The Swift Rise–and Fall–of America’s One-Time Fastest-Growing Company

The Swift Rise–and Fall–of America’s One-Time Fastest-Growing Company


CREDIT: Tomer Hanuka



Tablet maker Fuhu was No. 1 on the Inc. 500 two years in a row. Then it went bankrupt. Here’s the exclusive inside story of what happened.


Jim Mitchell’s morning ritual was as consistent as the Southern California sunshine. After fruit, bacon, and a blueberry muffin at Martha’s 22nd Street Grill in Hermosa Beach, the CEO would cruise in his Porsche up Highway 1, to El Segundo. On this particular day in the fall of 2015, Mitchell had settled into his office at children’s tablet maker Fuhu and was in the midst of his morning conference calls when a panicked employee from the finance department barged in. “You are not going to believe this,” the staffer said. They turned to Mitchell’s computer and logged into Fuhu’s Wells Fargo account. The balance the day before: $4,512,662.53. The balance now? $0.00.

Even before all of Fuhu’s money disappeared, Mitchell was having a doozy of a month. Three weeks before, he and his co-founder, Robb Fujioka–Fuhu’s mastermind and headstrong president–had been contacted by attorneys representing the company’s primary manufacturer, Foxconn. The Chinese giant was more than just a vendor. It was an investor and patron that had been instrumental in launching Fuhu on its meteoric rise. With gross revenue of $196 million and a three-year growth rate of 158,957 percent, Fuhu had earned the top spot on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest- growing American private companies in both 2013 and 2014. But behind the scenes, the company was falling apart. In recent months, it had racked up unpaid bills from just about everyone it did business with. And Foxconn–to which Fuhu owed between $60 million and $110 million, depending on who was counting–had finally reached its breaking point. The lawyers told Fujioka and Mitchell that until they paid their tab, their company would be cut off.

Fujioka insisted this was just a negotiating ploy. “There is no concept of bankruptcy or contract law in Asia,” claims Fujioka, who considers himself well versed in the Chinese way. Within 48 hours, Fuhu’s partners were on a plane to Hong Kong, where they hoped to strike a deal with Foxconn execu­tives. But Foxconn wouldn’t budge. To Fujioka, it was all part of the dance. He sent his CEO back to El Segundo, assuming he understood that they would eventually work out a deal.

But Mitchell, a former Accenture consultant, wasn’t so sure. When he returned home, he phoned up Walmart, Target, and Best Buy to warn them that Fuhu might not be able to fill their Christmas orders. Then he called Christian Donohue, a managing director of Tennenbaum Capital Partners, an L.A. private equity firm that operates a special situations fund for distressed companies. Five months earlier, Mitchell and Fujioka had persuaded Tennenbaum to give them a $10 mil­lion loan to provide much needed cash flow. Once Donohue was on the line, he seemed sympathetic. “Christian’s response was, ‘This is unfortunate. This is a big surprise to all of us. I feel bad for you, but we will figure out a way to work through it,'” Mitchell later recalled. But by the morning of October 30, Tennenbaum had declared Fuhu in default of its loan agree­ment. Mitchell tried to negotiate, but it was no use. A few days later, Tennenbaum froze the assets in Fuhu’s warehouse–then swept all of the cash from its bank account.

When Mitchell saw the drained account, he tracked down Fujioka. “Can they fricking do this?” exclaimed Fujioka. Indeed, their lawyers soon explained, they fricking could. The consequences of losing their supplier were laid out in a thick stack of a Tennenbaum loan agreement that the Fuhu bosses had never bothered to read.

By December, Fuhu would find itself filing for Chapter 11, concluding a ride neither Fujioka nor Mitchell had imag­ined would end so soon. In January, Mattel bought Fuhu’s assets in a fire sale for $21.5 million. Now Fuhu’s remaining creditors, which number more than a hundred and collec­tively are owed almost $110 million ($565 million if you count the estimated damages of a class-action lawsuit), have hired forensic accountants to sift through Fuhu’s books to see where the money went, what can be clawed back, and whether any funds were misappropriated.


