Stories

An American Son: Setsuo and George Aratani

EXCERPTS FROM AN AMERICAN SON: THE STORY OF GEORGE ARATANI, FOUNDER OF MIKASA AND KENWOOD BY NAOMI HIRAHARA:

At one time, before World War II, Japanese farmers dominated this region [Guadalupe, California]. There were the Big Three—Aratani, Minami, Tomooka—Japanese immigrants who tilled thousands of acres of farmland and harvested tons of carrots, lettuce, peas, and chili peppers; the produce was packed in ice and shipped as far as Texas and the East Coast.

Setsuo was responsible for farming close to 5,000 acres in both the Santa Maria and Lompoc valleys, and he operated two packing sheds, including Guadalupe Produce. Poised to inherit this agricultural kingdom was his only son, George Tetsuo, but the glory days of Guadalupe proved to be fleeting. It was then up to the son to take the lessons of Guadalupe and apply them to an arena that involved factories rather than fields.

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[By 1928, Setsuo’s business was doing so well that he sent his company baseball team to Japan.] Setsuo had spent $3,000 on the tour, a small fortune at that time. Weeks later, when he took George for a walk through fields of cauliflower and broccoli, he explained his business philosophy to his son. “Joji, if you want to get into business and continue to grow, you have to surround yourself with capable people,” Setsuo said. “You must treat them as part of the company. There are only 24 hours in a day. When the business gets bigger and bigger, there are so many things to do. You need good people to take on various important responsibilities. Then you can continue to make progress and grow bigger. But first you have to work as a team, just like the team that went to Japan.” This philosophy, which had been crucial to the success of the elder Aratani, would become the foundation of George’s future empire.

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In spite of the differences between the Guadalupe of old and the Little Tokyo of today, one thing remains constant for George: he has carried the entrepreneurial spirit of his father, Setsuo Aratani, inside him. This spirit has given birth to three international companies-Mikasa, Kenwood, and AMCO-and it has provided direction during times of turmoil on foreign soil in Japan, in scorched desert camps in Arizona, and on the congested streets of Manhattan.

June 2001




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