Iwao Tomita, WG’63: Career Entrepreneur
In describing the long arc of his professional career, Iwao Tomita talks about milestones. The first was his decision in 1940 to enter Japan’s selective Naval Academy one year before Pearl Harbor. “I never thought at the time that I would be involved in a Pacific War,” says Tomita, who was born in 1924 in Tokyo.
He served as a supply officer on a battleship carrier and a frigate in the merchant marine from 1943 to early 1945. By the time the war was over, 20 of his 50 classmates from the Naval Academy were dead. For two months at the end of 1945, Tomita was chief administrative officer on two minesweepers, one of which was sunk when it hit a mine.
A second milestone occurred in 1947, when Tomita founded Yuka Industries, a company whose initial business was recycling transformer oil. Tomita left the company, now $100 million in revenues, in 1951 to start up Japan Gas Chemical, which has since become $2 billion Mitsubishi Gas Chemical. “My career was always to create new companies,” says Tomita. “I don’t like to wait a long time for step-by-step promotions. I like to do things myself.”
Meanwhile, there were other “lesser” milestones along the way. In 1950, Tomita passed his CPA exam. In 1957 he received a Fulbright scholarship to attend Wharton for one year. In 1961 he wrote a book, the first of several, entitled “How to Organize and Grow a Company with a Few Competent People.” And in 1962, he decided to leave Japan Gas Chemical Co. and complete his MBA at Wharton. “People at home thought I was crazy to quit. Why did I do it? Because I had been at the same company for 10 years and I was tired of it. I wanted a new career. That is very unusual in Japan.”
Tomita majored in accounting and finance at Wharton, and in 1963, established the first Arthur Young & Co. branch in Tokyo. In 1968 he founded Tohmatsu Awoki & Co. — now Tohmatsu & Co. — for what was then Touche Ross & Co. Tomita is currently a senior partner and member of the board of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu International.
Tohmatsu, with $300 million in revenues, 2,300 professionals and 18 offices, is the largest accounting firm in Japan, and has as clients many of the country’s major trading companies and international banks. Approximately 100 Japanese accountants and consultants work in 45 locations worldwide.
Tomita himself spends one third of his time in the U.S., one third in Japan and Asia and one third in Europe. “One of my daughters lives in New Jersey, and I have condominiums in Bermuda and in San Diego, but mostly I stay in hotels,” he says. “I am used to it.” He and his wife, whom he married in 1944, have three daughters and a home in Tokyo.
Although Tomita considers himself “Americanized” by his education and work experience, he is not a big fan of the U.S. economic system. “Americans concentrate on short-term profits and making money for their shareholders. Otherwise they get fired. Japanese think longer-term, which makes them more competitive. And Americans have less loyalty to their company. If they don’t get enough money they just quit and go somewhere else, even the partners.”
As for US-Japan trade, “it takes time for Japanese business structures to change. The U.S. government pushes the Japanese government to change now. It will happen, but gradually.”
Suzanne Janes Peck, WG’66; Beth Peck, WG’95: Family Ties
When Suzanne Janes Peck entered Wharton’s MBA program in January 1965, her class had “seven women, one black and a lot of white males.” Which was okay with Peck, because she went to Wharton with one goal in mind: To find a husband.
“You have to remember that back then the term ‘women’s lib’ hadn’t yet been coined,” says Peck, who earned her BA from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and graduated from Wharton with honors. “Words we have today — like mentor and empowerment — didn’t exist, at least not in the blue collar section of Wilmington where I grew up.
“I saw [husband] Paul’s picture in the MBA face book, targeted him and got him,” she adds. “He didn’t have a chance. We were married before we graduated.”
The punch line is not just that Peck and her husband celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in December, but that Peck went on to have a successful career in a non-traditional field — software technology. She is currently vice president of marketing and regional operations for Systems and Computer Technology (SCT) Corp., a $200 million company based in Malvern, Pa., that provides technology outsourcing and software product services. She and her husband, a senior executive with the U.S. Customs Service, live in McLean, Va.
Her previous jobs included 13 years at Honeywell, from 1971 to 1984, the last two as director of industry operations; two years as vice president, merchant banking systems, at Bankers Trust; and eight years at Student Loan Marketing Association (Sallie Mae), the last two as senior vice president, systems and new business activities. She has been in the workforce fulltime since Wharton with the exception of one year, because, as she puts it, “I was so unhappy when I wasn’t working.”