How did Fuhu go from 158,957 percent growth to bankruptcy in three years? What happened–according to revenue.

What happened? When Fujioka and Mitchell volunteered to tell Inc. their story, we leapt at the chance to illustrate, up close and unsparingly, the risks inherent in rocket-fueled growth. We spent hours with the partners, interviewed 15 current and former employees, and reviewed hundreds of court documents, emails, and meeting notes. The rise and fall of Fuhu is a cautionary tale about the seductions of early success and the overconfidence it can breed. But most of all, it’s the story of two entrepreneurs who pushed too hard to go big–one whose personal drive led him to take oversize risks against the advice of those around him, and one who failed to stop him.

Everything changed for Fujioka the day he saw the five Ferraris parked inside John Hui’s 10-car garage. By 2000, the 30-year-old had ascended from assis­tant sales manager at Cort Furniture Rental in Southern California to small-time dot-com entrepreneur. Fujioka had established a formula for hatching discrete tech marketing com­panies–graphic design, Web advertis­ing, email marketing–running a business for a couple of years, and then flipping it for a million bucks or so. Adopted from Korea, he had grown up in suburban Denver among a tight-knit group of second-generation Japanese families whose grandparents had invested in one another’s local businesses. Now he was revitalizing their entrepreneurial roots, recruiting his childhood friends to work for their old pal, who, in their eyes, had become the brilliant kingpin of a burgeoning mini empire. “This guy is probably the smartest guy I know,” says John Sagara, a buddy hired at Fujioka’s ad firm Jump Communications who would go on to work at Fuhu.

One of Fujioka’s outfits was hired by electronics company Korea Data Systems to run an email campaign. Fujioka quickly realized that John Hui, its owner, was more than just a suit–the Chinese-American entrepreneur was a self-made multi­millionaire. Hui and his brother Steve were co-founders of the PC maker eMachines, which they had sold to Gateway for almost $290 million. It didn’t take long for Fujioka to persuade Hui to take him on as his protégé.

Fujioka’s entrepreneurial enlightenment happened while he was traveling in Asia with the Huis, getting schooled in building fast-growth consumer electronics companies. “How they ran the business versus how I ran businesses was night and day,” says Fujioka, noting their commitment to efficiency and cost-cutting. Fujioka also got a glimpse of mogulhood. There was the Huis’ high-rolling social circle, which included Foxconn execs. Steve Hui, he was told, had purchased his own private island, while John Hui had that sprawling garage filled with Ferraris. “Two or three million dollars wasn’t small where I come from,” recalls Fujioka. “But I turned to John and said, ‘I’m at this point in my career where I need to stop messing around with this small money.'”

The idea for Fuhu, which launched in 2008, was Steve Hui’s. The concept was to develop nifty software and license it to hardware manufacturers in the Huis’ network. The company would be a partnership between the brothers and Fujioka (the name Fuhu combines the first two letters of their last names). Since Fujioka was admittedly impatient and blunt, they agreed to hire a CEO–a polished salesman who was at ease on country club golf courses. That’s when Jim Mitchell’s name surfaced.

They logged into Fuhu’s Wells Fargo account. The balance the day before: $4,512,662,53. The balance now? $0.00.

If Fujioka got his grit from hustling, Mitchell got his finesse on a more conventional track. The 40-something from Indiana had spent nearly two decades at management consulting firm Accenture. He’d frequently jet between L.A. and Silicon Valley, catering to clients like HP and Intel, until 2008, when he cashed in his stock options with a plan to travel for a couple of years. But his wanderlust was interrupted by a call from John Hui, whom he’d helped advise at Accenture. Hui pitched Mitchell the Fuhu CEO gig, and then introduced him to his partner-to-be, Fujioka.

