Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

[PROFILE] George Aratani - Philanthropist & Successful Business Leader

Expand Messages
  • madchinaman
    BIOGRAPHY http://www.synergos.org/globalgivingmatters/briefs/0110roundup.htm Using philanthropy to fight prejudice California-born George Aratani, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 28 6:14 PM

      Using philanthropy to fight prejudice California-born George Aratani,
      the Japanese-American founder of Mikasa Chinaware and Kenwood
      Electronics, has been a "quiet" but high-impact philanthropist. As
      the result of his experience being interned with his family during
      World War II, Aratani decided, when he became successful, to fund
      institutions that address issues of prejudice and fear so many
      Japanese Americans lived through. (Advancing Philanthropy,
      July/August 2001)



      Mr. Aratani is currently Chair of the Aratani Foundation in Los
      Angeles, California. In 1994, the Aratani Foundation was created to
      help support non-profit organizations that serve the Asian Pacific
      American community. The Foundation was named after George Aratani who
      founded three international corporations: Mikasa - a leading
      tableware company, Kenwood - a high fidelity electronics enterprise
      and AMCO - a medical supply business.



      This is an excerpt from the July/August 2001 Advancing Philanthropy
      feature, "The Donor's Turn."

      Japanese American philanthropist George Aratani grew up in a small
      agricultural town in central California, never expecting to leave the
      family farming business. Then World War II intervened, and Aratani's
      entire family was interned. They lost everything they owned.

      This searing experience lies at the root of Aratani's giving: His
      goal is to help institutions involved with Japanese Americans help
      others with similar legacies of discrimination and loss. "They, too,
      went through trying and difficult times," he explains simply. That's
      a modest description of the price Japanese Americans paid during the
      internment and its aftermath, but then, his colleagues agree that
      George Aratani is a modest man.

      William H. "Mo" Marumoto, president of Interface Group, a Washington,
      DC, executive search firm, has served on several boards with Aratani
      over three decades. "Although he has made numerous major
      contributions to a number of organizations, he keeps a low profile
      about his giving," Marumoto says. "But he is incredibly generous.

      " In the postwar era, Aratani founded two highly successful American
      businesses, Mikasa Chinaware and Kenwood Electronics. Aratani wanted
      others to share the benefits of his success when, as he says, "I
      became fortunate enough to be in a position to help." Using the
      wisdom gained from his wartime tragedies, Aratani began the work that
      30 years later has enriched and changed untold lives.

      A vision comes to life
      Aratani and the institutions he supports see the history of Japanese
      Americans as one of overcoming prejudice and fear. Telling that story
      will benefit all Americans by fostering a climate of mutual
      understanding and respect. Although Aratani supports some Pan Asian
      and some national causes, he directs his giving predominantly to
      Japanese American organizations in the greater Los Angeles area —
      many in that city's historic Little Tokyo district. Through major
      contributions, continuing support, and everyday ventures like
      raffles, his generosity spans the entire spectrum. The beneficiaries
      are too numerous to name, but the following three stand out:

      The Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
      The National Japanese American Memorial in Washington, DC.
      The Asian American Studies Center at UCLAA.
      New legacy of hope

      In the words of Don Nakanishi, Ph.D., professor and director of the
      Asian American Studies Center, "The image and knowledge that most
      Americans had of Japanese Americans was so limited and distorted that
      it was possible to make wild things believable. So it's up to
      Japanese Americans to tell their story. The Center makes history come

      "George has a real passion and unflinching commitment to the Japanese
      American community," Nakanishi says. "He takes his responsibilities
      as a board member very seriously. Having seen how isolated Japanese
      Americans were from the mainstream and how easy it was to demonize
      them, he feels he has to do this for the community."

      "The breadth of George's giving is unusual," agrees Irene Hirano,
      president and executive director of the Museum. "He looks across the
      range of Japanese American organizations and supports them at varying
      levels." Noting that Aratani's contributions go far beyond money,
      Hirano relates that Aratani was a major architect of the Museum's
      philosophy. "He knew it was critical to build a strong base of
      support for the museum within the Japanese American community first,"
      she says. "Without that in place, there would have been no hope of
      success in soliciting other sectors, such as foundations and

      The impressive breadth of his vision is matched only by his
      extraordinary ability to effect change. From prejudice and injustice,
      desolate concentration camps, impounded wealth, and savaged spirits,
      he has created a living legacy of fulfillment and achievement.
      Marumoto sums up the view of the people and institutions fortunate
      enough to know and work with Aratani: "Everything about George is



