Humans of Syria and Japan

This year’s Critical Issues Symposium – opening today on Hope’s campus – addresses “Engaging the Middle East.” Professor Megumi Hirayama of Meiji Gakuin University (MGU) in Tokyo has been doing just that for more than decade.

Professor Megumi Hirayama of Meiji Gakuin University, Hope’s sister school in Tokyo, Japan, discussed her Syrian experience and her “Stop the Killing in Syria” campaign recently on campus.

Hirayama, a visiting professor at Hope since last fall who specializes in public health and taught a comparative social development class, is a global citizen in her own right. Her passport has been stamped by over 50 countries; she has studied 16 different languages and speaks three fluently; her early career included stints as a health education officer for both the United Nations and World Health Organization in the Caribbean and Africa. She also started six non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to medically aid developing countries.

The Middle East has been Hirayama’s focus since 2005, having visited Syria 12 times, taking MGU students with her on six occasions before the civil war started in 2010. There, they researched on-going water contamination issues while engaging in home stays, making new Syrian friends in the process.

Hirayama wants Americans to know this: We are not the only ones worried about the Middle East. Other world citizens are, too.

She has always wanted her students to know and see and feel a reality of Syria that takes them beyond what the media shows, beyond conflict and crisis, to remember kind farmers and laborers who just want peace.

“I wish the war will end soon, and Syrians will smile as they did before,” said MGU graduate Yutaro Takemori, who studied water-borne diseases under Hirayama’s direction in Syria in 2009. “We should not forget this country and its kind people,” added Mayuko Hagari, another MGU graduate who traveled to Syria with Hirayama.

Utaya Village with Children
Professor Megumi Hirayama with children in Utaya, Syria. Photo courtesy of Megumi Hirayama (2009)

A sorrowful but hopeful nod comes from Hirayama when she hears those words. Her dedicated message of international care clearly struck heart cords and brainwaves. She has always wanted her students to know and see and feel a reality of Syria that takes them beyond what the media shows, beyond conflict and crisis to remember kind farmers and laborers who just want peace. Her current “Stop the Killing in Syria” campaign will continue in that vein when she takes it to the G7 Summit in Ise-shima, Japan, this June.

“This is not a true civil war (in Syria),” opines Hirayama. “It is an international war. So many foreigners are involved and private companies and their weapons are coming in from outside Syria to fight there. I never thought this war would last such a long time.”

syria landscape
Phlox blooming in an olive grove near a suburb of Aleppo, Syria, near the Turkey border. Photo courtesy of Rohei Saito (March 2009)

With photos of Syrian people and sights spread out in front of her recently, Hirayama looks at their stories and remembers more of her own: her former research assistant who she did not hear from for months but later found was living in Sweden after using all his money and nearly dying to escape the country; her affection for Syrian friends and acquaintances whose whereabouts are now unknown.

Sorrow and hope. That’s what those pictures display to Hirayama. And us, too. Sorrow remembering the way Syria once was. Hope for the way it can be again.

Young peace-sign girl in the Yarmouk (Syria) Palestinian Refugee Camp. Photo courtesy of Hirotoshi Muraki (January 2009)

Breaks Away: Vicki TenHaken

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering restoration and adventure both, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

What is the best indicator of excellence in business? Sales figures? Consumer satisfaction? Innovation? Those are all good measures of successful business performance, to be sure. The one marker that includes them all, though, the one that ultimately decides if a company has good sales figures, consumer satisfaction and innovation is… survival.

Vicki TenHaken, professor of management

Corporate longevity captivates Vicki TenHaken, professor of management, who spent much of her sabbatical writing a book about why America’s 100-plus year-old companies have endured wars, recessions, a Great Depression and an ever-fickle U.S. marketplace. It’s a favored topic of inquiry that she can trace back to two sources: her first career and 25 years spent in corporate leadership at two companies — General Electric and Herman Miller — that have withstood the balanced-book test of time, and her introduction to Makoto Kanda of Meiji Gakuin University who conducts research on the same topic in Japan.

TenHaken learned of Kanda’s work while leading a Hope College May Term at MGU in 2004. She was so intrigued that, a year later, she wrote and was awarded a GLCA grant to further study his surveying, qualitative methodology in learning how over 20,000 shinishe — meaning old, traditional, valued companies in Japanese — have kept their doors open for so long. What she has found about 1,000, long-term U.S. companies after over five years of data collection — culminating with that book she wrote entitled Lessons from Century Club Companies: Managing for Long-Term Success to be published in 2016 — is mostly congruent with what Kanda has found about Japanese ones, except in one way: Old Japanese companies have a specific development plan in place for their next CEOs. This is not often the case for American companies.

“Sometimes relationship building may have no immediate economic benefit but the (enduring) companies continue to prioritize it because they just know it is the right thing to do.” — Vicki TenHaken

Still, enduring corporate success — whether in Japan or the United States — has five common behaviors at its bottom-line, and three of them have to do with relationships. TenHaken’s blog, How Old Companies Survive, tell of those practices in detail. She says the good news is that the super majority of enduring enterprises strongly believe these practices have led to their longevity. The bad news is that those strong beliefs are typically not taught in MBA programs. But good news again: TenHaken teaches about those practices in her management seminar for majors at Hope.

“Relationship-building is a high priority for older companies and they are interlocking in nature, between employees, customers, suppliers, the community in which they (the companies) live,” says TenHaken. “Sometimes relationship-building may have no immediate economic benefit but the (enduring) companies continue to prioritize it because they just know it is the right thing to do.”

Additionally, TenHaken found a correlation between long-term corporate success and managing for environmental sustainability. On Corporate Knight’s list of most environmentally responsible firms, 40 percent of the U.S. companies were over 100 years old. TenHaken isn’t sure yet if their motivation flows from an overall stewardship mentality, “or, it could be that they are just generally frugal,” she says.

That is a topic for another study, next up on her research agenda. Like the century-old companies she researches, TenHaken plans to continue to add to the broader conversation of how to succeed in business while really trying.

Vicki TenHaken is a professor of management in the Department of Economics, Management, and Accounting and the Ruch Director of the Baker Scholar Program at Hope College.