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John Durkin: ‘Never compromise your reputation’

by Elliott Samuels

Name: John Durkin
Age: 53
Nationality: Canadian and American
Occupation: Executive; Tokyo American Club president
Likes: Ultra running, wind surfing, good food
Dislikes: Processed foods, trans fats, smoking

1. What first brought you to Japan? I was a U.S. Navy ensign assigned to a frigate based in Japan.

2. What’s keeping you here? Career and family.

3. Who in Japan do you most admire? Tadashi Yanai and Masayoshi Son. Both are genius and fearless, who created powerhouse businesses from scratch against all odds. And they are winning.

4. Where do you go to escape Tokyo? The Shonan coastline for running; Mount Rokko near Kobe for trail and ultra running; Maui, Hawaii, for relaxation and, yes, running.

5. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Kodawari (fastidiousness) and chūtohanpa (half-baked). Completely different meanings that could actually be considered opposites. In a uniquely Japanese way, both words perfectly capture a concept and are exquisitely difficult to translate into English. I am always looking for kodawari and never want to be chūtohanpa.

6. What’s your favorite phrase in any language? “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” because it’s true.

7. Describe your most embarrassing moment. I once put on two different shoes in my dark genkan (entranceway) at 5 a.m. and didn’t notice until I got to the airport. Where can you buy U.S. size 12 shoes in Japan in a pinch?

8. What’s the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done? Ran 15 marathons and ultras in 2012. Probably that many again in 2013.

9. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? While working in Hawaii for a large real-estate, resort and agriculture company, I was asked by some mainland people to lease land for the purpose of establishing a gorilla sanctuary. It didn’t happen.

10. What do you feel thankful for this Thanksgiving? Health and family.

11. What song best describes your work ethic? “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” by Marvin Gaye. It’s self-explanatory.

12. Tell us a quick joke. How do you know there is an elephant in your fridge? The door won’t close.

13. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? Open door. Insert elephant. Close door.

14. What superhero would you most like to be? Ultraman. He was solar-powered before solar power was cool.

15. What do you think about while standing on the train? How soon can I get off this train?

16. How would you find a needle in a haystack? With my iPhone haystack needle-finding app.

17. If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? “Last Man Standing.”

18. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? It’s a toss up. Neither would win because both are protected species.

19. What do you want to be when you grow up? A combination of Tyler Brule, Anthony Bourdain and Bart Yasso.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Don’t be chūtohanpa and never compromise your reputation.