While it seemed like an odd marriage, Fujioka and Mitchell’s dynamic quickly fell into place. Mitchell liked deal making, while Fujioka preferred developing products. The co-founders came to an agreement: The Huis would put up the initial capital, help Fujioka and Mitchell with connections, and then step back and advise as needed. Mitchell would be the face of the business as CEO, while Fujioka would be president and run operations. Fuhu’s earliest products were software–a kid-safe Web browser and customizable MP3-player apps.

Early on, the relationship with Foxconn would shape both Fuhu and how its co-founders ran it. In 2010, after John Hui had made introductions, Foxconn invested $10 million in Fuhu. This granted Fujioka entry into one of the most powerful Asian companies in the world. “China has relationships that go from generation to generation, and they are based on a code of conduct,” Fujioka says he learned quickly. “What you rely on is relationship and honor and ceremony.”

In 2011, Fujioka spotted an opportunity to do more business with his new investor. Foxconn had a few thousand Android tablets it wanted to offload; Fujioka decided to take the tablets off its hands. The Huis had warned the Fuhu execs to stay away from hardware, a tough business with huge overhead and slim margins, but they ignored the advice. The gamble paid off: Fuhu bundled the tablets with a child-friendly user interface, a playful red bumper, and kids’ marketing. This became an early prototype for the first Nabi, which Mitchell persuaded Toys “R” Us to carry. By Christmas, the retailer had sold all of the 10,000 units it had and Fuhu was pioneering an entirely new market: mobile devices for children.

Fuhu decided to go all in on kids’ tablets, and watched sales soar. In 2012, it introduced three more versions of the Nabi. Mimicking the Apple model, there was an entire Nabi universe–educational software, a specialized user interface, and an expansive line of accessories. By the end of 2012, Fuhu’s revenue had reached $118 million–more than 420 times what it had rung up as a software company.

Building what they believed would be America’s next great consumer electronics company, Fujioka and Mitchell decided to raise more cash. They sought a $65 million fundraising round at a $280 million valuation. Mitchell signed licensing deals with Disney and DreamWorks Animation, persuading the latter to invest $10 million. Fuhu added regularly catered lunches and flew some 200 employees to Las Vegas for a company retreat, where they partied in the Hard Rock Hotel’s presidential suite. As Fuhu swelled to over 300 workers in 2013, Fujioka began telling his young staffers he was going to make them rich. Sometimes, he’d award them with fat raises and lofty new titles on the spot. Working there was an adrenaline rush. “I felt like I’d landed on a gold mine,” says one former employee.

By late 2013, sales had rocketed to $196 million. Visions of an IPO danced in the partners’ heads. But Fuhu was hardly prepared to go public. The company’s finance department consisted of an accountant, a bookkeeper, and no for­mal budget. So Fujioka and Mitchell started hiring CPAs and financial ana­lysts and began IPO discussions with Goldman Sachs.

It was Fuhu’s new number crunchers who would warn of the coming trouble. They took issue with the massive revenue projections that Fujioka and Mitchell had sent to the invest­ment bank. An early model had Fuhu going from $200 million in revenue in 2013 to as much as $800 million a year later. However, actual sales never kept pace with the company’s ambitions, and the finance department had to keep revising the forecasts downward. By July, Fujioka was telling staff to expect roughly $350 million in annual revenue. Even that felt aggressive to the bean counters.

Meanwhile, the nascent children’s tablet market was get­ting crowded. In the coming year, Amazon launched a kids’ version of its Fire tablet. Sprout, Comcast’s children’s cable network, introduced its own tablet, which sold through Walmart. Sales of Fuhu’s two workhorse products, the Nabi 2 and the Nabi Jr., began to level off. If Fuhu was going to achieve its lofty growth targets–or even keep sales flat–it needed another hit.

