By Makeda Byfield
If you don’t already know, Reggie Fils-Aimé is former President and COO of Nintendo of America, an Ivy League graduate from Cornell, and a lauded businessman prior to his work in games. His new autobiography, Disrupting the Game, proves he is even more than that – including being a mentor to Bronx students who are underserved.
But who is the man behind the magic? Those who have the same question will have the chance to delve into his past to discover what made him the man he is today. Chock full of business tips, personal anecdotes, and valuable life lessons, I can say that Reggie’s book is a must read. It’s not only for aspiring business professionals. Disrupting The Game is for anybody who wants to break the mold and create their own definition of success.
The first time I “met” Reggie was on a Google Meet; Harold, Isaac and the New York Videogame Critics Circle had been teaching a class at the shelter I was staying in and Reggie spoke with all the students on our last day. I saw him again over a year later, when all the NYVGCC members recorded the “Game of the Year” segment for The New York Game Awards. I didn’t say much to Reggie on either occasion. Instead, I observed. Reggie’s history with Nintendo makes his presence known before he has physically entered the room. And once he’s in the room, everything changes. As I listened, there was no doubt that he was incredibly smart and goal-oriented – and ready to pass his knowledge on. Reading his new autobiography was a chance to understand how those character traits were heavily influenced by his background.
The book opens with a heartwarming tribute to Reggie’s friend and global Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata. By starting the book with a retelling of Iwata’s final months, the readers immediately know that Reggie is not afraid to be vulnerable. The more you read in the opening chapters, the more it becomes clear that Reggie does not shy away dealing with the tense and even violent times that life sometimes brings to a child in the Bronx. Tackling difficult topics and decisions head on seems to be one thing that sets him apart from the rest. By moving from the death of Iwata to being a kid in the Bronx, he quickly establishes that he’d be discussing not only where he ended up but also the journey it took to reach “the top of Nintendo.”
Reggie’s start in the Bronx was rough. After detailing the complex situation that drew his family to the states from Haiti and the issues they faced once settled in New York, it’s safe to say that this family was dealt a less-than-ideal hand. But this didn’t stop Reggie. He shares how these adverse experiences instilled the principle that “…you need to find strength and determination within yourself to move forward and succeed.” As he applied to colleges and moved up the ranks at well-known businesses, he never forgot those early Bronx days hanging out with his brother, always propelled by the morals his parents instilled in him. While all the memories weren’t pleasant, they fueled him to become the powerful force he is today.
Reggie had to learn how to stand his ground while also accepting new perspectives from others. But readers will also appreciate Reggie’s willingness to share his failures in business. Sure, admitting you were wrong can be embarrassing. The non-fiction book lays out the ways in which Reggie grew as a human and business person by stepping back and saying that he may have messed up. Even if you do not understand the business aspect behind the story, any person who wants to lead can absorb and implement these lessons.
On that note, this book did a very good job of making its lessons accessible to all. The language used throughout can be understood and appreciated by almost any audience. I never felt like I was being lectured to while working through the book. Rather, I felt like I was respected enough to have this information shared with me. I was being spoken to, not spoken at. Reggie could have gone the route of using complex language to make himself seem smart. Luckily, he didn’t. By remembering his objective – that is, to help aspiring leaders from similar backgrounds create their own success and happiness – he created a piece of work that can reach anybody (regardless of formal education or socioeconomic status). In this way, Reggie’s intelligence shines through.
It’s true that my review of this book comes from the standpoint of somebody with no business education and a beginner’s knowledge of the gaming world. Still, I enjoyed the glimpse into how he worked at well-known establishments. It provided insight into what goes on behind the scenes. For example, Reggie recalls a time when he and Mr. Iwata got into a disagreement over the suggested retail price of the Nintendo 3DS handheld console. I was unaware of the fact that western countries preferred price points over $100 to end in $49 or $99. Furthermore, I did not know how that fact impacted a company’s profit compared to a retailer’s profit. To be honest, I don’t even think I knew that there was a difference! I found myself hanging onto every word on the page, eager to find out more about what it was like to work for a company that puts so much thought into releasing games and gaming devices.
More importantly, I was interested in learning how Reggie made space for himself in fields that he could have been excluded from. Through the use of anecdotes and his own history, Reggie leaves us with several takeaways that he got from work experiences at Procter & Gamble, Pizza Hut, Panda Express, Guinness and VH1. The “So What?” sections at the end of each story make clear what we should be paying attention to. Reggie was as concise as possible, with nothing being said if he did not have a valid reason for saying it.
Of all the stories he shared, I think there was one that really let me know the type of person Reggie is. He wrote about a time he took a chance on a job candidate during his time at Procter & Gamble. His boss wanted to hire a standard business man with a masters in business administration. Reggie, however, fought for a young woman whose background did not match everybody’s else’s. By looking beyond the school name and line of work, Reggie was able to see the value in her untraditional experiences. He gave a shot to this candidate in the same way somebody took a chance on him. Today, Reggie speaks about the importance of having professional mentors. This anecdote is proof that he was acting in a way that aligns with his message.
This brings me back to my first interaction with Reggie. By the time we met, Reggie had been involved with the NYVGCC for almost two years. He had been retired for almost a year, but was still going out of his way to share his time and knowledge. He wasn’t just telling others to be mentors – he was making himself one, as well. I had the honor of reading Reggie’s autobiography as I conclude my freshman year of college; I’m equally excited and nervous for the years ahead of me. Remembering all the advice from Reggie’s book soothes my nerves a little. If he can be confident and shake things up, so can I.
Disrupting The Game was a welcoming invite into the journey that Reggie took to the top. Of all the lessons, though, there was one that resonated with me the most – “What happens to you, is up to you.” I don’t fully agree with the statement; I’m aware how the systems we are a part of impact an individual’s life path. However, those systems are also dependent on individuals not disrupting their mode of functioning. In sharing his wisdom and life lessons on paper, Reggie has opened up the possibility of inspiring more young people. As a freshman in college, I know this book has definitely inspired me. It will continue to as the years go by.
Makeda Byfield is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern, part of our ongoing partnership with Bronxworks.