We were very honored to have Dr. Hiroyuki Fujita as our guest speaker in Midwest Entrepreneurs this past Tuesday. Dr. Fujita, a 1992 mathematics and physics graduate of Monmouth College, is the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Office of Ohio-based Quality Electrodynamics (QED), a developer and manufacturer of state-of-the-art radiofrequency antennas used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines (http://www.qualedyn.com/).
Two primary themes emerged from Dr. Fujita’s fascinating presentation; perseverance and purpose. These are both themes that we have heard discussed by other entrepreneurs in class this semester. However, Dr. Fujita’s cross-cultural journey and the nature of QED’s business rendered his perspective on these themes unique.
On Extraordinary Entrepreneurial Perseverance…
Hiroyuki Fujita’s perseverance was discussed early on in his presentation (and was exhibited early on—and often—in his entrepreneurial journey). He told the room full of students and honorable guests—including Monmouth College benefactor Ralph Whiteman ‘52 and Dr. Fujita’s wife and two sons—that he was assured a comfortable life in Japan upon his projected graduation from Tokyo’s prestigious Waseda University (http://www.waseda.jp/top/index-e.html). However, after only two years at Waseda, Dr. Fujita came to the United States to study briefly at the University of California – San Diego and then here at Monmouth College.
Dr. Fujita brought with him to the United States what he called “a big dream.” This dream was to challenge the protocol-driven, status-quo-based culture of his homeland and to achieve his full potential in the United States as an entrepreneur. But this dream was achieved neither quickly nor easily. Extraordinary perseverance came into play at several key junctures.
Perseverance is demonstrated, first, by the fact that when he arrived in the United States in the late 1980s, Dr. Fujita spoke essentially no English. Have you ever had trouble understanding the spoken English of someone whose first language is not English? Imagine what Dr, Fujita went through. Not only did he not speak the language spoken by his professors but his home-country language is radically different than ours (due mainly to it being based on an entirely different alphabet). This significant language hurdle did not deter Dr. Fujita from achieving his—intermediate and facilitating—goal of college graduation from a school in the United States; with a double-major from Monmouth College.
Dr. Fujita once again showed extraordinary perseverance several years after earning his Ph.D. in physics from Case Western Reserve University in 1998. This time the perseverance involved the actual start-up of his own company; what is today QED.
Toward the end of his doctoral studies, Dr. Fujita began working for Picker International, a leading firm in the MRI industry. While the position provided him valuable experience, he felt he needed greater challenges after about two years. It was at about this time that, as he told the class yesterday, he began to be driven by the belief that “I can do more.” By “doing more,” Dr. Fujita meant not only do more than work for someone else but, more importantly, to personally be the driving force behind positive change as an entrepreneur.
But, yet again, this pathway within his dream was traversed neither quickly nor easily.
He persevered through several more years of working for other firms in the MRI industry; first as the director of research and development for USA Instruments and then as director of engineering for General Electric (GE) Healthcare (after GE bought out USA Instruments). He told the class that while during this time the urge to be an entrepreneur festered within him, he learned lessons that today he understands as invaluable (particularly given the fact that he had taken no business-related classes as a student and had no other formal business training). He patiently learned, for example, how small, innovative companies operated while at USA Instruments. At GE, in spite of a large-corporate environment that he felt somewhat stifled innovation, he learned all about being competitive and “politically tough and savvy.”
Then something unexpected happened…
While at GE, saw an opportunity to innovate the MRI RF coil industry after the State of Ohio presented a significant grant to Case Western Reserve University to create high-tech medical equipment manufacturing businesses in Ohio for job creation. Dr. Fujita resigned from GE and accepted a position as the director of imaging physics at Case Western Reserve University. He then worked with top executives from Siemens and Toshiba, two of the largest MRI machine manufacturers—and top technology firms–in the world. These were executives familiar with Fujita’s expertise and innovative desires and capabilities while at Picker, USA International, and GE. They wanted him—and they wanted to help him—start up his own company to supply them with innovative devices critical to the effective performance of MRI machines. This, as he explained it, was the “once in a lifetime opportunity” that he had been looking—and waiting for years—for. QED was incorporated in March of 2005.
