It is a feat in itself to live to be 105. But in that longevity, Yutaka Katayama, the long-retired head of Datsun and Nissan in the U.S., became a legend.
Mr. K, as everyone called him, put Datsun on the map. As a young rebel within Nissan, he was banished to the United States, then a faraway outpost for the Japanese automaker.
But instead of being forgotten, the man turned the company into a global player. He traveled all over the U.S., selling the idea of becoming a Datsun dealer to anyone who would listen.
Katayama built his U.S. sales network and then fought hard with Japan to supply dealers with cars suited for the U.S.
Certainly his most famous accomplishment was bringing a low-priced sports car to America in 1970, but he had to convince the home office that the Japanese-market name, "Fairlady," had to change. Rechristened in the U.S. as the 240Z, it became one of the most successful models from Japan at that time.
Katayama got Bob Sharp and other folks to race the 240Z and the 510, and that gave Datsun greater prominence.
Datsun's U.S. success paved the way for the Nissan brand outside Japan. It has become one of the really strong global brands, thanks to Mr. K.
Even almost 40 years after retiring, he is still fondly remembered across the U.S. He frequently returned to America to celebrate the 240Z and its descendants.
He wasn't afraid to mix with dealers, customers and the press, something not always seen among Japanese auto executives. He was friendly, jovial and effective -- even when just expounding on his favorite pastime of kite flying.
Mr. K was the first of the Asian executives to find big success in North America. There are still many loyal dealers who speak of his exploits.
I always enjoyed meeting with Mr. K and almost always got a good story. He loved the auto business and spending time with his dealers.
Even after he retired to Japan, he liked to talk about the industry and the cars Nissan was creating -- not always in a flattering way, but he always spoke honestly and with a sparkle in his eye.
Mr. K set a high standard, one that's hard to match.