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Students of Tokyo University Learn from Ark Technologies

• A group of students from Tokyo University in Japan visited the Ark Technologies in St. Charles on August 8. One of the students said a reason of his visit was that he wanted to learn firsthand experiences from a Japanese businessman who founded a company in the U.S. from scratch. “It is a rare opportunity which I cannot achieve as an individual,” he added.

• Miko Kabeshita, President and CEO of the Ark Technologies, welcomed the group and spoke about the company.
• Ark was founded in 1980 by Al Kabeshita, now Chairman Emeritus. Its main products are precision springs, which are used in the automobile parts such as engines, brakes, door handles, seats and more. In 1993 as its business grew, Ark built a new facility and moved to St. Charles from its original place in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. The facility was expanded to 71,000 sq. ft. and now employs over 250 people.
• Ark received Minority Certification in 1994 and ISO Certification in 1998. In 2000, Ark was selected as the awardee of “Manufacturer of the Year” from Illinois Governor’s Office.
• In 2003, Miko Kabeshita became President of Ark, and Al Kabeshita became Chairman, who was honored to receive “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays” by the Japanese Emperor in 2010.
• In 2015, Ark opened a new facility ARK de Mexico in Juarez, Mexico to supply its products to Japanese auto makers, which have advanced their manufacturing facilities in Mexico. About 200 employees have been working in ARK de Mexico to produce wire harnesses, which require manpower.

• When Al Kabeshita founded Ark, he opened another company Altak, which has mainly produced wire harnesses for headlights and tail lamps. The company also locates in St. Charles and employs about 150 to 200 people. Miko Kabeshita is President.
• Ark’s major customers are related companies with Toyota, Honda, and Nissan such as Aisin, Denso, Hitachi, Kawasaki and many more.

• Referring to recent recalls of auto makers, Miko Kabeshita emphasized that Ark and Altak’s policy was zero defects, which was clearly stated in a written form, so that every employee understood the policy.


Entrepreneurship, Challenges, Hardships, and Success

• Founder Al Kabeshita said to the students, “Your hardworking do not necessarily make success in the business world. Good luck has to come with you. Although your efforts would bring you good luck, there are so many difficulties that you cannot break through with your efforts. You have to decide which direction you are going to make your efforts, input the factors around you, analyze them, and see them if they are going to fit your direction. These are very important steps to do your business.”

• Ark and Altak have advanced in the automobile industry, established trust with customers and financial institutions, created jobs, and contributed to local communities as bridges between Japan and the U.S.
• Al marks the 50th anniversary since he came to Chicago as General Manager of a Japanese trading company. It was a long way to come.

• Al decided to found a manufacturing business when the company asked him to return to Japan after a 12 year stay in Chicago. As a trader, he knew the risk of intangible trading business and wanted to have a tangible business because his efforts would bear fruit in the future.

• In 1980 he founded Altak and a venture company “Riken Spring” with Riken Hatsujo in Japan. Al installed computer-controlled CNC spring machines while manual machines were prevailing in the spring industry. The manufacturing business requires several years to make profits because it needs machines, operators, quality products to find customers, and has to establish trust among the customers. Riken Hatsujo, however, could not wait and withdrew from the venture business.
• Al said, “It was a big shock for me because it was a very critical period to make profits.” He endured the hardship, and good luck came to his side. His CNC machine-made springs were superior to other manual-made springs, and he began to sell his springs to the US auto makers such as GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

• In the 1980s, Japanese auto makers began to build their factories in the U.S. to avoid trade conflicts. Although Japanese business system of “keiretsu” prevented him from supplying his springs to the makers, Ark was only the spring maker with CNC machines. Ark was chosen as a supplier; however, another challenge arose. He needed to expand the production capacity.

• Al said that financial arrangements were the most difficult task because no banks were willing to make loans for a lone businessman, who came from Japan. He searched any opportunity to obtain capital money and eventually the U.S. Government made a loan of $4.1 million. He could expand his factory and buy more CNC machines.

• “If you have good luck, bad luck also comes to you,” Al said. He had a heart surgery in 2001 followed by bad news that an investor asked him to buy all the stocks the investor had. He said, “This was a big shock again because a stockholder was withdrawing while Ark was growing fast.”

• Al overcame the shock, and Altak received “Manufacturer of the Year” Award in 2003. In 2006, he authored and published a book “Flying President’s American Dream”, which described his business career and entrepreneurship. Al appointed Miko as President of Ark, and he became Chairman to make sure the business would continue to the next generation.
• In 2012, Al built a new factory in Florida because the factory in St. Charles was reaching its capacity. However, he decided to sell the factory two years later due to concerns about human resources and other factors. Fortunately, a company wanted to rent the factory for nine years. Good luck came to Al again.

• At a Q&A session, Al answered questions from the students.
• Al said that his decision was supported by his wife Michiko. “If she said, ‘Stop it,’ I couldn’t start my business.” Al also thanked Michiko for her hard work as treasurer saying that his company could obtain more loans because she never missed the payments and built trust with banks.

• Michiko, who was in charge of the household, caring for three children, cooking, and everything else, said that desk work in the company was easier, but keeping a family in good shape was very tough. “However, fostering the next generation is very important, and women can do that,” she advised the students.

• Al also advised the students about the importance to understand the cultural differences in a diverse society, different business practices outside Japan, and having mobility to do business in the U.S. As a pilot, Al frequently visited his customers by his airplane to solve any problem they had.
• At the end of the meeting, Al Kabeshita encouraged the students saying, “Don’t lose your temper, keep your nobility, personality, and trust from others. I wish you to become a person who is respected by others.

Founder Al Kabeshita (R) speaks to the students of Tokyo University about his entrepreneurship, challenges, hardships, and success.
Al Kabeshita, Chairman Emaritus, and his wife Michiko (L)
Miko Kabeshita, President and CEO of the Ark Technologies