Kay Keiichi Sugahara was born in Seattle in 1909. The family soon moved to Los Angeles and by 1922 Kay was orphaned and forced to earn his own living. While working to help support himself and his siblings, Kay attended UCLA, graduating in 1932.  The following year, with two partners, he helped found a customs brokerage firm and eventually became a prominent member of the Japanese American cultural and business community.  

After the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Kay and his family were interned at the Granada War Relocation Center, known as Camp Amache, in Granada Colorado.  Despite his circumstances, Kay was a proud patriot and supported the war effort by joining the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, where he worked to disseminate anti-war propaganda in India.

After the war, Kay moved his family to New York, continued his intelligence work, helping to secure tungsten for the US government during the Korean War, and became a major player in US-Japan relations and the effort to rebuild post-war Japan into a strong American ally and trading partner in Asia.

Mr. Sugahara’s philosophy of creative risk taking is reflected in the company’s origin: Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. was founded on May 23, 1957, to take advantage of a business opportunity that arose from Kay’s efforts in US-Japan relations.  After convincing the largest fishery in Japan to convert operations from coal to oil, FML was founded to broker sales between Mobil Oil and unaffiliated (i.e. Japanese-owned) refineries at wholesale rates – an industry first. Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. soon expanded into other maritime-related activities such as the building, sale and leasing of tankers and general cargo shipping, beginning with the launch of the Marion in 1960.

The company diversified further in 1974 with the acquisition of companies which became Fairfield Industries Incorporated and later FairfieldNodal.

In 1978, Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. launched Great American Lines to operate the Sunbelt Dixie, a first-of-its-kind refrigerated car-carrier that brought Toyota automobiles to the U.S. and was able to return to Japan with Florida grapefruit.

In 1996, Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. expanded into the chemical tanker shipping business with the founding of Fairfield Chemical Carriers, Inc., now one of the leading operators of stainless steel chemical tankers in the world.