CO-FOUNDER TED YAMAMURA
It was with Ted’s vision, passion and energy for developing API leaders and advancing them into positions of influence led to the start of EDI in 1994. Now 20+ years strong, EDI has grown so much – with more than 900 alums impacting and shaping our businesses and communities. This is all because of you, Ted. You have left a legacy that will be carried on through all of our alums and future participants. You are already missed.
Co-Founder Vanna Novak
I’m sitting here at my desk, finding myself truly at a loss for words, which is pretty odd because I almost always have something to say. Even about those matters that I don’t know much about. Al has asked me to write an article about Ted and how much he meant to our EDI family. And for some reason, I’m having such a tough time of it. If I were a therapist, I’d say that it might be because to write it would mean finally coming to terms with Ted’s passing.
In any case, I decided to take a different tack. You know how so often when we lose someone we love, we find ourselves wishing we could have one more chance to talk with them. Just one more face-to-face meeting or phone call . Or even an email or a text. If I could just have one more chance to tell them how important they were to me and how I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for having known them. And so it is with me, as I think back on my twenty year friendship with Ted Yamamura.
So I’ve decided, that rather than an article, I would write a letter. I would write a letter to Ted, with the hope that at some level, he’ll get it. Brandon and Peter, if you’re reading this, I hope it gives you some added insight as to the kind of person your Dad was, and the amazing force and inspiration that he provided for me and so many others.
My letter to Ted:
Hey, Ted! (This is the way he would start many of his phone calls to me.)
Remember that day you approached me to talk about developing a training program of some kind that would help Japanese American professionals move up the corporate ladder? I could see the conviction in your face and hear it in your voice. But honestly, back then, I had zero appreciation for what you were talking about. I have no idea what the expression on my face was telling you, but what I was thinking was, “Please, please, let me have the strength to say no”. That’s what I was thinking. What I heard me say was, “Sure.” What I didn’t realize was that one word would change the course of my life forever. You, would change the course of my life … forever. That’s the effect you had on so many of us.
I had no idea, that would be the beginning of a twenty-year (and still going!) endeavor, that would expand to embrace and touch the lives of nearly 700 participants that would eventually include all Asian groups, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics. I remember during one of our last phone calls you said, “Wow! Who would have thought that EDI would still be around 20 years later?” Yeah, who would have thought? I certainly didn’t. My plan was to help with just the first year and then get out! But an interesting and totally unexpected thing happened. With you as my role model and inspiration, much to my surprise, I found myself wanting to do more to help sustain EDI. I saw how much you believed in the need for this program and how passionate you were about keeping it going. In those early years, you were the chief instigator, the provocateur, the head cheerleader, and the inspiration who kept fueling our classes by filling it with Asian engineers from Boeing. To this day, because of your early efforts, Boeing continues to be one of our biggest and best supporters. You made that happen, all those years ago.
What I didn’t realize was that your commitment to help advance the careers of Asian Americans was so strong, you were also doing those very same things for several other groups of Asian professionals. And Ted, you didn’t just touch our lives, you shook us up, and made us take a good and honest look at how far we had to go to have decent representation in the upper corporate ranks, and you motivated us to do something about it. And more than anything, you led us all through your own example. Because of you, the most fulfilling speaking and training that I do today is with EDI. When I’m working, I’m never happier than when I’m standing before an EDI class or at one of our events. So although I started out cursing you for talking me into something that was taking up huge amounts of my time, today I feel so grateful for your influence.
From you I learned that no one was too big or too successful to pick up the phone and just call if you had a need. In our very early years, I remember you decided that Ann Curry, who was with the Today Show, would be the perfect keynoter for our graduation dinner. I was way too timid to make “the ask” and assumed that the answer would be a no. You, on the other hand, had no problem making the call, and you did. We didn’t get her but that wasn’t the point. The point was, her answer could have been yes, but if we didn’t make the call we would never know. So you didn’t get Ann Curry. But you got Phil Condit, former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, to speak at our graduation. And you even got Michael Chen, who had been President of NBC News, to agree to speak at our graduation last year. Although as it turned out, Mother Nature had other plans and he was never able to get to Seattle to make the engagement. You were such a big thinker, Ted. You were fearless in going after what you knew was best for EDI and our participants and alums. Whatever it was, I can hear your voice saying to me time and again, “Just ask. It’s easy. We can do this!” Or you would say to me, “Think big. You won’t have to do it all yourself. There are people who will help you if you ask.”
Over the last couple of years, there were other things you would say to me almost every time we spoke. Things like, “If there’s something you want to do, don’t wait, do it now”, or, “You’ve got to make time for those things that make you happy.” But the thing that touched me the most, and perhaps the biggest lesson I got from you was, if you make time for anything, make time for the people you love most in the world. And if you truly love them, tell them. Don’t wait.
We will miss you so much, Ted. I will miss you. But your EDI family is here to carry on your legacy. And this year, at our 20th year anniversary and graduation dinner, we will once again be awarding the “Ted Yamamura Leadership Excellence Award”. And when we do, we know you will be with us in spirit, smiling with pride. We love you Ted!
With heartfelt appreciation for your lifetime of leadership and inspiration …