David Tsurusaki ’82 did not become a Redbird accidentally and, in fact, he set foot on campus well before most potential students. His sister, Patricia Tsurusaki ’71, played an integral role in making sure her brother spent time on campus during the annual Siblings Weekend when he was just nine years old. In addition, his high school gymnastics coach, Howard Rubin ’75, encouraged him to join the gymnastics team on campus.

Once an official Redbird, Tsurusaki found his fit as an industrial technology major, now known as the Department of Technology. He initially started as a computer science major before switching gears. “I remember taking a programming class and realizing that it was not the right place for me,” he said. “I had always had an aptitude for construction and manufacturing and gravitated toward those areas. As a little kid, I was always taking things apart and putting them back together. While in college, it’s so important to have a major that you like, because it keeps you interested in school.”

The youngest of six children, Tsurusaki said, “I really enjoyed the independence and the friendships developed during those years on campus. The overall university experience expanded my general knowledge and understanding and helped to guide me. Team projects, working with others, and being around a diverse community all helped me.”

In addition to his work in the classroom, Tsurusaki was balancing his time as a student-athlete on the gymnastics team. “It was a great program for athletes who were willing to work hard and wanted to be part of a Division I team. Being part of that Redbird team expanded on the work ethic taught to me by my parents and instilled in me that hard work, dedication, teamwork, and perseverance eventually pay off; a ‘never give up attitude’ that helped me throughout my career. I was far from a star athlete, but I did get a few chances to compete, and I tried to make the best of those opportunities. Those were some of the most memorable moments during my college years. My teammates became my friends and my roommates. I loved all of it and have no regrets. To this day, a lot of those friends are still important people in my life.

“The dedication and physical and mental challenges of being a student-athlete provided me with lifelong skills that I ended up applying every day in my working life and that I eventually tried to instill in the younger people that I worked with and managed,” he said.

David Tsurusaki and his wife, Karen (Hornburg) Tsurusaki ’81 at the 2016 GM Supplier of the Year Awards.

Tsurusaki would have a lot of opportunities to make an impact on the younger generation as he progressed in his career, which involved working as a gymnastics coach, followed by building and designing kitchens, then working as an industrial fluid power distributor. “I did a project for some Mobil Engineers that helped them obtain a major customer, and I guess they liked what I did, as I ended up being offered a position as a sales engineer at Mobil, which led to a 30-year career at Mobil/ExxonMobil.”

“I really enjoyed my time at Mobil, and then ExxonMobil—after the two companies merged,” he said. Tsurusaki earned multiple opportunities within the company. After beginning as an industrial sales engineer, his job titles included lubrication engineer, several distribution management roles, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) engineer, and strategic global account manager for the United States auto industry. Prior to retirement, he served as the global motorsports technology manager, supporting key relationships in the racing industry, including the Red Bull F1 Racing Team, the Stewart-Haas and Toyota NASCAR teams, Porsche Motorsports, and Corvette Racing.

“The corporate world can have a number of challenges over the span of a 30-year career,” notes Tsurusaki. “Mergers, downsizing, and constant reorganizations come to mind. But I always focused on my role and on what I could do and contribute. I tried not to let things I could not control blur my vision and goals.”

This positive attitude and work ethic contributed to Tsurusaki’s ascent up the corporate ladder. “If you like the company and do a good job, you will find that opportunities present themselves. Every couple of years, I was asked to do something new. You have to do a good job wherever you happen to be. Sometimes you must take a chance and say ‘yes’ to those new opportunities that present themselves in order to see what’s out there. Good things will happen,” he said.

One of Tsurusaki’s key projects was expanding the sales of Mobil 1 Motor Oil. He managed a global team that was tasked with building that customer base worldwide and worked directly with major auto companies such as Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. His team’s introduction of Mobil 1 into the China market stands out as a key accomplishment. “We started small by selling liter bottles to Buick and the newly introduced Cadillac brand, which eventually grew into one of the largest Mobil 1 customers in the world. Starting from scratch and introducing a premium product to the marketplace was really exciting, and it was even more enjoyable watching it grow over the years.”

In his final position as a global motorsports technical manager supporting top tier racing programs, Tsurusaki traveled to major motorsports events around the globe including the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix, etc. He also had the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities along the way including Patrick Dempsey—of Grey’s Anatomy fame—many times, especially during Dempsey’s time as a race car driver. “One of his first races was in Sebring, Florida, and we hosted him in our suite to hide him from the crowds. He is a very nice guy, easy to talk to and a very good sports car driver. He would always take the time to meet with our team.”

Despite the relatively consistent interactions with senior executives and celebrities, Tsurusaki said the fans were the best part of the job. “I have met so many different people throughout the years. When you go to a race event and get a chance to meet people that like the same things you like, it doesn’t matter where they are from, or what their background is. You have this camaraderie immediately. I can be anywhere in the world, and it’s like I’m talking to an old friend.”

Tsurusaki was able to spend the past 15 years of his career traveling the world. He enjoyed learning about new cultures, seeing the sights, and enjoying the food. He lists South Korea, Singapore (“the cleanest city ever”), China, and Japan as some of his favorite stops. “I would always try new food; I like to try local cuisine. When I met the local team, in whatever country I was in, I would ask them to take me to their favorite restaurant. I’ve tried some weird things, but I’ve never been disappointed. Connecting with people over food is a great way to open the dialogue and learn about new cultures. It really opens your eyes to what is out there.”

“I really strongly believe that many of our world problems can be resolved by meeting people from different parts of the world and learning and understanding their cultures,” he said.

Tsurusaki’s experiences while traveling directly play into the advice that he gives students: “Expand your horizons—the business world is truly global, and you need to understand and appreciate different cultures and people from around the world.

“When I was at ISU, I never would have imagined that I would get to fly over 3 million miles, see the world, and be working on a daily basis with people from all around the world. Take chances, and don’t be afraid of pushing your limits to see what is out there.”