I’m in Boston attending my 15th alumni reunion since graduating from Harvard Business School (HBS). HBS holds reunions every five years to bring graduates together and offer opportunities for learning about the latest management trends, while also raising funds for HBS.
This was my third reunion, continuing a perfect attendance record since my graduation. Following the invitation to bring family along, I’ve brought mine every time. My wife came for the fifth anniversary, and my two oldest sons accompanied us to the tenth anniversary. On this occasion, I brought my wife, five children, and mother-in-law, making us a party of eight.
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.
Traveling with eight people is not so easy. It burns a big hole in your wallet, there’s all that luggage, and just making it to the hotel is a tall order. Packing is no fun, either. Apart from the reunion, I was 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.
Even more important was 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. A staff member from the car park drove us from the parking lot to the airport, and then we made our way to the airline counter.
That’s when we hit our first travel problem: I had forgotten 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!
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, then immediately returned to Narita. We managed to get on the plane and set off for the U.S.
In Chicago, we had our second passport surprise: the moment we arrived at the immigration counter, the whole computer system went down. We had to wait at the counter for half an hour while they booted it back up.
“These things happen. These things happen,” I repeated to myself as we waited, taking deep breaths, playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with the children, and otherwise keeping my mind occupied. Just five minutes from having to change our plane for Boston, the computer came back online, and we rushed onward to our next flight.
Surprise number three: we arrived at the gate, only to discover that the 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, 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.
The next morning, I put on my suit and got down to work. I was scheduled to meet with investors, one of whom I’ve been meeting with for about seven years, but the timing never seems to work out. I haven’t actually got him on board yet, but 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 based outside of Boston.
At noon, I participated in the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors meeting. The board meets three times a year, and I have participated in every meeting so far. 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 top graduate schools in North America and Europe.
In the evening, there was a dinner event with current and former directors, as well as the heads of the HBS alumni club in each city. My mother-in-law kindly offered to babysit for us, so we had a pleasant evening at the dinner and then enjoyed a walk in the warm Harvard nighttime.
We had first met at Harvard in the summer of 1989. 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. One day, 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 casually asked her where she was from. That’s how it all started.
Here we are, 17 years later.
It has been ages since we last walked around Harvard together. I held her hand just as I had done back then. After Harvard, we had gone to different postgraduate schools. She went on to study international relations in New York while I stayed in Boston. We maintained a three-year long-distance relationship: one year between Japan and Boston, the next year between Boston and New York, and a third year between New York and Tokyo. Then we were married.
We have since been blessed with five children, who are all wonderful but make it difficult to go out on dates. Now, with my mother-in-law watching the kids, we leisurely wandered the streets around Harvard at night, reminiscing about how we met.
We ducked into the Harvard Shop just before it closed and bought a few things for the kids: a Frisbee embossed with the Harvard logo and a plastic bat and ball. Then we sat down on a bench and chatted a while. Somehow, the topic always seemed to shift to the children. There was nothing to be done about that. The children were our own works of art, and bringing them up well was not going to be easy.
When we eventually returned to the room, 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.