I guess there are not a lot of people out there reading this that have heard of Izuru Umemura. He’s an elderly Japanese gentleman that has been a friend of the family for over thirty years. I first met him when I was attending a hair loss seminar in Chicago with my father. They started talking and really hit it off. He is quite a story.
As a young man he was a naval cadet during the war. Afterwards he started around, as young men do, looking for a way to make a living. He began working for a company that traded in commodities. They would ship him off to all parts of the world and he would buy coffee or timber or sugar. You get the idea. A dream job. He loved Central and South America. He would stay there for years at a time.
He got into the hair business on a whim really. But he was good at it. He set up a factory in the Philippines to manufacture for one of the main Japanese men’s hair replacement giants, and made out very well. I remember going there and staying in the beach house that he built by the water. It was hardly a ‘beach house’. They called it that but it was a beautiful home on the ocean. Anyone visiting the factory got to stay there. It was really something. He had to sell it several years ago but it was for the best.
The factory itself was a wonder. It was THE place to work in that small city. The staff was well paid the highest wages and their benefits the envy of anyone in the province. It was also the biggest employer of women in the province and it was great to see them so confident and independent. Izuru put a program in place that any employee that worked late did not have to travel home at night alone (remember the Philippines is near the equator; sunset is 6:PM) they had a company mini van (and driver) to take them home. His staff were very loyal to him.
One time there was a coup attempt in Manila. That happened a lot back then. All foreigners were confined to their hotel rooms and had a soldier with them. After a day or two of this he got bored. Under the eye of the private he opened the balcony door. He then got out his golf clubs he started working on his drive from inside his room, sending golf balls sailing out his balcony window. That’s Izuru. Never let any time go to waste.
He came to my wedding. That was 19 years ago. He had this brilliant white dinner jacket and his wife wore a traditional Japanese dress. They stole the show and I am so happy they had a great time.
He has another factory now that is working on some of the designs that Continental Hair has developed over the years. His meticulous managers and staff make sure that Continental Hair clients get the most beautiful hair systems anywhere. I go over and visit every year or so. Its a tough trip to make for a few days talking hair but it has to be done. I met the senior manager there, Peping, back in 1987 when he was working for another factory manufacturing men’s hair systems. He is a genius and a great guy. Izuru usually comes over from Tokyo to meet me there at the factory and we have a few days going over what we want to do in the coming years or so. We also gossip and joke. They know the best restaurants and I love the food. If you ever get the chance Philippine food is not to be passed by.
And now I am getting ready for another trip overseas. My father would go regularly and now its my turn. I’ll be visiting Izuru in Japan this time. He has been having some health problems and I want to save him the trouble. I also have never been to Japan. Not outside the airport anyway. I’ll be able to see him and catch a few sights, as well as catch up with my old university room mate who lives there now as an investment banker.
But I am glad that I will be seeing my old friend and mentor. Next to my father he has been the biggest influence in how I conduct business and myself, as well as how to be a gentleman. Its sounds corny but when discussing Izuru Umemura it sounds natural. I know that I will never eclipse the master, but it does not matter. That is not the point. The point is that I have learned from one.