Now, I'm in Boston attending my 15th alumni reunion since graduating from Harvard Business School (HBS). HBS holds reunions every five years. These reunions bring graduates together and offer opportunities for learning about the latest management trends while also raising funds for HBS. You are encouraged to bring family to the reunions, which are good opportunities for meeting other HBS graduates with their families.
This was my third reunion, and having also attended the fifth and tenth anniversaries, I've got a perfect attendance record. Furthermore, I've brought family along every time. My wife came for the fifth anniversary, and my two oldest sons accompanied me and my wife to the tenth anniversary.
* Please refer to column 10th Year Reunion at HBS
On this occasion, I brought my wife, five children and my mother-in-law, for a party of eight. More of us go each time.
My two oldest sons are both in elementary school, and although classes were still in session, I took the chance of having them miss just under two weeks. I figured this would be a good opportunity for them to learn about things outside of school, experience America and immerse themselves in English.
Well, that's easy enough to say. Traveling with eight people is not so easy. It burns a big hole in your wallet, there's all that luggage, and getting around to the hotels is a tall order. Besides all that, one of our children is still breastfeeding. We decided to basically fly economy class. Business class costs too much, and you end up annoying other passengers. We solved the problem by selecting hotels that offered connecting rooms with extra cots.
Packing for the trip is no fun either. Apart from the reunion, I was also attending the Alumni Association's Board of Directors meeting and was scheduled to meet with investors, so I had to take a lot of clothes. I had to include tuxedos, business suits and business casual attire, as well as swimming trunks and sportswear for playing with the kids. Well, if worst came to worst, I could always buy clothes there, if I needed to, so I concentrated on making sure I packed the correct number of tickets and passports.
We left home on the morning of May 30 in my beloved Land Cruiser and headed for Narita airport. We parked near Narita, and a staff member from the car park drove us to the airport and then we made our way to the airline counter.
That's when the first accident happened. It turned out I had not brought my eldest son's passport. I had the right number of passports, but had somehow managed to bring my second son's old passport by mistake. Jeez!
Well, it never helps to panic. As soon as we were confirmed on the next flight, I rushed back home to pick up his passport and then immediately returned to Narita, I tried to remain calm by reminding myself that these things just happen from time to time.
We managed to get on the plane and had arrived in Chicago, where we had our second surprise. The moment we presented our passports to pass through the immigration counter, the immigration computer system went down. We had to wait at the counter for half an hour.
"These things happen," I kept repeating with a calm mind. I stopped myself from fretting by taking deep breaths, playing scissor-papers-stone with the children, things like that. Just five minutes away from having to change our plane for Boston, the computer came back online, and we were able to proceed to the Boston flight.
However when we arrived at the gate, we discovered departure was delayed by an hour. By the time we actually got to our hotel in Boston, it was past 8 o'clock in the evening, local time, more than 24 hours after we had left our house.
Needless to say, the children were exhausted. Luckily we all got to sleep pretty quickly and were able to take the edge off the jet lag. I guess you've got to keep thinking positive when your leading a group of people.
The next morning I put on my suit and got down to work. I was scheduled to meet with investors. I have been meeting up with this potential investor for about seven years, but the timing never seems to work out and I haven't actually got him on board yet. However, fund raising is a little like sales; it is very important to keep up appearances. I also made a few courtesy phone calls to investors who were based outside of Boston.
Starting around noon, I participated in the Alumni Association's Board of Directors meeting. This board meets three times a year, and I have participated in every meeting so far. The reason is that as the dean of the Graduate School of Management, Globis University, these meetings are a great opportunity to learn about the best management practices being used by the top graduate schools in North America and Europe.
In the evening there was a dinner event. Current and former directors as well as the heads of the HBS club (alumni club) in each city all got together, and I decided to have my wife accompany me. Mr. Kenzaburo Mogi from Kikkoman, who had served as a director in the past, was also there from Japan with his wife.
My mother-in-law had kindly offered to baby-sit for us during the dinner. We returned to the hotel after dinner but the kids were already sound asleep, so we accepted my mother-in-law's kind offer and went for a walk in the Harvard nighttime. A warm breeze made for a very pleasant evening.
We had first met at Harvard in the summer of 1989, a full 17 years ago. I was attending the Harvard summer school prior to entering postgraduate studies, and she had come here in her fourth year of college to study English. It was one day 17 years ago, when I went to have lunch at the cafeteria of the student dorms. Standing in line with my tray, I noticed an Asian woman in front of me, and so I casually asked her where she was from. That's how it all started. I guess you could say I "chatted her up."
It has been ages since we last walked around Harvard together. I held her hand just as I had done 17 years ago. At that time, we had gone our separate ways to different postgraduate schools. After graduating from university, she went to postgraduate school, one year behind me, to study international relations in New York. I was in Boston. In the end, we maintained a three-year, long-distance relationship between Japan and Boston, in first year, Boston and New York in the second year, and New York and Tokyo in our third year, before getting married after a four-year relationship.
We have since been blessed with five children. Since having children, we rarely have the opportunity to go out on dates. We decided to take time to relax on our own, thanks to the encouragement of my mother-in-law. We leisurely wandered the streets around Harvard at night, reminiscing about the time we first met.
We ducked into the Harvard Shop just before it closed, we only bought things for the kids in the end. I bought a Frisbee embossed with the Harvard logo, and a plastic bat and ball for playing with the boys. I was intending to take some time to play with them on this trip.
Sitting down on a bench, we decided to chat a little. Somehow, the topic always seemed to shift to the children. There was nothing to be done about it, I guess. After all, the children were our own works of art, and bringing them up well was not going to be easy by any means.
As we talked about the children, we started growing concerned, and so we went to the hotel earlier than we planned. We thanked my mother-in-law and gently kissed the cheeks of the sleeping children. These are the moments that make me feel warm inside.
June 4, 2006