      It was in 1961 that three Southern Californians, George Aratani, Bill
      Kasuga, and Yoichi Nakase decided that what the country needed was a
      better stereo. Rather than building something from scratch, the three
      looked around to find who was already making advanced stereo
      equipment that they might market themselves. What they found was a
      Japanese corporation called Trio. Trio had a track record. Founded in
      1946, they'd built Japan's first FM tuner and its first all-
      transistor amplifier, and plenty of other respected stereo equipment.
      A deal was made, and soon the three were importing and marketing
      their new line, which they decided to call Kenwood. What neither
      could have guessed was just how successful the upstart Los Angeles
      company would become. Within a few years Kenwood was making the most
      popular receiver in the country, and by 1986 the Kenwood name was so
      well known that the Trio corporation in Japan changed its name to
      Kenwood worldwide. That combination of ambition and engineering
      excellence has characterized Kenwood ever since. Dozens of
      groundbreaking products came to market because of the company's
      unusual way of developing products, with the American side
      discovering what people wanted and the engineers in Japan designing
      and building it. Thus, Kenwood built the first audio/video amplifier
      for home theater way back in 1981 and the first anti-theft car
      cassette deck that could be slid out of the dash.

      Kenwood tries to pay attention to what people want, not just what is
      possible to build. For example, Kenwood developed the Stage 3
      products after spending three years listening to what people said
      about home theater. What they wanted was an easier way to control
      their system. Another exciting achievement was the creation of MASK,
      the world's first self-hiding car stereo.

      In the meantime, Kenwood continued to improve and invent technologies
      that made their products sound or work better. Like DRIVE, a circuit
      that all but eliminates digital distortion, DualMag car speakers,
      which use two opposing magnets to increase accuracy, and K-STAT, the
      world's only output transistor with built-in heat sensors, which
      significantly reduces distortion and improves musical detail. Today,
      Kenwood products are distributed in over 120 countries around the
      world, and Kenwood USA markets more than 250 products.



      Triple Threat All-Stars (lt to rt) George Aratani, Cappy Harada and
      Masao Iriyama.
      George Aratani batted .500 for his State Championship Santa maria
      High School. They beat Ted William's Hoover High School. Earlier in
      that season, Hall of Famers, Honus Wagner, Paul and Lloyd Waner were
      assistanct coaches for the Pittsburgh Pirates and picked George and
      his teammate Lester Webber to work out with the team.

      Cappy Harada served under General MacArthur during the war and helped
      to bring the country back through baseball exhibitions with Lefty
      O'Doul's Seals.

      Masao iriyama was batting .400 for his Guadalupe Team in the Tule
      Lake Detention Camp, when his brother, a p[ilot, was killed in action
      while flying for the Shoen-Kok-hei - he was shot down in 1944 when a
      B-29 attacked Tokyo


      An American Son - $22.00 / The story of George Aratani
      By Naomi Hirahara

      Decades before trade moved at its present pace between the United
      States and Japan, there was a Japanese immigrant's son with an
      American dream. Born to a prosperous farmer in California, George
      Aratani was forced to leave the family business behind when
      incarcerated with more than 120,000 other Japanese Americans during
      Would War II. After the war, he traveled to Japan with only a vague
      idea about what he would import from the war-devastated nation. What
      followed was the development of two powerful businesses, Mikasa and
      Kenwood. The story of the man who founded these companies not only
      reflects the economic rebuilding of Japan, but it also reveals the
      ability of Japanese Americans to create their own American success

      George Aratani is recognized nationally for his visionary
      entrepeneurship. He is one of the most respected members of our
      business community. Because of his business ties with Japan, he has
      always been sensitive to the necessity of maintaining a strong and
      healthy relationship between Japan and the United States. His
      involvement in support of cultural exchange between these two nations
      is legendary.
      -The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye, U.S. Senator, Hawai'i
      In reading this book, one is struck by the determination of George
      Aratani and his colleagues to create their own business, despite the
      tragic setback of World War II when so many Japanese Americans lost
      everything. That George Aratani and his fellow businessmen were able
      to prevail in the face of such odds is a great credit to them and our
      American way of life.
      - The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta, former member of Congress and first
      Asian Pacific American Cabinet member

      George Aratani is a remarkably successful and innovative business
      leader. His legacy extends well beyond the name brand powerhouse
      companies he founded. For decades he has been a towering leader in
      the Japanese American community in Los Angeles as well as nationwide.
      Through his philanthropic generosity and commitments, he has played a
      singularly decisive role in supporting major cornerstone programs
      that will enrich the lives of Japanese Americans, indeed all
      Americans, for generations to come.

      - Don T. Nakamishi, Ph.D., Professor and Director, UCLA Asian
      American Studies Center


      BIOGRAPHY (Ms. Melissa Aratani Kwee - Grand Daughter)
      The more you have, the more you give
      Ms Melissa Aratani Kwee could have led the life of a socialite but
      chose to be a social activist. The child of a property tycoon and
      granddaughter of the Kenwood electronics-empire founder says money is
      only a tool - use it but do not let it use you.

      By Susan Long; POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, The Straits Times, Singapore,
      July 27th, 2001

      Members of a community should help each other out, says Ms Kwee, who
      is grateful for her family's support. -- WANG HUI FEN

      ONE label that will never stick on Ms Melissa Aratani Kwee is 'poor
      little rich girl'.

      The eldest child of property tycoon Kwee Liong Tek, chairman of
      Pontiac Land, and his Japanese-American wife exudes a quiet
      conviction, self-confidence and a social conscience money cannot buy.

      There is nothing 'mis-spent' or 'lost' about her.

      At 29, beneath the well-cut clothes and transatlantic accent, this
      Harvard anthropology graduate has a definite idea of how she wants to
      spend the rest of her life - to make a difference in other people's

      As a girl, she says, she was always hatching plans to 'solve the
      world's problems'.

      While her teenage counterparts were making romantic forays, she spent
      her wonder years pursuing an array of social service projects, such
      as raising funds for flood victims, trying to save the rainforests in
      Malaysia and reading to depressed teenagers at Woodbridge hospital.

      She even worked with a conservation group in Nepal, where she learnt
      Nepali and taught English at a local high school.

      As soon as she graduated from Harvard university, she returned here
      in 1995 and set up a non-profit group for the development of women
      and youth called Project Access.

      She attributes her heightened social consciousness to the school she
      attended here, United World College, and its 'incredibly-compelling
      vision of young people being a positive force in their communities'.

      It helps that she really likes people.

      She makes it a point to chirp a breezy 'Hi' to counter staff and
      everyone else who meets her eye at Millenia Walk, which her family
      owns, along with other posh properties like the Ritz Carlton and
      Conrad International.

      Another strong influence was her family, which imbued in her a 'very
      strong ethic or value of playing your part, doing your bit and
      contributing what you have'.

      She and her three younger sisters and brother made it a point to do
      thoughtful things for each other, like writing little notes, giving
      flowers, putting toothpaste on each other's toothbrush in the morning.

      'They are just small, stupid things but there was always a sense that
      you can do a small thing to make somebody's day,' she says.

      She remembers many balmy summers spent in Los Angeles horseback
      riding, doing arts and crafts and getting to know her Japanese-
      American grandfather, Mr George Aratani, the founder of the Kenwood
      electronics empire and an avid philanthropist, who became her role

      When her grandfather turned 80 last year, she adopted his surname,
      Aratani, as her middle name as a sign of respect.


      THE three tenets of this self-assured woman's life are to
      be 'peaceful, social and find something to learn'.

      These days, she spends half her waking hours doing corporate
      communications for the Pontiac Land group.

      To unwind, she hangs out with friends, 'checking out new and
      different things, whether it's food or places or activities', runs
      and goes for yoga classes.

      She also sits on a slew of committees, such as the United Nations
      Development Fund for Women (Unifem), the Singapore Repertory Theatre
      and the United World College school board, either doing review work
      or 'organising, advocating or connecting people'.

      Otherwise, she is speaking to youths or conducting workshops on
      various topics like volunteering, global awareness, leadership and
      family, or dabbling in schemes from Aids awareness projects to
      fundraisers for East Timor.

      Of course, she knows people can be snide about her monied background
      and her lack of a 'real job', and pin her public-spiritedness down to
      a rich girl having too much time on her hands.

      'What can I say? If I believed it I would feel bad about it, but I
      don't believe it so it just rolls off my back,' she says.

      'A lot of people I went to school with in the US were very well-
      educated and came from very affluent backgrounds but they tried so
      hard to refute the fact that they were from that background. I saw
      that as such a waste. I thought that there was a lot more they could
      be doing with their lives than trying to prove to people that they
      were no different.

      'It doesn't mean that I shouldn't try to make a living, it doesn't
      mean I should sit at home and do all kinds of frivolous activities. I
      think it's a responsibility, and it's something I don't feel obliged
      to do but it's something I want to do.

      'In this sense, it's expected but it's expected really out of a
      recognition that we have a lot,' she says. 'As the proverb goes: To
      those to whom much has been given, much is expected. So you give out
      of recognition of what you have.'
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.