Fujioka tended to respond to most problems by launching new products, and he wasn’t going to get slowed down by market research. Between early 2013 and mid-2014, Fuhu rolled out a bunch of kids’ tech toys: a GoPro-style action camera, headphones, and special-edition Nabis. Then came an idea that would put the Nabi brand squarely in the center of the kids’ entertainment business, opening the door for content deals and a Netflix-like subscription service. The DreamTab, as it was called, was an upmarket tablet released in partner­ship with Fuhu’s new investor, DreamWorks, that would come packed with cartoons and movies. With his eye on doubling revenue, Fujioka persuaded Foxconn to manufacture more than 150,000 DreamTabs.

But by the summer of 2014, instead of a hot new product, what Fuhu had was a dud. Consumers shied away from the high price of $269. Reviewers criticized the cross-promotional DreamWorks marketing, calling it crass. Fuhu now had a growing tab with Foxconn and had stuck its distributor with a glut of unsold DreamTabs. Meanwhile, slowing sales scared off investors and the company raised less than half of its $65 million goal. Bankers declined to back a public offering anytime soon. Then, Fuhu was slapped with a class-action law­suit. Allegedly, Nabi 2’s batteries were faulty–in some cases, they were literally catching fire.

The brewing financial crisis would have tested even the best-led com­pany, but Fuhu was not that. By 2014, CEO Mitchell had slipped further into a supporting role as a one-man sales and investor-relations team, while Fujioka had become the com­pany’s leader. And from moment to moment, employees rarely knew which version of Fujioka they would get–the nurturing mentor or the dictator.

As Fujioka had done at his prior companies, at Fuhu he hired childhood pals to populate many of the company’s senior posi­tions. He also cherry-picked a group called the Partnership, some 30 employees who committed themselves to the collective good of the company. With that honor came the promise of equity, special access to Fujioka himself, and a walkie-talkie–which Fujioka’s assistant could use to send for his staff. “It was another form of knowing he could get anybody to drop every­thing at a moment’s notice,” says one former senior executive.

The Partnership provided a powerful incentive for employee motivation, but it also created an organizational caste system. “Just imagine you’re in a high school, and all the cool kids get to sit at this cool table,” says one former nonpartner employee. “If you’re not part of that circle, you don’t get looked at and you don’t get talked to.” In this atmosphere, rumors flew of special perks for Partnership members. Fujioka denies there was any­thing improper about any of the favors he doled out. “We negotiated [auto] leases, and I’m pretty sure there were times when we helped people with their payments,” says Fujioka, noting that he gave one pregnant partner three bonus months of paid maternity leave. Jealousy and gossip from nonpartners, he says, were disheartening. “Maybe what they don’t understand is that the person [who received extra maternity leave] had two mis­carriages, and it’s probably because she was working 13 hours a day. Those kinds of things,” he says. “And did it ever come out of pocket? A lot. That’s why I hesitate–was that Fuhu or was that me? Because I think 80 percent of it was me.”

“Maybe there’s such thing as $20 million or $30 million between friends. But $100 million? I don’t think they’re friends any longer.”

Meanwhile, loyalty was best proved to Fujioka by self-sacrifice. He expected employees to work as doggedly for him as he had for the Huis, who, he says, once made him pull several consecutive all-nighters to write a business plan. John Hui’s exercises “were very painful,” says Fujioka. “It was really about obligation, responsibility, and servitude.” Signs of disloyalty, real or perceived, could flare Fujioka’s temper. In one instance, after a junior staffer privately asked the head of HR when he could collect overtime and take vacation, he was dragged before Fujioka and a roomful of partners for a vote on whether he should be fired. The meeting, the staffer later alleged in a wrongful-termination suit that was settled, “was done with oppression and malice” and resulted in “depression, anxiety, humiliation, and emotional distress.” Employees say they even­tually learned not to challenge the views of their micromanager boss. “He wasn’t listening to the smart, talented people that he had hired,” says one former staffer. “Instead, he’d listen to the group that really consisted only of yes-men.”

