By: Tanner Watkins
January 15, 2019 | 1:30 PM
During Tuesday’s press conference introducing the new NTT IndyCar Series, the star of the show was Nippon Telegraph and Telephone’s executive vice president and head of global business, Tsunehisa Okuno.
Okuno, 58, began working with NTT back in April of 1983 and earned a degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Since joining NTT in 1983, Okuno has risen from network service and corporate planning to a variety of executive positions with the Japanese telecommunications giant.
Okuno is also a newly-appointed member of the company’s board of directors.
On hand for most of the deliberations between INDYCAR and NTT over the winter, Okuno played a vital role in the newly-announced title sponsorship. Hulman & Company’s president and CEO Mark Miles praised NTT for the expedited negotiations that took place and their willingness to work with today’s announcement schedule.
After hearing the playful and energetic Okuno speak during Tuesday’s press conference, it is easy to see how the executive’s endearing qualities and motivated actions helped propel NTT towards the role of title sponsor.
Following an introduction by NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee – who nailed the pronunciation of Okuno’s full nume – the Japanese executive had a little fun of his own at the mic.
“Hello, everybody. My name is Tsunehisa Okuno. Tsunehisa is my first name, and Okuno is my last name. Please call me Okuno-San. It’s very common in Japan to call me
In the introduction, Okuno brought a little bit of Japanese culture to the room in explaining the way his name can be interpreted. The crowd on hand laughed as he demonstrated this trend, noting Okuno’s first name of Tsunehisa is actually translated as “forever,” and that from now on the INDYCAR brass can refer to him as either Okuno-San, Tsunehisa, or Mr. Forever.
“I should have talked to you about that beforehand. Sorry about that,” Okuno said, turning to Lee with another round of laughs filling the atrium at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show.
But what should generate the most excitement from INDYCAR fans is what came next – the serious Okuno.
It is clear that NTT and its executives realize an untapped potential to reach the United States in unique avenues, and for INDYCAR to be the selected entity chosen to help NTT expand their reach is a tremendous plus for American open-wheel racing.
“We are very excited to be here and to be a partner for IndyCar,” said Okuno. “The IndyCar racing is getting more popular also in the Japan market mainly thanks to the Japanese driver, Takuma Sato, who won the championship two years ago: the Indy 500.
“There was a special TV program in Japan, and I clearly remember during the program Mr. Sato, Takuma Sato, impressed us by saying that he saw something very special, very different after he became the champion of Indy 500.
“So I personally expect to see something very different through the cooperation with the IndyCar and the other partners, and the entity would like to bring something very exciting to the IndyCar fans.”
While some fans may not realize what NTT is as a company, given their international background, how can INDYCAR supporters not get excited when they hear a $100 billion company like this is interested in making waves with new ideas in the industry?
Towards the end of his introduction, Okuno left a lasting message that got the attention of all interested onlookers.
“I hope our relationship with IndyCar and the other partners will last forever. Thank you very much.”
While nobody expects NTT to remain the title sponsor for the rest of our lives, there has to be at least some sense of comfort that the guy who goes by the nickname of “Mr. Forever” is interested in being with INDYCAR for the long haul.
The IndyCar Series has a title sponsor and technology partner that aligns with their current trend of momentum as well as an energetic representative that fits nicely into the INDYCAR family photo.
Here’s to many more announcements and future progress made with INDYCAR and their newest fan, Tsunehisa Okuno.