In only five minutes of conversation, I was hooked. Perhaps it was the deep and clear broadcaster’s voice. Or the easy and genuine manner. Or the incredibly fascinating stories. I could not identify why, but the what was clear: this would be a memorable conversation.
It was my first meeting with Makito Sugiyama ’83. We had decided to meet high in a Tokyo skyscraper for our initial introduction. What fascinated me most was not the wonderful setting or the incredible view over central Tokyo. No, I was intrigued by Makito (or Mac, as he asked me to call him) and his life’s story. Makito, the son of a Lutheran minister in Japan, came to Luther in 1981 and began his major in both political science and international studies. After two years at Luther, he traveled back to Japan to complete his bachelor’s degree in political science at Sophia University, Tokyo. Shortly after graduation, Makito was hired by Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. (TBS), where he cut his teeth in the television newsroom as a reporter and broadcaster. A career spanning nearly three decades at the same organization is not entirely unusual in Japan. But a career as unique and varied as Makito’s is remarkable indeed.
As the chief, vice president of global business at TBS, Makito’s been deeply involved in expanding the global business portfolio of the station. And even though TBS may not be a household name here in the States, Makito and his colleagues have been responsible for connecting audiences around the world to Japanese culture and content through programs that are widely known here, such as Ninja Warrior, American Ninja Warrior, Takeshi’s Castle (known as MXC in the U.S.), and America’s Funniest Home Videos. Makito’s global reach does not stop there, though. He is also a voiceover artist and bilingual narrator for hundreds of TV and radio commercials promoting companies as well known as Toyota, Ford, Oracle, Sony, Evian, and Budweiser, and artists and musicians as varied as Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Pavarotti, and Tom Jones. One of his favorite projects was working on the U.S.-Japan coproduction film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, produced by the legendary directors/producers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lukas.
Perhaps my conversation with Makito resonated so much for me because in some respects, he and I are kindred spirits. We’re both about the business of global connections. Makito’s life’s work has focused on creating and distributing content that connects people to continents and cultures in memorable ways. And I like to think that my small contributions to Luther College ultimately lead to a similar end.