Former Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who built the company into a video game giant from a maker of playing cards during more than 50 years at the helm, died yesterday of pneumonia aged 85.
Yamauchi was the third-generation head of the family-run business, founded in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto in 1889 as a maker of playing cards, and served as president from 1949 until 2002.
He handed the reins to current president Satoru Iwata and moved into an advisory role.
Under his leadership, the company developed the Famicom home game console and the Game Boy handheld player that helped to usher in the era of home game machines, which in more recent years has been dominated by Nintendo's Wii, Sony Corp's PlayStation and Microsoft Corp's Xbox.
Yamauchi was listed by Forbes magazine as Japan's richest man just five years ago, when Nintendo was flying high after the launch of the Wii with its motion-sensing controller, although the company's fortunes have since faded as smartphones displace consoles among gamers. His net worth at that time was estimated at US$7.8 billion.
He was ranked 13th on the latest Forbes Japan list released this year, with an estimated net worth of US$2.1 billion.
After Yamauchi succeeded his father as president in 1949, the company was almost forced to file for bankruptcy in the late 1960s after several failed attempts to expand its product line-up into toy guns, baby carriages and even to fast food, according to books written on Nintendo's history.
Yamauchi vowed then not to borrow money to fund Nintendo's operations. More than a decade after he stepped down, that policy remains, with the company holding about US$8.7 billion of cash and equivalents and no debt as of June 30, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg