Jim Tabuchi left his successful career with Hewlett Packard at just 42 to pursue a different goal: to make more deposits into his “social bank account.” In his current role as volunteer CEO and Executive Director of the Sacramento Mandarins, he’s focused on helping youth gain life skills through musical performance. Tabuchi discusses his Japanese heritage, his first job at his parents’ department store in Stockton and making the jump from the corporate world to public service.
On making the jump from a lucrative corporate career to public service
While I was working at Hewlett-Packard, I felt like I was getting paid in two different ways. One way was through my salary, but that was merely a number in my bank account. Of course, it allowed us to live and so forth and fairly well. The other half that I was getting paid was helping people to develop. So I started mentoring people, training people. I soon realized that that's what I wanted to do in my life.
I know that I'm not going to remember in Q3 of 1997 that my quota was 130 percent. That doesn’t matter anymore. It really comes down to people’s lives you’ve been able to change and how have you’ve been able to do that. I retired for 12 hours. When people asked what I’m going to do, I said, ‘At 6:00 a.m. I'm getting on a flight to Atlanta and I'm going to go teach trumpets for the Mandarins.’ And it was joyous. It was wonderful.
On remembering family hardship
My grandparents were born in Japan and they immigrated over during World War II. On my father's side, they had a very flourishing business. They had their business stripped from them, their store stripped from them, their household, and then ultimately their freedom was stripped from them and being sent into these internment camps where they suffered from the indignation of being locked up having barbed wire all around them and guns pointing at them.
My aunt was in Japan during the war in our family's hometown, Hiroshima, when the atomic bomb blast hit. Miraculously, she survived, a 16-year-old girl who was working as kind of a nurse's aide. One of the stories is that she came out of the rubble she found a little girl who was very sick and needing help. The girl died in her arms.
I have this feeling that almost anything could happen to me, but it wouldn't be as bad as what my relatives had gone through. It makes me very willing to try new things and pursue things that others might view as risky.
On helping youth transform their lives with the Sacramento Mandarins
I can think of one individual who came to the Mandarins, who was not the best musician, not the best marcher. He actually brought his instrument to me and said, ‘Jim, I'm going to quit.’ And he told me the reasons why I said, ‘no, you're not.’ And he says, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I'm not going to quit on you. We're not going to quit on you. You may try to quit on us, but we're not going to quit on you.’
He ended up staying because we wouldn't take his instrument back. I remember, though, speaking with him saying, ‘You will make good choices in your life.’ I’ve taught you all these values, now you have to go out and apply them in your life. And I said, ‘Every time I see you, I'm going to ask you that same question: Are you making good choices in your life?’
So today, whenever I see him, he proactively runs up to me. He says, ‘Jim, I'm making good choices in my life.’ And he is holding a steady job. He's married. He's got a family. That really is the dream. And it's the impact that we can make. It's taking somebody who maybe would not have made it, and seeing that he has made it. To me, that's everything. That's a life that has been changed.
Katie McCleary interviewed Jim Tabuchi on September 23, 2019.