The more frustrated Fujioka grew with Fuhu’s lagging sales, the more he’d take it out on the staff. At weekly Partnership meetings, he’d sometimes play therapist, encouraging employ­ees to open up in the name of self-improvement. “If you look at anybody great–Steve Jobs, John Hui–they all have this incred­ible strength that has led to their success, but they are very aware of how that translates to weakness,” Fujioka explains. Employees’ self-described weaknesses–like “not wanting to fight with people I love for fear of losing them,” confessed one staffer–would be logged along with a behavior-improving action item, and a consequence if the desired result was not achieved. (This particular individual’s punishment: She was not allowed to wear makeup except “for days with meetings with clients/vendors, eye makeup only.”) As former Partnership members tell it, Fujioka would then surface these details when they made mistakes. “Initially, it made us feel as though he cared,” says one. “What I didn’t realize was that, because he knew our flaws, he knew exactly how to manipulate us.”

Meanwhile, Fujioka and Mitchell kept on spending despite warnings from the finance department. Fuhu grossed only $5 to $10 per tablet, which left little room for extravagance. Yet as tight as the money was, the co-founders opened a posh company gym with personal trainers. Requests for at least $5,000 in petty cash for a trip were not uncommon, according to three executives familiar with the matter. (Fujioka and Mitchell insist that all petty cash requests were appropriate.) Fujioka flew groups of employees–sometimes 10 or more–to Hong Kong for Foxconn meetings, with everyone staying in the five-star InterContinental Hotel. “I did two meetings in 15 days,” recalls one former Fuhu man­ager. “My memory is lots of great meals.”

When finance shared its concerns with Fujioka and Mitch­ell, neither could be bothered. “We didn’t really care for how they thought through the numbers,” says Fujioka. “It was kind of like, ‘Can you go do the stuff that needs to be done for the IPO, and leave us alone?'” By the summer of 2014, the company was burning through cash at an alarming rate. With time run­ning out for an IPO, Fujioka decided to try pulling one last rabbit out of his hat. He called it the Big Tab.

The vision of a gigantic mobile tablet had been simmering in Fujioka’s mind for more than a year. He and his young son had been playing with a Microsoft touchscreen coffee table, a sort of interactive television mounted on four legs. Parents had always bemoaned screens, yet here were a father and son gleefully tapping and swiping together. What if Fuhu could create a tablet big enough for the whole family to gather around? It might change how families interacted, he thought. It might change the world.

With the Big Tab, Fujioka had finally conceived a more profitable tablet. Its roughly $500 price tag could push toward a 20 percent margin on every unit sold. But everything about the Big Tab was risky. Just to keep sales flat from the previous year, Fuhu would have to commit up front to another massive order. If the Big Tab didn’t sell, the company would owe Foxconn tens of millions of dollars in addi­tion to what it already owed for the DreamTab.

Fuhu’s finance team was already concerned, and expressed that to Fujioka. When they told him that their best-case projection for 2014 was $65 million in losses, he was incredulous: “There has to be something seriously wrong with your model,” Fujioka replied. The Big Tab was a dou­ble-or-nothing bet–“one of those things where it would either make us or break us,” Fujioka says. While he maintains that Fuhu’s board members likely knew about his Big Tab plans, he can’t recall whether he explicitly sought their approval. (None of Fuhu’s board members re­turned calls seeking comment.) Fujioka reassured his em­ployees that Big Tab sales would take care of themselves. “Someone gave him this idea of the ‘Tech 250,’ which means that the first 250,000 of anything ‘cool’ just sells,” says a former senior executive in finance. “It was the most bizarre notion I had ever heard.”

As the holiday shopping season approached, it became clear the Big Tab was flawed. The tablet was too clunky for a child to hold, and had less than an hour of battery life. Tech critics scratched their heads–“Wonderfully absurd” wrote Meanwhile, retailers couldn’t figure out where to display the product. Most stores simply wouldn’t carry it, leaving Fuhu stuck selling them on its website. By Christmas, fewer than 4,000 units had been sold. “It was a disaster launch,” concedes Fujioka.

