SINGAPORE (Sept 10): Will robots run the factories of the world? There may be clues in Japan.

Tokyo-listed Nidec Corp makes motors of all sizes that show up in just about everything: your car, your washing machine, even hard-disk drives from back in the day. The company was founded in 1973 by Shigenobu Nagamori (pictured, main image), an acquisitive and ambitious Japanese billionaire who counts Masayoshi Son, Soft- Bank Group Corp’s chief, among his inner circle.

Nidec effectively created its now-crucial market, becoming a key supplier to computer hardware and consumer-electronics makers. The firm has since acquired more than 40 companies.

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