Once known as the king of LNG, Tetsuro Masuda was at one point in his career overseeing a hundred different entities for Mitsubishi Corporation on four continents—back when the main communication method was via fax.
Affable, witty and with an easy laugh, Tetsuro Masuda may not seem like someone who was once in the elite ranks of Japanese business, being at one time number six in Mitsubishi Corporation’s executive hierarchy. But he was, and he was well prepared and tough enough to handle all of it.
“I’m turning eighty-five this year,” he says. “That means I was just starting elementary school at the end of World War Two. I remember our school textbooks were all rewritten overnight—blacked out and redone by hand—when I was seven. My father, who had been running a small factory, was conscripted to serve in Korea. When he came back home at the end of the year it was the most blissful memory of my young days.”
In middle school, Masuda was put forth as an example of how good students were learning English, and he competed in the national English-language speech contest as a representative of Saitama Prefecture twice. “Not that I was enthusiastic about it,” he says with a smile. “Anyway, I went on to Hibiya High School, which before the war was the top high school in Japan. If you take that road, you’re destined to be some kind of a leader in this country, right?”
He moved on to Tokyo University to study public law. “I met a young American student who came over here to build a church in Osaka,” he recalls. “And for some reason, she decided to live with my family. We were very interested in the way she behaves, speaks English and all her mannerisms. So this American girl survived my father’s criticism and I further brushed up my English because I was speaking live English with this American girl.”
Masuda graduated with a BA in public law from Tokyo University in 1962, and immediately joined Mitsubishi Corporation’s Oil Dept. B in Tokyo. He ended up at the London branch in 1966.
“There was growing attention in Japan about the environment,” Masuda says. “Mitsubishi started looking at the new source of energy, liquified natural gas—LNG—learning from the London Battersea Park Core plant.”
In 1969, Mitsubishi Corporation was the middleman that brought LNG to Japan, and Masuda was in the middle of that. “From that day onward, for twenty-three years, I was living with LNG,” he says.
“In 1994, I was suddenly picked out of the business stream of the organization and put into the management area,” Masuda recalls. “Suddenly I’m a general manager of all businesses in Australia. I had to look after five different branches.”
Minoru Makihara, then the chief executive and later chairman of Mitsubishi Corporation, soon gave Masuda even bigger challenges. “Suddenly I’m the head of Mitsubishi UK—and of Mitsubishi Europe, Mitsubishi Africa and the Middle East, overseeing about a hundred
overseas branch offices,” he says. “Mr. Makihara trusted me tremendously, and he wanted to test me, but I think it was really too much.”
That test included dealing with local staff in all those regions, in English, French, Spanish and other languages, not to mention the disparate cultures. “And you have to make sure that you are the champion of all of them,” Masuda adds. “At that time, by the way, fax was the ordinary means of communication. It’s so much easier today.”
Along the way, Masuda gave presentations during the eighties and nineties in the UK and US on LNG contracts, Japan’s economy and energy situation, and a comparison of the Japanese and Australian economies. He went above and beyond in other ways as well, including heading up the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Sydney, serving as the chairman of the Federation of Japan Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Australia, and acting as the director of the Japan Society in the UK.
And in August 2001, the Sultan of Brunei honored him with The Most Distinguished Order of Paduka Seri Laila Jasa Third Class at a ceremony in London. He’d been to Brunei over a hundred times to help the country market its oil and gas, so the award was well deserved.
Masuda’s life after retirement is a full one.
“I’m a member of Tokyo Golf Club, one of the most prestigious clubs in Japan,” Masuda says. “Royal family members play there. I lost my interest in playing golf, though, because my body is so weak, but I still maintain membership because of the contacts of people and networks. Nowadays, though, I spend most of my time free time up in the mountains in Nagano Prefecture in a small hut in Tateshina.”
Two years ago his doctors told Masuda his eyesight was fading. He was afraid he wouldn’t pass his latest driver’s licence renewal exam, but he did. He bought a new vehicle to celebrate. “It’s a red Lexus sports car, like a small airplane, so fast and with so many buttons and so much technology. My wife is scared to drive it!”
Masuda has also been a writer for quite a while, producing articles for publications such as Kyodo Weekly and Jiji Shimpo, with the latter mostly about natural gas topics. He had his own column for ten years. His latest project is a blog under the nom de plume of Byron—as in Lord Byron, the English poet. His chosen topic? “I’m struggling with new technology, information technology,” he responds, “like the rest of my retirement generation. One thing we have in common is that struggle to understand it all.”
And there’s his position on the Honorary Board of Advisors. As usual, Wilf Wakely was the connection. That link, though, was as roundabout as you can get.
“I was representing Mitsubishi’s interests at a week-long conference about nuclear facilities in Vancouver,” he recalls. “I was a heavy smoker, and you couldn’t even talk about smoking there. I managed to find a place where I could, though, and went every day.
“A few years later, after I’d retired, I got a call from a man named Michael Cole,” he continues. “He explained that his brother was running a nightclub in Vancouver. That place I was smoking in. And Cole introduced me to Wilf. Wilf was a smoker, of course, and a lawyer like me. He suggested that I join the group.”
Of the CCCJ itself, Masuda had this to say. “I think the CCCJ is turning itself into a very viable organization. It’s a very interesting meeting place with all the events and new members joining. It’s the basis of the nation’s friendship through a free exchange of information and goodwill, and I pray for good luck for the organisation.”
Now that COVID is fading, he’s even more hopeful, and he even encourages a little disruptive behaviour. “The young have the right to dance,” he says. “I recall the days when I was doing a lot of dancing myself, bumping my head against institutions, walls and other things. I insisted on dancing my own. So when I see young businesspeople, the young generation, sometimes shooting off their mouths and going off in various directions and all that, I don’t think I have the right to say anything against that.”