Japanese videogame maker Nintendo’s chief executive and president, Satoru Iwata, died on Saturday due to a growth in his bile duct, the company said. He was 55.
The death of the hands-on chief executive comes as the company expects to double annual operating profit in the year through March thanks to its long-awaited entry into smartphone games, amid weak sales growth in its traditional consoles.
Mr Iwata, who opposed the move into mobile until the last months of his life, underwent surgery in June last year to remove the growth and had resumed his duties after a brief period of recovery. He had said in October that he had recovered well enough to resume his regular duties, and that he felt healthier despite having lost weight.
Mr Iwata had been a director at Kyoto-based Nintendo since 2000, and was appointed president in 2002. He had also acted as chief executive of the US unit since 2013.
Mr Iwata’s death leaves senior managing directors Genyo Takedaand Shigeru Miyamoto as representative directors, the company said in a statement.
His replacement has not been named, although Mr Takeda will lead the committee for Mr Iwata’s funeral, a sign he could be taking on the leadership role. “They say it’s not yet decided who the next chief executive will be, so there’s a slight uncertainty,” Japan Asia Securities deputy general manager Mitsuo Shimizusaid. “This comes just as we saw a glimmer of hope for the company. There were lots of expectations around the DeNA partnership and the direction it was taking towards online gaming.”
Deutsche Bank analyst Hanjoon Kim said Iwata’s death was a loss for Nintendo, particularly as he was leading a new strategy in smartphone gaming. But he said Mr Takeda and other members of the board had been with the company for decades, and he maintained a “buy” rating on the shares.
“We expect no loss in cultural identity. Nevertheless, we may need to monitor whether there is loss of focus amidst the management transition,” he said.
Nintendo’s shares were up about 1.2 per cent, in line with the broader Tokyo market.
Presiding over a news conference in May to announce Nintendo’s full-year financial results, Mr Iwata had said the company’s long-awaited entry into smartphone games would help it double annual operating profit in the year to next March.