December 27, 2008 - Good to Great, Mt. Fuji, Rudolph, and The Sky Burns Red
I just returned from a 10 day trip to Japan, conducting communications training for a few of the largest companies in Japan. It’s always a lot of fun to go over there, although the traveling could be hell.
For this trip, I figured that the current book that I’ve been reading on my Amazon Kindle– The Snowball-Warren Buffet and the Business of Life—will keep me busy. I was only about a third of the way through. It is quite well-written, but not quite a page turner like my favorite author James Patterson, master of the 400-page 120 chapter-thriller.
At LAX, I visited the gift shop and saw Jim Collins’ Good to Great, a book that I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read yet (although I’ve seen him speak and am impressed with his thinking.) It was in hard-cover, and was selling at full price. I wondered if I could get it on Kindle cheaper. I flipped through a few pages. I saw chart with a list of some “excellent” companies. I try to remember now which companies were there. Unfortunately, the only two that I could remember are Fannie Mae and Circuit City. Both companies are in dire financial straits, and few would claim these are great companies today. Perhaps Jim needs to update his book, or the circumstances that existed back when he wrote the original no longer applies. Or perhaps, he was wrong.
I close the cover to the book and walk away, rationalizing that I can get it some other day.
One of my most favorite visits is always with Mr. Masatoshi Ito, founder of Ito Yokado. He is one of the most respected business person in Japan and always carries with him the top 10 lists of companies (in market cap) from 10 years ago, pointing out how few of them are still on that list today. He asked me, “Is Mr. Obama going to be able to save the world?”
Many in Japan feel that saving the US is the same as saving the world today. Or the more cynical view is that the US dragged the world into this mess—it better pull the world out of it.
I flew to Shikoku later in the week. The photo you see is Mt. Fuji from about 20-some thousand feet. We were flying unusually low, it seemed, and the majestic volcano was even more beautiful than ever, having just received a healthy cover of snow from a winter storm that passed by just a day earlier.
I stayed at a hotel called the Sun Route Hotel in Tokushima. The property boasts a hot-springs mineral bath on its 11th floor, but it also has a sauna. Fifty-five hundred miles away from home, I sat in the sauna after the training sessions, and felt the fatigue melt away in the dry heat. I would then soak in the mineral rich bath and close my eyes. This is as Japanese as you can possibly get.
But then, the hotel managed to ruin my mood deeply traditional Japanese mood by blasting “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” through the spa loud speakers. I used the spa frequently, so the song now runs through my head much like “it’s a Small World after all” would play endlessly after a visit to that fun-filled ride at Disneyland.
The Sunroute Tokushima Hotel is situated right next to a department store called SOGO. On the 7th floor, the national bookseller, Kinokuniya, has a store that occupies the entire floor. I roamed through the aisles, looking for interesting books and CDs, and voila--- I found a familiar book. My book, The Sky Burns Red, was neatly lodged between a bunch of other foreign language books that had been translated. It was rare for me to find my original book in any book store in Japan, given that it was released close to two years ago, and that it did not turn out to be a best seller. So I pulled the book out and stacked it on top of some top seller. I figured I could give myself some help after having endured Rudolph for so long in the bath tub.
As the year winds down and we approach December 31, I’m reminded that success is fickle (look at Fannie Mae and the lessons Mr. Ito always teaches me), that I should enjoy what is given to me (beautiful view of Mt. Fuji), that Christmas in a hot springs bath isn’t all that bad, and that you never know what life will bring (maybe some movie producer is visiting Tokushima, goes to Kinokuniya, buys my book, and asks to make a movie out of that novel).
Joseph Lee is an independent consultant and executive coach. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management where he teaches a second-year MBA course in Management Consulting. In addition, Mr. Lee is also an author, writing International Business Thrillers, including his debut novel The Sky Burns Red (赤く燃える空) which was published in Japan.