Meeting a Japanese CEO thanks to a language exchange partner

Monday at around 11:30 a.m. I received an email from Kimura-taisho, the president of Webshark.   I replied right away because I was looking forward to meeting him that night.

And how did I get to meet Kimura-Taisho, you may wonder?

During the fall term last year I started attending the MIT Japanese Lunch Table.   The Japanese Lunch Table allows students to talk to Japanese people and do a language exchange.   There I met this young, nice Japanese guy.   After a good first impression, I decided to talk to him.   Masato-san was his name, but his friends call him ‘Masa’.   He graduated a few months earlier and was in Boston for 6 months to improve his English. Once he was done, he would return to Tokyo and start working for Morgan Stanley.   He was an interesting guy, and it so happens that he was looking for a language exchange partner, so we agreed to meet again.

We met a few times over the next few months.   We talked about many things, from basic things like “American food is so bad” to more complicated topics like business, family, and friends.  It turns out that Masato-san had started his own businesses while he was in college, and he even managed to sell two of them,  He was an entrepreneur and quite a good one. I was excited to learn about this, so he told me a bit more about his businesses.  It was great to hear about it, but I couldn’t quite grasp how you could simply go out there and make a business.  It seemed harder to me than what he was telling me.

After a few months having fun together, Masato-san had to return to Tokyo last March.

Once I got to Japan, Masato-san e-mailed Kimura-Taisho and asked him to meet with me.  The story of how Masato-san met Kimura-Taisho is also interesting.  Masato-san simply reached out to Kimura-Taisho out of the blue through an online social network.  Masato-san was genuine in his interest in wanting to get to know Kimura-Taisho and learn from him about business. Kimura-Taisho was intrigued and agreed to a meeting. Now here I was, about to go meet Kimura-Taisho, thanks to a friendship I made with a guy who had the courage a while ago to email this CEO out of the blue to meet him.

I got to Taisho’s Company Entrance at 7:55 pm but the front door was locked, and I was not expecting that.  I was in a small room right off the elevator waiting to see if someone came out through the front door and I could then say something.  There was a little phone on the corner, but what could I do with it?  I didn’t understand the Japanese written on the card next to the phone.  It had, however, the number 37 written on it. At 8:02 pm I realized no one was coming out of the office so I dialed the number, but then hung up cause I didn’t know where I was calling.  A minute later a young girl opens the door and lets me in.

I explained in my limited Japanese that I was there to see Kimura-Taisho. She nodded as if she were expecting me. I guess it’s not every day that a foreigner shows up at their front door. She directed me to the waiting room.

It was a nice room, well-lit, with nice furniture and a glass table I loved.  The young lady closed the door when she left, but then came back in with a cup of tea. I thanked her and took a sip. Withing a minute or so Kimura-Taisho, the CEO, walks into the room with two other guys and enthusiastically greets me: “Omar-Kun!” His friendly and lively tone would have fooled anyone into thinking we already knew each other.  He shook my hand and introduced himself right then.

I was nervous but relieved. The president of the company was being as nice as he could be, even shaking my hand and following some other American customs to make me feel at home.  The other two guys that came in with him also did the same, they introduced themselves in English and shook my hand.  Kimura-Taisho then said, let’s go! He then asked me if I could speak Japanese, and I said the usual “just a bit” and he immediately turned to one of the two guys and told him “You can be the translator.”

Since it was raining Kimura-Taisho made sure I had an umbrella and then we headed downstairs.  He asked me what I liked to eat. I was good with anything, I said.  Sashimi it was.

We went to a place nearby, a quite nice Japanese-style bar and got a table for the four of us. We talked, had a few drinks, and a lot of delicious food. I was impressed by Kimura-Taisho, a man with no college degree who started multiple companies and made a living out of it.  When I asked how he started his business the story was quite intriguing and interesting. The key to success in business, he said, was knowing how to ask people for favors and who to ask.

Kimura-Taisho needed to implement a website, but he had not learned any programming.  He had two options, sit at home and learn to program, or go out find someone who knew what he was doing and ask him to do it.  In this case, “give up easily”, was his secret to success.  Instead of sitting at home and learning how to program, he found a guy with 8 years of programming experienced and they worked together.  By knowing who and how to ask, he had already saved 8 years of work that he would have needed if he tried to learn the skills this guy already had.

Lessons from Kimura-Taisho

  • A great businessman surrounds himself with smart people who can do the things he can’t do.
  • Give up easily.  Know what you’re good at and do that, find people to do the rest.  If you need a website for your company, but you’re only good at managing a business, focus on managing the business and let someone else work on the site.
  • Be humble and nice.  Be always interested in what others had to say and quickly notice the good things in others. He embodied this throughout the dinner.
  • Friends and family come in first.  What’s the meaning of money if you don’t have friends?

 

 

 

 

 

 

This night really made an impact on me.

3 Replies to “Meeting a Japanese CEO thanks to a language exchange partner”

  1. All the Best with your HBS application!!!
    You `influenced` me to reread the Dale Carnegie`s book which is one of my all time favorites. I like the fable about `the sun and the wind` (on p.150 if you have the same print) very much.

    Like

  2. All the Best with your HBS application!!!
    You `influenced` me to reread the Dale Carnegie`s book which is one of my all time favorites. I like the fable about `the sun and the wind` (on p.150 if you have the same print) very much.

    Like

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