POWER ON THE PACIFIC RIM : Profiles : 10 Pacific Rim Giants Tread Own Paths to Influence : Yoshiaki Tsutsumi: Not Losing the Inheritance


One is the illegitimate son of a wealthy industrialist. The foundation of another's fortune was a long-ago U.S.-backed loan.

A third is a notorious high-stakes gambler liable to risk millions of dollars in a day at the racetrack, while yet another furnishes his house in plastic.

A capitalist who backed a revolution is on the list, as is a refugee from communism who is now devoting much of his energy to courting his giant Communist neighbors.

They're all among the wealthiest and most influential businessmen in Asia--10 titans of the Pacific Rim. Not surprisingly, several of them have extremely close ties to the political leaders of the region. Five are ethnic Chinese. Six were born to wealth, but four others started from little or nothing.

Meet a diverse group of business leaders likely to continue having a strong influence on the shape of the region:

Yoshiaki Tsutsumi figures he's doing fine so long as he doesn't lose any of the wealth he inherited from his father.

"Therefore, if I am making a profit in some enterprise, I can undertake anything on which I am prepared to lose" an equivalent amount of money, declared the 56-year-old chairman of Seibu Railway Group.

Tsutsumi, who is also owner of the championship Seibu Lions baseball team, chieftain of the Prince Hotels, developer of 30 golf courses and founder of countless other enterprises, was explaining why he invested in what some saw as a white elephant--a 49-story, 1,100-room hotel-convention hall complex that was neither a tourist attraction nor even located in a city.

It was $222 million Tsutsumi could clearly afford to squander, if that's the way it turned out. He is certainly one of the richest men in the world--if not the richest. (Forbes magazine last July ranked him at the top of the list, with $16 billion in assets, and Fortune two months later put him in a tie for seventh, with a mere $7.3 billion.)

His father, Yasujiro, built a fortune in real estate, expanding his holdings significantly after World War II, snatching up parcels from desperately impoverished Japanese. He also built a private railway company and established a department store. Riding the crest of his wealth, he went into politics, ultimately becoming Speaker of the powerful lower house of Parliament.

Married three times with two mistresses, Yasujiro fathered seven children. Yoshiaki was the eldest of three sons of one of his mistresses.

Although a spokesman for Yoshiaki Tsutsumi refused to say how much he inherited when his father died in 1964, he clearly was the preferred son. He was bequeathed the Seibu Railway Co. and its vast holdings. Seiji, the son of Yasujiro Tsutsumi and his third wife, inherited only a single department store despite being seven years Yoshiaki's senior.

"Since I was in grade school, I took part in my father's business, holding blueprints for him at construction sites," Yoshiaki Tsutsumi recalled.

Seiji built the department store into a chain, the Seibu-Saison Group, which, with other assorted enterprises, has annual sales of more than $30 billion.

Yoshiaki, however, reportedly has done even better--and openly scorns his half brother, who has been a rival since the two were first introduced by their father when they were boys.

While Seiji indulged in a youthful fling with Japan's Communist Party, Yoshiaki inherited his father's conservative allies in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Nothing seemed to better symbolize Yoshiaki's entrepreneurial ability than his feat of buying a team that had served traditionally as the doormats of Japanese professional baseball--and turning it into the Seibu Lions, a seven-time league winner and a five-time national champion.

Sports-lover Tsutsumi also has served as chairman of associations of amateur athletes in skiing, skating and hockey. He was briefly chairman of the Japan Olympic Committee but stepped down after allegations that he was using his position to promote a ski resort that he owns--a charge he denied.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World