CHICAGO (June 19, 8:40 p.m. EDT) — It is the side of NPE that is a thorn in the side of visitors. This dark side surfaces precisely at 5 p.m.
There is no shortage of stories about frustration and weariness from the trip out of McCormick Place's halls. Few of those stories have a triumphant ending.
Yasuhide Sunamura, president and chairman of Sanpho Group Ltd., a Yokohama, Japan-based company that has stakes in the real estate, manufacturing, restaurant, trading, leisure and high-tech industries, left NPE one day in 1985. The long wait for a cab and meandering ride to the Claridge Hotel on Chicago's Gold Coast was unpleasant.
"The previous owner (of the Claridge) just started, and the hotel was not well-known," Sunamura said. "The taxi driver didn't know where we were going."
After the long and arduous tour of Chicago in a taxi, Sunamura decided to buy the hotel — and start Claridge Limousine Inc. to make the ride there a little easier.
"I thought we should have this company because there is a large number of Japanese visitors (at the show), and we could focus on the Japanese market," said Sunamura, who had been looking for a hotel to buy in the United States.
The hotel and limo service, with its Japanese-speaking drivers, caters to Japanese visitors. This year at NPE, officials from Trexel Inc., where Sunamura serves as a director and stockholder, are staying at the Claridge.
Sunamura's efforts with the Claridge Hotel, while they offer a glimmer of relief for NPE visitors, are only one part of a long history of business innovation and diversity that colors Sunamura's career.
Sunamura, who will be at NPE on June 18 and 19, said he entered a variety of businesses mostly "through human relationships." Trexel is one example of a company emerging that way.
Sunamura, a 1967 graduate of Boston University School of Management, was friends with Nam Suh, head of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's mechanical engineering department. Suh's research helped invent the MuCell air-bubble-injection technology, and he formed a company called Axiomatics, which is Trexel's predecessor.
The technology was growing so fast that Suh needed capital, so Alex d'Arbeloff, now chairman of MIT Corp., helped organize investors and managers in 1995. That effort brought Sunamura onto the board of directors.
"I liked him so much that I joined his team," Sunamura said.
The name changed to Trexel in 1996, and MuCell technology has seen rapid growth recently.
With businesses in Japan and all over the United States, Sunamura has a special affinity for Boston, where he owns several Japanese restaurants and other companies.
"I had heard there were many Japanese graduates from Boston, but no one goes back for business," Sunamura said. "I thought I should go back."
Maureen Hanlon, treasurer for Sanpho Group USA, has known Sunamura for 20 years and says his variety of business dealings has kept her amused and fascinated.
"It hasn't been boring," she said. "It's been a great ride, and it's so diversified."
Despite her predictions that he will find interest in another new area, Sunamura said his current mix of business investments is just right.
"I have reached the point where I will grow each business and pass it to the next generation," he said.
He added that the Claridge constantly is thinking of new features for customers, and recently added massage stations for NPE-weary patrons. A strong emphasis on service and making the customer feel at home are goals for the hotel, Sunamura said.
And home can feel worlds away at NPE.
"Hotels in Chicago are still getting used to `that big show,'" Sunamura said.