Along the way, she had three children (and one full-time housekeeper). The oldest, Beth Peck, graduated from Wharton’s MBA program last May and is now a financial analyst in the acquisitions and divestitures group at DuPont in Wilmington, Del. Before attending Wharton, she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia and spent five years at Baxter Diagnostics in Miami.
Suzanne Peck didn’t steer her daughter towards Wharton “in the sense that she held up her own experience and said, ’This is your life plan, follow in my footsteps,’” says Beth Peck. “Her influence was more subtle. Because of what she has accomplished, I saw that it was possible for a woman to go to Wharton and be very successful in life. She led by example more than by deliberate plan.”
Beth Peck, who was one of 202 women (in a class of 764 students) as opposed to seven, has clearly found the business environment hospitable. “So far, working at DuPont has been wonderful,” she says. “My Wharton degree has opened doors to levels in the corporation that I didn’t even know existed when I worked for Baxter.” She and her husband, an attorney, live in Narberth, Pa.
Suzanne Peck’s early career experiences were, not surprisingly, different from her daughter’s. “I would say that for the first 20 years of my career, I worked with virtually no women because computer technology was coming out of engineering, which tended to attract only men,” she says. Although her goal at one point had been to be an advertising copywriter, “I stayed with technology because the people were so smart and so honest. But they were not extraordinary communicators. One of the things I could do for them was translate. I could put into business terminology their goals and the opportunities they saw for technology.”
Steve Polsky, W’86: New Voice in Telecommunications
Back in 1988, when Steve Polsky was working in new product development at GTE in Dallas, he and his colleagues used to joke during lunch hours about starting their own companies.
Within a year, Polsky had found a partner, left his job, and entered that exhilarating, exhausting process of building a company out of nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing. Polsky had a number of advantages that helped him launch VoicePlex Corp., a software company whose product was a flexible system combining voicemail, IVR (interactive voice response) and automated attendant service capabilities.
First, as a graduate of the five-year, dual-degree Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology, Polsky had specialized in both computer science and finance. Second, at GTE he had joined a management training program in engineering that rotated him to laboratories in Florida, Massachusetts and North Carolina and eventually landed him in Dallas where he worked on new product introduction in the voice messaging area.
And third, his father Carl Polsky, a tax attorney and practice professor at Wharton, co-guaranteed a $200,000 working capital loan to Steve and his partner, Sohail Sattar, also a former GTE employee. More importantly, he offered his son advice that would prove especially useful, such as a) set up the business as a Sub S company and b) make sure from the beginning that you are audited by a reputable accounting firm.
All that said, Polsky and Sattar spent close to three years working seven-day weeks, sleeping four hours a night, and living off bologna and turkey sandwiches, “although as the business expanded, we stepped up to Taco Bell, and eventually to the Olive Garden,” Polsky adds. He didn’t draw a salary for two years, but he did get a break from his roommates. “They never charged me for utilities because they knew I would never be home to use them,” he says.
In hindsight, VoicePlex was the right idea at the right time. “We were selling to an existing market, including banks, which meant that we had proven, established customers,” says Polsky. “And technologically, our competitors were based on proprietary systems. Because of advances in computers, we could base our product on standard computing platforms, which meant it was cheaper and gave us more flexibility and more choices of technologies to integrate.”
VoicePlex also benefited from relationships with existing companies. For example, GTE eventually agreed to market the company’s product, which led to clients like Zale Corp. and Texaco. From 1990 to 1993, the company grew an average of 300 percent a year, hired eight employees and moved to a bigger office.
In August 1994, when VoicePlex sales were $4.4 million and the company had 23 employees, Polsky and Sattar sold out to InterVoice, a leader in interactive voice response systems based in Dallas, for $8 million and 255,000 shares of common stock. “We were essentially a very small company selling to very large companies, at a time when the industry was consolidating,” says Polsky whose official title was chief operating officer and executive vice president. “We needed a financial underpinning, which meant either going public or finding a partner or buyer. The best solution was selling.” Polsky now works for InterVoice as vice president of operations for the telecommunications systems division.
“It’s an exciting process to start your own company,” he says. “But it has difficult moments and very tough decisions have to be made along the way. I recently saw a sign that says it all: ‘The road to success is mostly made up of detours.’”