he would spend the rest of his career at, Nintendo of America. Throughout his career prior to Nintendo, Reggie had won plenty of marketing awards such as two gold EFFIEs (which spotlights achievements in marketing) and an AICP award (for advertising excellence). Whilst he didn’t have experience marketing games, he used to play them with his children and enjoyed the “chaos of youth marketing”.
Reggie joined Nintendo of America in 2003 as Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing and one of his first major acts in this new role was to present Nintendo’s E3 conference for the following year. In 2003, the presentation began with the then Senior Vice President of Marketing, George Harrison. He began by outlining what would be shown, told the press they would “learn about (Nintendo’s) products”, find out more about the state of the business and learn about their “corporate direction and initiatives”. The presentation was business-like, serious and cold.
In Reggie Fils-Aimé’s first appearance in front of Nintendo fans, his opener was instead “My name’s Reggie. I’m about kicking ass. I’m about taking names. And we’re about making games.” The feed then immediately cut to a trailer for Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Game trailer after game trailer then followed with Reggie giving each a very brief introduction. It was 10 minutes into the conference before they brought out George Harrison to show everyone some graphs. In comparison, in 2003, there were 4 minutes of introductions before a game was shown.
The conference and Reggie’s style of presenting was so popular that people went on to refer to the event as the Reggielution (a reference to “Revolution”, the code name for the Nintendo Wii). Reggie’s presentation was silly, satisfying and to-the-point. Reggie continued presenting E3 conferences and working out new marketing approaches to sell games to those who normally wouldn’t be the target. Two years later, Reggie was given the role of President of Nintendo of America. In 2007, he uttered his most famous line “My body is ready” when asked to step onto a Wii Fit Balance Board.
Reggie regarded himself as competitive and aggressive in business, but he’d developed a persona (whether intentionally or not), that was silly, dramatic and fun. This persona led to trailers for Super Smash Bros. where he does battle with Satoru Iwata, bizarre trailers for Yo-Kai Watch and other promotional silliness. Many analysts credit him as someone who succeeded in changing the company’s image and developed the brand of being fun and whimsical.
Behind the scenes, Reggie told reporters in 2006 that he worked hard and expected the same from others, stating that he’d often work 70 to 80 hour weeks. He seems to have relaxed that stance by 2018 when interviewed regarding crunch at Nintendo. He couldn’t speak for the developers, but he stated that in response to tight situations, the team won’t hesitate to bring on more contract employees to reduce work hours and encourage a work-life balance.
Reggie also spoke about promoting diversity in the workplace, leading by example by hiring a diverse senior management team. He stated, “That’s why as a black man leading a Japanese company, I feel good about the things that we do to deal with higher-order issues and to deal with them in a way that models positive behavior.”
As Reggie Fils-Aimé retires from Nintendo, it’s worth remembering that, despite everything being for the sake or selling games to consumers, his persona and presentations created a new sense of fun separate from the games themselves. He ended up encouraging other companies to go above-and-beyond with their own press conferences and to look past the business journalists, and straight to the players themselves. Although he was an executive, he was willing to look silly, interact with fans and play the role of entertainer, and that shaped the Nintendo that we see today.