By January 2015, Fuhu’s business was in free fall: Annual revenue had plunged by more than half from the year before, to less than $70 million. The finance department was a revolv­ing door: The CFO had left, soon followed by several key fi­nance employees. Then there were the debts. In the fall, Fuhu had stopped remitting payments to its distributor, D&H. The distributor then sued Fuhu for breach of contract, saying it owed D&H $49 million. Meanwhile, Fuhu owed Foxconn tens of millions, at least, for the DreamTabs and Big Tabs.

Soon, Foxconn sent finance executives to investigate. Fujioka, confident he understood Chinese business code, insisted the visit wasn’t a sign of trouble, but rather a mere for­mality. “They weren’t happy with us, but that didn’t mean they were going to let us die,” Fujioka says. “Apple squeezes them [Foxconn] to a point of almost nonexistence, but they still work together.” But Fuhu’s finance team didn’t buy the spin. As a former senior finance executive puts it: “Maybe there’s such a thing as $20 million or $30 million between friends. But $100 million or more? I don’t think they’re friends any longer.”

“It was kind of like taking on a credit card. You sign this huge document, you have no idea what it says inside, you are looking at your lawyers, your lawyers are saying it is risky and it is expensive, and you go, ‘OK.'”

As the company hemorrhaged cash, Fujioka and Mitchell went hunting for more capital. But with declining revenue, Fuhu was no longer appealing to investors. That spring, the co-founders got the $10 million loan from Tennenbaum Capital Partners, along with another $10 million loan from factoring company LSQ Funding Group. Both were secured against Fuhu’s assets, but Fujioka and Mitchell didn’t worry about the details. Tennenbaum sent over a stack of paper with lots of fine print. “The lawyers were like, ‘Do you want to read this now?’ and I was like, ‘Are you crazy?'” Fujioka says. “It was kind of like taking on a credit card. You sign this huge document, you have no idea what it says inside, you are looking at your lawyers, your lawyers are saying it is risky and it is expensive, and you go,’OK.'”

Fujioka and Mitchell continued churning out products and plotting more ambitious ones, like kids’ wearables and a line of internet-of-things devices. Nothing took hold. That summer, the co-founders managed to secure a $27 million investment from LG, the Korean technology company that manufactured the glass panels for Fuhu’s tablets. But at the company’s cur­rent burn rate, the cash would be gone by year’s end. Unpaid creditors, including an autism nonprofit to which Fuhu had pledged $500,000 in 2013, continued lining up.

Foxconn was running out of patience. In the fall of 2015, it ordered Fuhu to reduce operating expenses. Fuhu hired a restructuring specialist and laid off support staff. Then came that letter from Foxconn’s counsel and the abrupt trip to Hong Kong, which ended with Foxconn’s cutting off Fuhu’s supply and seizing the 522,000 Nabis in its warehouse, followed by Tennenbaum’s freezing of the assets in Fuhu’s warehouse and its clean sweep of Fuhu’s bank account.

By December 2015, Fujioka and Mitchell had run out of options. They approached Mattel, which agreed to make a stalking-horse bid as part of Fuhu’s Chapter 11 filing. On January 19, after a two-day auction, Mattel emerged as the owner of the failed company with a final bid of $21.5 million.

Six months later, Fujioka and Mitchell sit down in Fuhu’s conference room, now employees of Mattel. On the table is a folder with a copy of Mitchell’s official declaration to the bankruptcy court. He needs to be careful to not stray from his official written statement. “We got read the riot act from our lawyers,” Fujioka says later.

Fujioka says he wants to come clean about where he went wrong. Eventually he speaks to Inc. for eight hours over three conversations. He owns up to his tendency to cause bottlenecks by micro­managing, and to being too tough as a boss. “It’s like father­hood,” he says. “If you come from a strict family, you’re strict.” Later, on the phone, he disputes the rumors about favoritism and overspending. But eventually he admits there was an organizational problem that stemmed from him. “There was a bankruptcy of the business, but there was also a bankruptcy of the corporate culture,” he concedes.

