Executive Suite: Seymour Liebman, Canon U.S.A.

Seymour Liebman, executive vice president, chief administrative officer

Seymour Liebman, executive vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel at Canon U.S.A. Inc. (Dec. 6, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

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Canon U.S.A.'s new 700,000-square-foot headquarters in Melville is finally complete, with some room left to grow, says Seymour Liebman, executive vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel at Canon U.S.A. Inc.

The location for the facility was hard-won after decades of negotiations with local and state officials. Liebman says Canon stayed the course due to a strong commitment to its Long Island workforce. "If we moved off Long Island, we would lose a lot of very dedicated employees," he said. "The key to our success is our employee base."

Liebman oversees legal affairs and corporate administration for North America and South America. Before he joined Canon 39 years ago, he had a scholarship to pursue a doctorate in math at Rutgers, but found the number of unemployed PhDs daunting. Instead, he got a master's in accounting at C.W. Post.

He was assigned to Canon on a management consulting contract at accounting giant KPMG, and later joined KPMG's audit team for Canon. In January 1975, the president of Canon U.S.A. asked him to work for Canon directly. "I told them I had to wait until August to get my experience for a CPA," said Liebman. They waited.

How's the new building?

It's really exceeded all of our expectations. Our employees are enjoying the shared amenity spaces. We have walking trails, a beautiful cafeteria, a fitness center and a lovely courtyard. Our employees used to be spread over five buildings and it's just helped tremendously to be under one roof. We also have a 12,000-square-foot showroom . . . and it just happens to be the largest Canon showroom in the world.

You were planning to install wind turbines. What are the stumbling blocks?

We're waiting for the creation of the new town codes.

Do you have a favorite spot in the building?

I really have two. One of them is our showroom. My second favorite is sitting at my desk looking out the window during lunch. I overlook the walking trail, and I just like watching all the employees going for a walk during lunch time.

What's it like to be the only non-Japanese senior executive officer at Canon?

Truly an honor. I've embraced the cultural differences and always look forward to learning something new during each trip . . . Most of the people I deal with speak English, but the meetings are in Japanese, so I have an interpreter.

How often do you go to Japan?

I have gone as many as nine times in one year, but usually it's much less.

How do you keep the ship on course and inspire your staff?

Basically I leave them alone. If we feel they're qualified enough to be the division head, we should basically let them make their own decisions.

How is Canon's business evolving?

We try to get feedback from our customers and create products that are required by the U.S. market. Two years ago November we had an introduction in Hollywood of our Cinema EOS product; it was the first worldwide product introduction Canon did in the U.S.

A lot of our professional photographers made suggestions to us . . . we basically took our existing product and expanded it. It's now used widely in the industry [for] movies such as "Captain America."

Health care is also a major area we've targeted for expansion. [We're] trying to develop solutions for molecular diagnostics. We hope to go to market in the next year or two.

Last summer, Canon CEO Fujio Mitarai said he wants to transform the Americas division "from a sales company into a manufacturer." Are there expansion plans for Long Island or New York?

It's really too premature to discuss any of the details about manufacturing or R&D for Canon Americas, but once we establish the best place or once we establish exactly what we want to do, we'll determine the best location. We do currently have some manufacturing in Virginia.


CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

NAME: Seymour Liebman, executive vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel, Canon U.S.A., Inc., in Melville

WHAT IT DOES: Provider of consumer, business-to-business, health care and industrial digital imaging solutions

EMPLOYEES: 1,400 full time; 300 consultants

REVENUE: $11 billion [Canon Americas]

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