Remembering Yamaha Snowmobile Division Founder/Leader

Yamaha President Takehiko Hasegawa
Retired Yamaha President Takehiko Hasegawa, a founder of the company’s snowmobile division, has died. He was 92. Image from Yamaha’s post on LinkedIn.

An innovative pioneer in the snowmobile world who later rose to the very top of the international Yamaha corporation, Mr. Takehiko “TJ” Hasegawa has died in Japan. He was 92.

     In the report of his death on social media by Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd., Hasegawa was remembered as the fourth president of the international Yamaha corporation. In that role, he presided over the company for many important corporate benchmarks and expansions.

     Previously, though, he was a leader of a forward-thinking internal engineering division that developed many performance products for the company, from exotic motorcycle engines to the brand’s cooperative Formula I/Grand Prix efforts with Toyota.

     That division also launched the first Yamaha snowmobiles. In fact, Hasegawa is often credited in our world with more-or-less being the Edgar Hetteen of Yamaha snowmobiles. For that, he was inducted into the U.S.-based Snowmobile Hall of Fame in 2011.

     “When Yamaha entered the snowmobile business in 1967, the visionary who headed the project was TJ Hasegawa,” his Snowmobile Hall of Fame bio states. “A veteran of Yamaha’s Racing division, Hasegawa leveraged the company’s great engineering strength to develop products that exceeded customer expectations. The 1969 SL351 – the sport’s first snowmobile with oil injection – was the first of many leading designs that reflected his influence.”

Remembering TJ Hasegawa

Hasegawa’s led the snowmobile division for 10 years, but his star was rising quickly. He then moved his way through the company hierarchy. Eventually, by 1994, he led the entire corporation. He served at president until 2001.

     Yet despite his massively expanded role, and despite the fact that the snowmobile division made up just a tiny fraction of Yamaha’s total business, Hasegawa always liked to keep in touch with the ups and downs of the snowmobile market.

     “When I’d go to Japan, I’d often get to meet with TJ because he always wanted to know how the snowmobile division was doing,” recalled Greg Marier, a 15-year leader of the brand’s North American snowmobile operations. “It was kind of his baby.”

     In fact, Marier shared a funny anecdote of one particular trip to the Yamaha headquarters in Japan. Marier said he was in a company break room at the same time as a bunch of other Yamaha officials who were from the U.S. headquarters in California.

     “Many of the people from California didn’t know me, so I was kind of sitting there by myself,” Marier said. “Well, all of a sudden TJ walks into the room with his entourage, and everybody looks up… and then TJ sees me and walks over to talk about snowmobiles with me. Everybody from California looks at me like, ‘Who’s that guy?’” Marier said with a laugh.

     We actually got to visit the headquarters in Yamaha with Marier and other snowmobile media members in August of 1997, and we had a moment to meet Mr. Hasegawa. Later, we spotted then Yamaha snocross racer Chris Vincent sitting in Hasegawa’s office.

     “Everybody who came from the snowmobile world, TJ wanted to talk to them,” Marier said.

     Bob Starr, Yamaha’s corporate communications manager, also commented on Hasegawa’s passion for the product.

     “It’s very unique that the leader of a company as big as Yamaha Motor Company was so interested and passionate and focused on such a very small part of our business,” Starr said. He said Hasegawa “had characteristics and a demeanor that was so even-keel, yet from what I know he was an extremely passionate guy. He really wanted to do what was best for our customers. A lot of people claim that, but he really did.”

Hasegawa’s Hall Of Fame Accolades

As much as anything, Marier said, Hasegawa loved performance and competition.

     In his Hall of Fame bio, it states, “At a time when hundreds of domestic snowmobile companies competed for customers, Hasegawa focused on developing lightweight and good-handling machines. This effort produced historic, back-to-back wins at the Eagle River World’s Championship race in 1971 and 1972, despite campaigning a smaller displacement engine than the competition.

     “Hasegawa’s policy for development was, ‘Always think of customer’s needs and develop the products to exceed their expectations,’” the Hall of Fame bio continues. “The result was snowmobiles like the famed SL, GP, GPX , SRX, SSR and Enticer series. Hasegawa was equally intent to deliver improved safety within the sport via the support of the Snowmobile Safety and Certification Committee and through cooperation and membership in International Snowmobile Industry Association.”

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3 thoughts on “Remembering Yamaha Snowmobile Division Founder/Leader

  • Avatar for jerry darvell

    I have Yamaha baseball cap signed by him an later met him when he was in Canada an seen there largest outboard dealer.

    Reply
  • Avatar for Smyles

    That’s so sad, but he guided Yamaha to greatness in the snowmobile industry and even though he was not a name you would recognize right away unless someone said he guided Yamaha snowmobile to the top unlike those idiots at Polaris who seem to not to understand what makes a great sled ,Yamaha has polaris beat by a Million miles and counting but unfortunately like the passing of its leader the sleds have gone the same way to the big white trail in the sky, both will be missed 😔

    Reply
  • Avatar for Viking

    Nice person with great idea to have Yamaha make sleds.

    RIP Takehiko “TJ” Hasegawa and Yamaha snowmobiles. You will be missed and fondly remembered.

    Reply

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