Fujioka also blames his employees–or rather, he faults himself for not hiring different ones. “There were a lot of partners who just couldn’t fulfill what they needed to fulfill,” he says. But his self-critique doesn’t extend much further. Fuhu’s biggest failure, he believes, was being victim to bad timing. The Nabi 2 came at the perfect moment, he says, but the Big Tab was before its time, while the Nabi Pass was too late. He still believes that, were it not for Tennenbaum’s sweep of Fuhu’s bank account, his company would have bounced back. “I think success is a combination of timing, humility, and timing, right?” he says with a laugh.

Perhaps. But many of the sins that spurred Fuhu’s demise were timeless: Fujioka developed products in profusion and failed to find new hits, and yet he still bet his entire company on an ill-conceived product he’d never market tested. Mitchell, as CEO, failed to intervene. Together, the two ran a business with slim profit margins that couldn’t cover overhead, and a strategic plan based on little more than inherited connections, smooth talk, and misplaced hope in new products.

Sitting catty-corner from Fujioka in the conference room, Mitchell is quiet, staring down at the table, his face so flush it’s almost purple. Throughout the conversation, he chimes in with an odd fact or observation–the technical advantages of the Big Tab Slim, the 2014 IPO climate–but mostly he sits silent. In the coming weeks, the forensic auditors hired by the unsecured-creditors’ committee will pore over Fuhu’s books to find out where the money went. In coming months, the remaining credi­tors–more than 100 of them, claiming $110 million in liabili­ties–may go after Fujioka and Mitchell personally to get more money. Already, one IT vendor has sued Mitchell for intentional and negligent misrepresentation and fraud. Fujioka dismisses such inquiries as a witch-hunt. “Total bullshit,” he says.

The experience has left Fujioka, unlike Mitchell, feeling wilier, savvier, more dangerous. He frames his company’s downfall more like a personal rite of passage than a profes­sional disaster. All of his idols–including the Huis, he says–have gone though a major bankruptcy in their careers. “It’s a fact of life when you go into the hardware business that you are going to fail, and it’s going to be a massive fail,” he says, noting that the Huis have continued to be supportive. (Neither returned calls seeking comment.)

But in El Segundo, Fujioka’s faithful circle is shrinking. More than 200 employees have left or been laid off from the company, including most of his department heads. He shrugs off the notion that partners might be justifiably angry that the equity they were promised has nearly evaporated. He says his mentors had warned him that this, too, would happen. “They said the most heartbreaking thing was watching people they thought of as family walk away,” he reflects.

In fact, Fujioka says he would pursue the same strategy again–only next time, he’d do it faster. He’s not the type to settle for a commodity hardware company or a straightforward software developer, he says. He wants it all. It’s his nature. “If you look at Apple’s history, it didn’t start as a high-margin company,” he points out. “It was 15 years in the making before Apple really hit its stride.”

Fujioka is convinced he still has that Jobsian potential lurking within him. A former Fuhu senior executive credits that confidence to Fujioka’s ability to adapt himself toward anything he wants, bringing people along with him. “He sees something, and then he embodies that pursuit,” he says. “He can read how to get people to do things for him. For me, it wasn’t so much greed around money, but greed around changing the world.”

By the end of the conversation, the Fuhu offices are mostly vacant. A queasy-looking Mitchell excuses himself to meet his wife and kids for dinner back in Redondo Beach.

Fujioka, who has filed for divorce and is dating Fuhu’s senior marketing manager, stays behind. He has no plans to go home just yet. He has projects he must plan. Calls to Asia he must make. His glass-walled office looks out onto empty cubicle after empty cubicle. Soon, sitting there, he’ll call out for what staff and friends remain. But the office is so empty, it’s hushed.



August 16, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,

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