But guess what… Yes, his path to successful dream realization was again obstructed; and perseverance once again was displayed. This time the obstacle to be overcome was a series of “non-competitive” issues that had to be worked out with Fujita’s former employer. Dr. Fujita bided his time acting as a faculty member at Case Western Reserve. Finally, in February of 2006, QED began formal operations in a 3,500 square foot building near Cleveland, OH.
But guess what… Again, there were obstacles, delays, and perseverance. Due to the fact that all medical devices must undergo extensive testing and governmental approval, QED was not able to begin actually selling its products until after having received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. This critical approval was given in November of 2007.
And FINALLY, with FDA approval, Hiroyuki Fujita’s desire to “do more”—as part of his “big dream” to realize his full potential as an entrepreneur in the United States—could now start to be realized.
So… What we have to this point is (1) an extraordinarily driven man with an entrepreneurial vision to personally be the driver of positive change, (2) faced with obstacle after time-consuming obstacle, who (3) persevered—time after time after time—to finally be able to meaningfully pursue his entrepreneurial dream.
But the story does not end here… There is much more than perseverance to the ongoing cross-cultural entrepreneurial tale of Hiroyuki Fujita. This is where the notion of purpose comes into play.
On Higher Entrepreneurial Purpose…
I have noted repeatedly here that Dr. Fujita’s ultimate goal all along has been to personally be the driving force behind positive innovation and change. More specifically, with QED, his purpose is to continually be on the cutting edge not only of technology but highly sophisticated technology which better diagnoses illness and injury and, ultimately, helps many people lead better and longer lives.
Dr. Fujita shared with the Midwest Entrepreneurs class an interesting story in this regard. He stated that a contact of his while at Case Western Reserve University once came to him with two colleagues—medical doctors—who had expressed an interest in starting their own company. These two persons wanted some advice. Dr. Fujita asked them why they wanted to go into business for themselves. Their reply was “to make money.” The conversation, according to Dr. Fujita, then ended abruptly; after he had advised the two doctors that success as an entrepreneur requires a far higher purpose than simply making money.
As I now draw near the end of the writing this blog entry, I feel that I am doing a horrible disservice to both Dr. Fujita and Midwest Entrepreneurs students. This is mainly because I feel that there is so much more to this fascinating story of entrepreneurial success than what I am here able to at best superficially address. But, alas, there is only so much that I can detail in this format and venue… In the words of Dr. Fujita: “I Can Do More” (and I am painfully aware of how much more).
Let me leave you—particularly the members of the Midwest Entrepreneurs class—with this elongated final thought.
Dr. Hiroyuki Fujita, a 1992 graduate of Monmouth College who came to this country able to speak very little English in the late 1980s, has accomplished truly remarkable things in what is a relatively short period of time (particularly when you consider that QED was not able to actually sell its products until FDA approval in late 2007). He was so respected by top executives of some of the most prestigious technology firms in the world that they worked with him to start his own company. And, lastly, remember that this phenomenal entrepreneurial success story has been driven both by Dr. Fujita’s realization that “I Can Do More” as well a purpose far higher than making money. His success has also has been predicated significantly on repeated exhibition of extraordinary perseverance.
I imagine that Dr. Fujita will never stop thinking that he “can do more.” What do you think he will have accomplished in five or ten more years? Twenty?
Thank you Dr. Fujita for sharing your ongoing entrepreneurial journey with us!
And thanks also to Ralph Whiteman ’52 for helping bring Dr. Fujita and his family to campus for the 2013 Wendell Whiteman Memorial Lecture.
PS: For further information regarding the history and accomplishments of Dr. Hiroyuki Fujita ‘92 and his QED colleagues, please see the following.