Oh The Burdens of Responsibility

My father currently runs the family business called Ryphan Industry Co., Ltd.

Founded in 1940 by my grandfather and my great-grandfather, Ryphan is a trading company dealing with plastic packaging used in tube-shaped foods like salamis and sausages.  The company has a fleeting connection to American baseball.  One of our biggest customers is Nippon Ham, Japan’s largest ham company and the owner of the baseball team Nippon Ham Fighters.  The team recently got some press on  ESPN because the ace on the staff, Yu Darvish, has been crowned the next Matsuzaka.  In 2006, the team won the Japanese baseball championships under manager Trey Hillman, who now manages the not-so-hapless Kansas City Royals.  Our company buys (or rather, is compelled to buy) season tickets to the Fighters, but the team’s championship season led to a huge boost in Nippon Ham sales, thus helping our company greatly.

Ryphan is no Silgan Holdings Inc., a leading manufacturer of consumer packaging goods for whom I worked on a deal recently.  We are not a manufacture but a middle man in a business with big players, which means we get squeezed by our suppliers when costs rise and customers when prices fall.  Our company employs 27 people in two offices, too small to be a player but too big to be indifferent.  27 lives are a lot to be responsible for and I wouldn’t wish that kind of burden on anyone.  Yet there my dad is shouldering the responsibility of 26 others in the shadows of his ancestors.

I use the possessive “our” to describe the company literally. The company, now in the hands of a third generation Sasanuma, will inevitably come into the hands of the fourth.  Since I am the only son, I am or will be (I’m not exactly sure which one at this point) a shareholder and I too must eventually share the responsibility.

Personally, I’d rather liquidate the corporation so I can turn the stock which pays no dividend and has no tradeable market into some value.

Of course, that’s out of the question.

I have spoken to those who run their own business who say that, while the work is challenging, nothing beats being your own boss.  I think that’s a luxury you can only feel when you’re the boss of a business you have built up and rightfully consider yours.

Although I can’t speak for my dad, I feel no freedom or challenge from the great statue of my great-grandfather, the founder of the company, that sits at the entrance of the headquarters.  The statue, rather, is imposing and intimidating.  It is a constant reminder that I am the beneficiary of the work of the ancestors who came before me and my job is not so much to foster its growth but to protect what they had built.  It is knowing that I am the guardian of 75 years of history.

It is a task I cannot take on lightly, yet a task I must eventually take on.  It is a great responsibility I never agreed to take on, but one thrust upon me because of a happenstance called my birth.


6 Responses to “Oh The Burdens of Responsibility”

  1. 1 rattoch June 16, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    so would you be able to teach then?

    • 2 rattoch June 17, 2009 at 4:13 pm

      I wish someone had left a business for me to run. Sounds like job stability to me. I am available if you need legal asistants. lol. Would you have to live in Japan?

      • 3 joesas June 17, 2009 at 7:32 pm

        Oh yeah, the company’s in Japan. And I never thought of this as job security. Have you ever been responsible for 27 lives? I haven’t. And I don’t want to be.

    • 4 joesas June 17, 2009 at 7:28 pm


      Oh yeah, I can do whatever I want, but I can never divorce myself from Ryphan. No matter what I’m doing in life, I’m expected to be a part of and responsible for it. It’s just one of those things that will always be hanging over my head…

  2. 5 Ryan June 19, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    My family had a company and I made it clear I wanted to be a lawyer and not run it. Of course circumstances forced a liquidation ahead of my time, so that solved that problem, but I am thinking of opening my own law practice which is both very scary and very exciting.

    • 6 joesas June 20, 2009 at 5:42 pm

      Yeah, I don’t think I have the choice to just say, “I don’t want this.” It sorta doesn’t work that way in Asian families.

      And no, I would not want to start a law practice on my own. That creates a whole new series of problems.

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