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Interview: Finding and keeping talent in a research lab

T.C. Seow | April 15, 2013
Valuable lessons from a leading research lab on where to find the right people to spearhead innovation within an organisation.

Do you try to instil a sense of belonging to people who have joined you, that you're part of the brand? Part of the team?
Oh yes, they are part of a good team. They want to be proud to publish a paper, give a talk—that's so FXPAL.

With the kinds of innovation and invention coming out of FXPAL, how do you commercialise all these things?
The correct answer to that is, FXPAL gets an idea, maybe does a proof of concept—like the InfoPlus testing with CIO Asia magazine. That's not a product; we want to give it a real-world test, and we've gotten a lot of good ideas based on feedback.

So that's exploring the commercialisation part of it?
Yes, then we get it till we think it's right. Fuji Xerox has a development group that's supposed to take the technology and turn it into a product. FXPAL is not chartered to do that.

How do you keep the creative juices flowing?
One is our intern programme. Every summer, we hire 60 interns from universities. These are PhD students; they come with a lot of energy, they love to come to California, they work hard, they go surfing, they get a lot of creativity in the lab.

That's how you inject fresh ideas into FXPAL?
Yes. We also invite speakers from the outside; that's another way to do it. We have a designer and video maker in the lab. These [type of employees] usually aren't in the research lab, but these guys are just creative thinkers. They just think differently [from researchers]. Some of my crazy video presentations are made by our designers. They got those ideas. What that does is, that inspires research to look at things differently.

So you're not afraid to look at fresh ideas to lead on and stimulate the creation of new ideas?
That's really important.

As one of the managers of FXPAL, are you sometimes vexed by budget constraints?
Budget in our lab means "people". You cut my budget means you cut my personnel. In terms of equipment, we need a little bit but we need creative people more. We talked about going to conferences, publishing papers—we need money to do that. Mostly, we need people, we need those interns, so if you cut my budget, I'll have fewer researchers and then fewer ideas.

Will there be a future for FXPAL becoming a research lab not just for Fuji Xerox but also other big organisations?
We've thought about it. One thing we actually did was to license our technology to somebody if Fuji Xerox doesn't want it. We do have some video technology that we've just licensed to a startup company called Cinemacraft. Fuji Xerox is not interested in a consumer market, so this startup is taking it to the consumer market. That will be a revenue stream for us. Our first priority is of course Fuji Xerox, but if they don't want it, we shouldn't let it go to waste if it's good technology.

 

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