As a founding employee of Japan's no. 1 mobile-phone carrier, Shiro Tsuda has reaped the rewards--and suffered the consequences--of being a pioneer. And it has paid off: when NTT DoCoMo's president, Keiji Tachikawa, 64, steps down, Tsuda is expected to succeed him. "Tsuda has a good sense of balance between technology and marketing, and he has the confidence of his co-workers," says Shinji Moriyuki, senior telecom analyst at Daiwa Research Institute in Tokyo.
Tsuda, 58, joined phone giant NTT in 1970 as an engineer and 20 years later helped establish the mobile-phone project that grew into the independent company NTT DoCoMo (though NTT retains a 63% stake). During Tsuda's tenure as executive manager of corporate strategy, NTT DoCoMo launched its biggest hit to date, an e-mail and Internet service for mobile phones called i-mode, which has helped the company dominate Japan's mobile-phone market.
Promoted to managing director of global-business development last year, Tsuda must help revive the company, which is lagging in efforts to upgrade domestic customers and expand overseas. He seems eager: "I like--no, I love--this company." --By Jim Frederick. With reporting by Toko Sekiguchi/Tokyo