Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Friend

I woke up on Friday, Cory was home and turned on the news and my stomach hit the pit. I saw the coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and could barely breathe watching the replays of the giant wave cover an entire city. And then with panic I thought immediately of Minoru.

Minoru and I began as colleagues over 7 years ago. My company accepted representation of Lucky Craft back in 2003. The lures they manufactured were incomparable in quality and the retail price showed it – 16.99 for a hard bait when others out there were at 4.99-6.99? How could they possibly sell? But the hardcore fisherman knew they caught fish, every time and was willing to pay the price. At the time, inventory was limited and Minoru had no sales manager to guide him through the nuances of selling anyone other than the grassroots independent shops. We had the contacts to help him grow and I was charged with guiding him through it.

For me, it was an opportunity to grow with my company and I took it on with gusto. In the process, we grew the business, bumps here and there, but overall we took his sales from about $2M annually to over $5M in 3 years. It was a fantastic feeling for me to sit in meetings with our customers and actively contribute to the progress of a company and its growth and impact on an industry. And in the process I gained the mutual respect of many which was professionally very satisfying.

But even more, in Minoru I gained a friend. He called me his “American sister”. In those years we traveled together all over the country and after countless layovers in airports, prep meetings for presentations, trade shows and buying shows we shared our personal lives, triumphs and tribulations. He was one of the very first people I told I was pregnant with Jack. I had found out the week before going to the Keys for training meetings with him and although we weren’t ready to tell my company (we hadn’t even told them we were trying!) he relied heavily on me and I knew I wanted to prepare him for the changes ahead in my ability to travel and be as involved in the day to day. I was nervous of his reaction but he was over the top excited for us. And even more so I was excited to be able to share this incredible journey, as I knew he was gaining another person into his “American family”.

When Jack was born, Minoru sent a beautiful care package and his amazing graphics team put together a special web pictorial of the pictures I had emailed over the years, even including a cute rendition of my niece Caroline, a trip to visit her and my sister Clare in NYC, and my other sister Ali’s new little guy Nolan that was born shortly after Jack. He knew it was so special that my two sisters and I were all pregnant at the same time (all with boys!) and was truly a part of our family through all the stories and pictures and emails I shared with him that year. I wasn’t able to be as active professionally but he continued to share in all my personal craziness, including the announcement that Jack’s brother was going to arrive just 14 months following!

And in that regard, maybe seeing my happiness at family life or maybe it was just his time, Minoru began a new family life of his own, marrying a sweetheart girl, Shiori, in September of 2009. Cory and I flew to California for the celebration and his second dance at the reception was with me, in honor of our friendship.

And now that my children are a bit older, in the past year I’ve been able to get back to a more hands on role with Minoru and Lucky Craft. It’s lifted my spirits working with him again, and renewed my professional confidence after having stepped “out” for a time and into the role of motherhood – I am now an “out of the house” working mom (since all moms work, it’s just location).  But more than that, over these years the focus has not been about me, my company, our success.  I'm renewed by the opportunity to help him succeed.  In what my agency does, we walk a fine line between working for the companies we represent and the customers which we support.  It has been my greatest joy knowing that through my work I can help someone else reach their dreams.  I would go so far as to compare our relationship as having best prepared me for motherhood and now I can turn that around use what I have learned to help elevate Minoru and Lucky Craft to the next level for their success.

And so last Friday, my first thought was of my friend, of his mother, of his home. For the life of me I couldn't place the exact location of where his family and the factory were. I was angry at my near 40’s brain capacity and immediately texted him (at 2am Pacific time I knew he was up working). For the 5 minutes I waited for him to respond I couldn't breathe because I could only think of the worst case scenario and that he had just lost his entire family and everything he had ever known. He came here to live his dreams of bringing a fantastic product he and his family makes to our country, he’s grown successful personally and professionally and I have enjoyed every bit of it like a mother watching her own child grow. He has done an incredible job given the circumstances he has faced and it was possible that everything was gone.

Even after his text “I think they should be ok, all phone line is still down…” I wasn’t completely reassured. Throughout that day I prayed and sent him notes hoping he’d heard more but didn’t want to badger him knowing he was probably worried sick himself and trying constantly to get through. I stayed away from the constant media coverage that was so tragic and so over the top “end of times”. Then at 9pm Friday night,

“I finally had a chance to talk with her. I kept calling to all last 18hr, but phone line went through only two time. Everybody trying to call, so its crazy busy. Thank you so much. I finally be little relaxed :)”

And I breathed. They are safe, his dream will continue. During our long friendship and among many wonderful traits, Minoru has exhibited (and taught me in the process) passion, hard work, patience and resilience like no one I’ve know. And I have no doubt he learned this from his mother and the people of his country. I've been honored to work with someone from the nation of Japan, I am honored to call him my friend. I have learned firsthand what amazing people the Japanese are. May they prove to the rest of us what it is like to be a nation with those traits foremost again and may the citizens of the U.S. do everything they can to help make that happen.
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