By Yvonne Lim Wilson
Jim Yatsu has been actively involved in the Asian American community and broader Austin community through his work with the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, Keep Austin Beautiful, Tokyo Electron and the Japanese American community.
As the Director of International Supplier Relations at Tokyo Electron America, Inc., Mr. Yatsu is responsible for the global initiatives in the Supply Chain Solutions within Tokyo Electron group worldwide. Mr. Yatsu graduated from International Christian University in Tokyo in 1982, with a B.A. degree in French Language. He joined Tokyo Electron Limited (TEL) following graduation, and held a variety of management positions from Administration to Sales and Field Engineering. His first assignment in the U.S. was in Mountain View, California and in 1997, he transferred to TEL’s U.S. Headquarters in Austin.
Mr. Yatsu served on the board of Keep Austin Beautiful (KAB), a non-profit organization established to enhance the community environment in Austin, from 2003-2013 and as Board President in 2007. He also served Chairman of the Texas Asian Chamber of Commerce from 2009-2012 before the merger with Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce to form the GAACC.
He has been a longtime volunteer for Keep Austin Beautiful’s Adopt-a-Street and Annual Clean Sweep, Meals-on-Wheels, and Austin Resource Center for Homeless as a member of the corporate volunteer team. At the annual KAB luncheon in December 2013, Mr. Yatsu received the “Distinguished Board Leadership Award.”
“Keep Austin Beautiful has been one of my passion for a long time. After serving on the board for 10 years, I decided to step down to make room for younger people. I was so grateful for KAB board to remember me and gave me such a nice award after almost a year since I stepped down,” Yatsu said.
AA: Did you know what you wanted to do with your life or did it just happen?
JY: No I didn’t. It just happened. When I was much younger, I never thought I would be doing what I am doing now. I now enjoy meeting and talking with people. Meeting someone new is never a waste of time because I gain some new insights. When I was a child, I wanted to be an astronomer. I wanted to find out the wonders of the universe. I’d rather spend time in Observatory and watching and taking pictures of the stars than meeting people, because I thought I was shy.
AA: What was your attraction to your vocation? What drew you to do the work you do?
JY: By the time I entered college, I was fully aware that becoming an astronomer was totally an unrealistic dream for me. I was interested in doing international business or international cultural exchange. In fact the school I went to was International Christian University, which has this “I” in its name. I decided to apply for Tokyo Electron that had much to do with technology and international business. I have worked for the same company for over 30 years now and most of the time during this 30+ years I worked together with my counterparts in all the global regions, serving as an “ambassador” within the same company group to bridge the gap and work in harmony, in a sense.
AA: How did you first get involved with the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce? Why is this work important to you?
JY: One of my co-workers used to serve on the board of directors of the Texas Asian Chamber of Commerce (TACC), one of the two predecessor organizations of GAACC. When he returned to Japan, I was asked to replace him on the board in 2005. As an individual, what you can do is very limited. Business is the same. When you are a start-up or a small business owner, you can do so much. However, when we are all connected and work together, we can accomplish amazing things. GAACC provides such connection as well as advocacy and education to empower individuals and businesses in the community. I am proud to be part of that connection.
AA: What does the American Dream mean to you?
JY: To me it is the spirit of self-help for a better life through healthy competition. Coming from Japan, where a harmony is (still) more emphasized as a social norm explicitly or implicitly, I strongly feel it is a healthy society where you can achieve more through hard work and innovation.
AA: Is there anything particular about Austin that inspires you?
JY: When I came to Austin about 16 years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the diverse ethnic background of students at a school where my boys attended. Many Central and South Americans, Europeans and Asians were at school largely due to UT’s presence. Combined with the existence of technology companies in the area, I felt the top management of our company made the right decision to have the US headquarters here in Austin. Without the US headquarters of our company, I wouldn’t be here.
AA: Asian Americans are becoming a powerful force in Austin economically, culturally, politically and otherwise. How do you see Asian Americans fitting into the larger Austin culture and community?
JY: Asian covers such a large part of the world, and it is so diverse. We cannot describe all the Asian Americans in the same context. At the same time, Asians in Austin are working together for the betterment of Asian American and Greater Austin community at large in harmony. I am confident that this trend of harmony will continue thanks to the efforts of many active and respected community leaders in town.
JY: How has the Japanese American community changed, if at all, since you first came to Austin. Has it grown, do you see more activity, etc.? Just as an example, there seems to be a lot more Japanese restaurants in Austin now.
AA: It seems there has not been much change in the Japanese or Japanese American community. (Besides, Japanese and Japanese Americans (especially older generations) are not that connected compared to other ethnic groups, I think). However, thanks to very active Japan-American Society of Greater Austin and several other younger community members who are very active and the acceptance of more Japanese food and culture, I see a lot more activities. I love the Ramen shops personally.
AA: What do you consider the most important cultural value for you and for those close to you?
JY: Be a good citizen, respectful and be kind to others, especially to elderly people.
AA: Anything else you’d like to share?
JY: I did not choose to come to Austin myself. But we were very fortunate the company sent me here in Austin and grateful for the warm welcome Austin gave to me and my family. Both my boys consider Austin their home. Therefore we wanted to pay back to the community.
Originally published January 2014