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The Relativity of Wealth

It was in the late 80’s and I was appointed to go to Japan with the mission of buying what ever necessary to manufacture stamps and molds for Cuba, the budget? Several millions. The shopping around for this kind of money involved meeting with very important people in the industry, presidents and chairmen of powerful companies.

Every meeting with these outstanding characters was a lesson with no academic parallel, but specially this 70 year old Mr. Gohto. No only he avoided concentrating on the equipment, matter in which he was an authority, but he was mostly interested in talking to me about the big picture. He spoke about vertical industrial development and the modern horizontal trends. He told me about early industry in Japan, there was this tendency of producing everything in house, with the creation of big consortiums. He explained that the current trend was horizontal, meaning that each company specialized in a very small part of the process and offered their services or products to many companies at prices way below the in house costs. If it were not for horizontality, manufactured goods would be ten or more times as expensive as they are today. The message from that hyperbolic speech, that may have seemed to have nothing to do with the issue at hand, came through loud and clear though, in short, it meant that my "vertical"  mission was “mission impossible. Yet, I couldn’t picture myself going back to Castro with...you see “Comandante”, there's no such thing as a stamp factory, it will always be cheaper and better to buy the stuff  from Japan and if suicidal, I could add... By the way, you would also need a market were everybody freely finds its place and produce the million little things you need to come up with a mold, boldly…you can’t be communist and produce like Japan. So instead, I played dumb to Mr. Gohto replying a silly "lets try to find a way", which meant "don't bother fighting the inevitable". With the clean conscience of a fair warning,  he nodded and said: Ok, tomorrow I’ll show you what we have..

What made this interview special had nothing to do with business though…Small talk had covered the next half an hour of that business dinner when he asked me if I was married. I had been introduced by this broker, Taminori Baba, which, as some others Japanese businessmen, had been to my premises in Cuba were he had met my wife that was also my executive secretary. Before I could finish swallowing a recent bite, he answered for me something in Japanese. Mr. Gohto comes back to me smiling with...Baba San tells me that you are known in the trade as the man with the beautiful wife. In fact, Mabel, my wife, was actually beautiful by most standards, but she specially impressed Japanese people. Probably it was her Japanese like dark straight hair combined with her being tall, well shaped, with huge eyes. I said that I agreed to that and I added, quite shamelessly, that I was very much in loved with her. Mr. Gohto then asked:-- have you ever told her that?—without hesitation y replied --Oh yes! all the time. --That’s very wise-- he said and went-- I will always regret not telling mine how much I did love her. She died before I could find the courage to tell her. At some point you praised my power and wealth. You have a greater wealth, because when your are done incrementing mine, you will fly back to your love, but no matter how big my wealth gets, it will never bring my love back.

Mr. Gohto dried a tear with a napkin and with that beautiful Japanese humbleness he said ”Would you be so kind to accept my hospitality tonight”, it was not business anymore, you could feel this time it was personal.  His Rolls Royce took us to a special place, palace would be more accurate,  he had for his friends by his house. His secretary, apologized for Mr. Gohto not joining us that night saying, “He wants you to spend a pleasant night at his place, but his grief wouldn’t allow that”