For Masahiko Tanabe, 71, the secret to staying young is to stay curious. Having worked in the technological and petrochemical fields for more than 45 years, Tanabe’s fascination with accounting led him to acquire a degree as a U.S. certified public accountant at the age of 70.
“The logic of accounting is amusing for technicians — the debit and credit sides always balance. I call that ‘the law of immortal energy,’ ” he said.
After graduating from the department of engineering at the University of Tokyo, Tanabe joined Mitsubishi Kasei Corp. in 1954, where he took part in the opening of its petrochemical unit, Mitsubishi Petrochemical Co.
In 1994, Tanabe became president of Oji-Yuka Synthetic Paper Co., a joint venture between Mitsubishi Petrochemical Co. and Oji Paper Co. He was appointed its adviser in 1998 and retired in June 2000.
When his title changed from president to adviser, Tanabe said he felt he did not want to let himself grow old.
Still wanting income from work and not just a retirement pension, he registered at job recruitment agency Pasona Inc., but no work was offered to a man on the threshold of 70.
“At around that time, there were many news reports about the importance of global accounting standards,” Tanabe explained. “Since I had been interested in the subject for a long time and thought it would be useful for my next career, I joined a course at the U.S. Education Network, a prep school for acquiring business degrees.”
To qualify to take the CPA exam, candidates need, in addition to a university degree, credits in fields that include business and accounting.
Because the school, based in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, has a tieup agreement with California State University at Hayward, Tanabe was able to acquire credits in accounting courses while in Japan.
Although he did not pass his first exam in November 1999, he passed all four required subjects the following year, becoming a U.S. CPA in the same year that he retired.
The ambitious and still energetic Tanabe said he hopes the degree and his management experience in the fields of project planning, business development, operational auditing, and contract and R&D management, will open up new opportunities.
“I found the study of U.S. commercial and tax laws especially interesting, as they made me understand why American people think the way they do,” he said.
Fluent in English, Tanabe said he is interested in working for a foreign-affiliated firm. But he finds that the American corporate system lacks balance, as too much emphasis is put on shareholders.
“The way Japanese companies have long neglected shareholders is also not right,” Tanabe said. “But there is some good in the Japanese system, where all stakeholders, including creditors, employees, customers, communities and cooperating firms, are taken into account.”
Tanabe is now busy studying Italian, the language of the country he often frequented during his businessman days, and which he plans to revisit with his wife and friends later this year.
“We who were born in the first nine years of the Showa Era can’t sit still, as we grew up amid the devastation of the war. I want to learn as much and go to as many places as I can, while I still can.”
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