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Interview with the General Manager Henry de La Trobe

Off Time No. 10

by Kenta Shimizu

Today’s interview partner is Henry de La Trobe, who began with five years as a Tendokan pupil, and who since then studied Aikido already for 38 years intensively. His parents are German and Japanese, and Henry, who practiced Aikido at various places all over the world, presently works as the general manager of Electronic Arts, a company for TV games. “From Shimizu Sensei I learned to listen carefully to my heart” Henry tells us, and he explains detailed in what way he is able to make use of Aikido in his business as a general manager.

Henry, you practiced Aikido since your childhood, could you tell us how everything started?

When I was five years old my parents thought that it would be good, if I would learn some kind of Budo art, and we visited several Dojos. We started with Judo, then Kendo and Karate, but most Dojos we felt unpleasant as often the Dogis were stinking and the heads of most students were bold (laughing). The Dojo of Shimizu Sensei was the last Dojo, which we visited. And as my father was acquainted to Shimizu Sensei, I went to the Tendokan periodically from then on. At that time Shimizu Sensei taught the children classes as well, and in the beginning he seemed to be very fierce, and I did not like the Dojo. Actually Shimizu Sensei was quite fierce, wasn’t he (laughing)? Shimizu Sensei always got angry with me, nevertheless I learned a lot. Since this beginning now 38 years have passed.

38 years are quite unbelievable!

My father is a German; I visited the German Academy in Japan, finished senior high school, and moved to Munich in Germany. In Munich there were many Tendoryu Dojos, and when Shimizu Sensei held seminars in Germany I did the translation. Thereafter I moved to Northern Germany for my employment, had my own Dojo over there, and taught Aikido for about two years. Then I moved back to Japan, and I practiced in the Tendokan, before I was transferred to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong I practiced and was in charge of a Dojo for about one year. After returning once again to Japan I moved to the USA and taught Aikido over there for one year as well. Therefore, I continuously practiced Aikido.

Henry, you are now general manager of the company Electronic Arts, how does your daily work look like?

Electronic Arts (EA) is a company for TV games. It is an American company, and I started my present employment three years ago. The company’s main task is to adapt the games, which were developed in America and Europe, to the needs of the Japanese consumers, and we make efforts to sell those games efficiently. In Japan we develop some games, too, adapt them, sell the results, and want to grow this business. Therefore, our main work ranges from business activities to marketing and accounting.

You continuously practiced Aikido, in which way has this been useful for your work?

Because I continuously practiced for a long time already, I learned not to give up. Often I made Shimizu Sensei angry, nevertheless I continued with Aikido. In view of my work this experience is revived again. I carefully watched Shimizu Sensei and learned a lot about managing an organization, about how to come into contact with other people and how to behave in a higher position. As well I learned from Shimizu Sensei how to see through people. Actually the time together with Shimizu Sensei in Germany was a tremendous mental strain, and I really was exhausted (laughing).

What kind of mental strain you are talking about?

At that time in Munich I was about 19 years old, and because of the translations for Shimizu Sensei I was with him for one whole week continuously. After the end of the seminar I got fever and collapsed (laughing). That was due to the stress! Because I know Shimizu Sensei since my childhood, during the stay in Germany I always had the feeling that he was able to read my mind completely. Therefore, the mental strain might have resulted in a collapse. Another reason was that at that time I was translator and Uke concurrently. I think, that this experience strengthened my today’s self.

Do you have to take especially care of something in general as a general manager?

This I learned from Shimizu Sensei, too. Shimizu Sensei travels every year to the seminars in Germany, and he says quite clearly that we should not be puzzled by the cultural differences. Saying something is like that because you are in Germany actually means approving everything, and therefore we have to communicate clearly what we think about people’s behavior. I am not quite sure to which degree Shimizu Sensei is realizing his style, but we can rarely find a person like him in today’s Japan.

Presently I am in a position, where I have to make decisions as the general manager, and in case of necessary difficult decisions sometimes I also have the feeling of loneliness. But it is no true kindness if I try to treat my employees always nicely. People are not very flexible if you get sometimes angry with them, aren’t they? But if a superior does not express himself clearly, the employee will have a problem later. Although it might be extremely unpleasant during a discussion, if I sometimes get angry with them, nevertheless it is necessary. For the continued existence of an organization it is necessary to be contradictory, if employees take a different view, and if a clear direction has to be given, the superior may not shirk by pretending that he is busy. I really believe that this certainly is to the own advantage.

Being successful as a manager at your age really is excellent isn’t it.

I always act with certain desperation. Presently as well I have the feeling of uneasiness, and don’t we all have the strong sense of impending crisis? I really question myself, if everything is all right at the present time. Therefore, I aim at getting up higher, and that is valid in Aikido as well. In Aikido I always think of achieving the next Dan degree.

What do you think is the characteristic of a first-class manager?

A manager of course has to provide results, and he must have a strong heart. According to your belief you will act in a way, which you think to be the right way. And this is quite impossible for someone, who wants approval by everybody. But my self has not yet achieved this condition.

Your daughter practices Aikido, too, how do you feel about this?

There are things, which cannot be seen by the parents. That worries me a bit (laughing). But if you really care for your children, you will have to bear painful experiences. There are things, whose value for themselves cannot be recognized by children. And as well in regard to parents there are painful issues, but you have to keep your own spirit of life, as parents after all cannot protect their children of everything.

But now my daughter decided by her own free will to start with Aikido. And I told her that after starting once, she has to hold out to the end firmly, but I did not push her at all.

Could you now tell us the secret of your 38 years continuous Aikido training?

Thinking about this it is the continuity. And because I took great trouble to provide time to visit the Dojo. I intensively think how to develop further, and therefore I am able to use this time effectively. How much time of life is being wasted, isn’t it? Because of this I want to practice Aikido now intensively and with pleasure, and that is my motto.

Thanks a lot for today!

© translated by Ichiro Murata and Peter Nawrot 12/2008

EA Japan