How We Brought the Intelligent Nature of Hitachi to Life


To make financial reporting completely transparent and honest

Purpose Superpower:

To achieve thought leadership in the United States

Hitachi is one of the world’s top 50 multinational companies. However, the Hitachi name carried little weight for a tiny three-person division of the Hitachi America dedicated to developing XBRL solutions. At the time, XBRL was a fast-growing industry standard that promised to bring greater transparency and honesty to financial reporting.

Despite its small size, the Hitachi America had a big ask: they wanted to become the XBRL thought leader in the United States, knowing that such a position would lead to them being asked to participate in the many XBRL RFPs that were being issued. They asked Stuart McFaul if he could take the lead on executing the program.

The effort faced multiple challenges:

    1. Three American companies were already well-established as industry thought leaders, including one run by Charlie Hoffman who was considered to be the “The Father of XBRL.”
    2. The Hitachi division had minimal funding. The majority of funds were focused on sales and software development and there was no internal staff who could help shoulder any marketing responsibilities.
    3. The Hitachi team was predominantly Japanese and could not communicate well in English. They also had little time to create thought leadership content.

Despite the obstacles, Stuart knew there was a path to the solution. “This was a job that required a stiletto, not a club,” he said.

When conducting market research, he was surprised to find that dozens of XBRL experts from all over the world were conducting lively education and discussions online. However, these engagements were scattered throughout the Internet. Stuart realized that if these conversations were collocated and conducted around a “virtual water cooler,” this hub would become the go-to location for news and opinions about XBRL technology.

Stuart proposed that Hitachi create and host a blog focused on XBRL thoughts and opinions; it would be built on content contributed by the XBRL community. Hitachi’s role was simply to maintain the blog and ensure that it always presented provocative and deeply-intelligent information. The blog was also to be open to all opinions, even those that might run counter to Hitachi’s own business interests.

Based on experience, Stuart knew that – in terms of establishing thought leadership – acting as a channel for this intelligence would be viewed in the same light as creating the intelligence. In other words, being the “host of the party” would put Hitachi in the center of the universe of XBRL cognoscenti.

Stuart created Data Interactive, a Hitachi-sponsored blog that acted as an online magazine for news, information and commentary about XBRL and its progress. To manage the blog and overcome the language barrier problem, Stuart hired an experienced financial reporter who was fluent in both English and Japanese. The reporter communicated with Hitachi in Japan and was able to interpret their XBRL input for the English-language site. He also acted as managing editor for the site, soliciting contributions from the many XBRL pundits around the world.

Within nine months, Data Interactive had become the centerpiece of the XBRL movement. The blog became so popular among XBRL leaders that, when interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, SEC chairman Christopher Cox – who was the leading US advocate for XBRL adoption – cited Data Interactive as the only place to visit for news and opinion regarding XBRL.

And when asked who the thought leader was in XBRL, he answered simply “Hitachi.”

To reinforce the success of Hitachi’s leadership, Stuart commissioned a companion book “XBRL for Dummies” which Hitachi distributed free of charge to the CFO of every publicly-held US company. Coincidentally, when he saw the book, Cox himself promoted it as “proof that XBRL has arrived” and noted that every CFO in the US should consider it a must-have.

Within a year, we took the tiny division from complete obscurity to having the most ubiquitous presence with financial professionals of any player in the industry.

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