There was a knock on the door of a guestroom at the New Otani Hotel in the Kiocho district of Tokyo. It was early 1971 and Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Olcott were relaxing on their first full day after arriving the day before from JFK. Dad had just come back to the room. He had gone downstairs to exchange $80 into yen, the local currency.
“Were you expecting anyone?” Gloria whispered to Dad. He shook his head and wandered over to the door. He had brought Gloria with him to Japan as part of his 1971-72 world tour to roll out his new wife (number 4). See my post THE BALLAD OF BERN AND GLORIA as to exactly how I had been informed of the new marriage.
There was another quick rapping on the door. Dad hastened his pace and opened it to see a diminutive bespectacled middle aged woman, bowing profusely. “Yes?”
She rattled away in Japanese, and with more bowing, gave him a receipt and 60 yen in coins (worth less than 50 cents). Dad recognized her as the lady at the counter at the Bureau de Change, where he just been not more than 20 minutes ago.
Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Olcott in a foreign looking hotel, circa 1971. Maybe the New Otani?
The lady finished her explanation in an apologetic tone, and with her hands folded at her waist, she bowed again deeply and slowly made her way to the elevator, still bowing periodically.
“Who was that?” Gloria asked, sitting up in bed.
Dad looked at the receipt which turned out to be a correction of the currency exchange he had just made. “Holy Smoke!” he said loudly. He only used that expression when making an incredible internal observation. “They made an error in the exchange rate and followed me here to give me back 50 cents in local money!”
Dad was truly stunned. Although he never disclosed to others that he was tightfisted, he prided himself in his ability to squeeze 2 nickels together to create 11 cents in change. Had he just encountered someone more exacting than him in this regard? Not possible! But here was the proof!
His sense of disbelief was palpable when he (and Gloria) told me about it that summer. I never forgot it.
SUN ALSO RISES
Japan was always surprising and hugely important to the Olcott family. Like Great Britain, Japan was a left-hand driving island nation that had become an important business hub for Olcott International. Maybe businessmen in both countries had a keen appreciation for the personal attention that such an energetic entrepreneur could provide. Japan is legendary as a consumer market where customer service must be superlative in order for a business to succeed. Dad had just that kind of exacting way about him.
Dad scored his first client in Japan sometime in the mid-1960s, probably as a referral from his good friend Ed Greer, Head Patent Counsel of Union Carbide. It was right about this time that the Japanese Patent Office (JPO) became the second biggest in the world – right behind the USA – in terms of patent applications filed annually. So, in the mid-1960s, the first non-European post card showed up in my mailbox in Orlando; this time displaying a beautiful snowy conical mountain (see above picture).
An important early client of Olcott International.
Although many of Dad’s age, the greatest generation, had mixed feelings about Japan, business was business and he had to go. Not only were there large numbers of important multinational corporations headquartered in Japan – each with portfolios of thousands of patents – but there was also the need to create a cost-effective way to make bulk inbound annuity payments to the JPO.
SURPRISES KEEP COMING!
It was a long flight over there from New York, but took it he did. Many times. His success was so great that, many years later, when I attended the American Intellectual Property Law Association annual meeting in Washington, DC in 2009, I encountered a Japanese patent agent at a reception. In silence he studied my name badge intensely, looked up at me, and said “the Olcott name is famous in Japan!” I was stunned!
Thus, Japan became the “it place” to be in terms of the patent business in the 1960s. The country was coming on like gang busters, on the strength of its science and engineering pool of talent. The joke of the cheap Japanese transistor was over.