Technological advantage and market loss: Siemens and the X-ray machine business in Japan (1900–1960)
This paper focuses on the involvement of Siemens on the market for radiology equipment in Japan between 1900 and 1960 from a business history perspective. It explores why the German multinational was unable to keep its dominant position on the Japanese market in the interwar years, despite its technological competitiveness. In particular, it examines the strategic choices made by the firm (export, licensing, direct investment) in relation to the changing economic and technological environment, highlighting the importance, for foreign multinationals, of working together with national trading firms involved in the distribution of drugs and products for doctors, as the Japanese medical market was already well structured when the country opened up to the West. Four phases have been identified. At first, before World War I, German manufacturers of X-ray machines, especially Siemens, enjoyed a virtual monopoly in Japan and favored an export strategy. The political and technological shifts that occurred during the war (interruption of trade with Germany, development of the Coolidge X-ray tube by General Electric) led to a more competitive market in Japan. Siemens reorganized its involvement in this business via a contract signed with a domestic medical goods trade company, Goto Fuundo (1926). Yet this proved insufficient to overcome the competition, and Siemens finally decided to relocate some of its production facilities for X-ray machines in Japan by entering into a joint venture with Goto (1932). Relations between Siemens and Goto were severed by the war, and Goto tried until the 1950s to go it alone in this field but failed due to a lack of organizational capability. As for Siemens, it reverted to its export strategy approach, re-entering the market in the 1950s.
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