I got off the plane at the Beijing Airport, withdrew some yuan, and caught a taxi to downtown Beijing. As I stared out the window at the familiar view, I realized nothing seemed particularly new anymore. The weather was warm and the window was open. Hot air flooded in, making me sweat. I turned my attention to solving some Go problems and, with classical music playing on my iPod, wondered how many times I’d made this trip before.
Downtown Beijing was dusty, perhaps because of the yellow sand. I arrived at the hotel and quickly checked in.
I’d come to speak at the Asian Technology Roundtable Exhibition (ATRE), an event organized by my friend, Alex Vieux. It was the sixth time I had participated in one of his events. The first was the European Technology Roundtable Exhibition (ETRE), the European version of this event, in 2001 in Seville, Spain. I’d also attended the 2004 event in Cannes and its ATRE counterpart in Seoul in 2002 and in Shanghai in 2004. I was at the 2004 retreat held in Seattle, along with Bill Gates.
Since my first ETRE, I have always attended as a speaker, though on earlier occasions, I was a panelist in a break-out session. This time, I was invited to deliver a keynote address. The preferential treatment may have been due to my appearance on the front cover of Forbes Asia. Whatever the reason, I was a little nervous, but welcomed the chance to speak before such a large audience.
My speech was scheduled to start at five o’clock on the day I arrived. I checked in to my hotel at three and had two hours until my turn. The woman at the front desk said rather curtly that the ATRE organizer wanted to speak with me and asked if I could wait. The standard of service in Beijing is not yet very high. After a while, the ATRE staff person appeared and apologetically explained that, while my speech was scheduled for five, somehow the program said it would begin at 12:30. At twelve, of course, I hadn’t shown up, so they planned for me to go on at five, as scheduled.
This explanation just didn’t seem to make much sense.
The schedule I had with me clearly noted that my speech would be at five. Evidently, there had been a last minute change that no one had told me about. There was no point in getting stressed, though, so I went to my room, took a shower, changed into my suit, and headed for the venue.
About a hundred people had gathered—start-up company managers in the technology industry and venture capitalists—most of them Chinese. As usual, the meeting was behind schedule. It was highly unusual for things to run on schedule at events that Alex organized. That said, he’s very charming and always asks witty questions, and so his reputation remains intact.
When it was my turn, Alex, already on stage, called my name. I confidently strode up to join him. I wasn’t on the schedule anymore, and I had the feeling that there were fewer participants than planned. Alex and I firmly shook hands, and after a hug, I sat down on the sofa. Alex is a Caribbean-born Frenchman. Hugging and backslapping were customary whenever we meet.
The discussion began.
“Why is there such little venture capital in Japan?”
“Why have there been no global venture companies in Japan since Sony?”
“Why is M&A among Japanese electronics manufacturers not gathering momentum?”
“Why do the Japanese have such a hard time with English?”
Despite his bewildering barrage of questions, I did what I could to respond, half resigned.
“Why is reform in Japan so slow?”
“Why is GLOBIS running a business school and managing venture capital?”
“What are you really hoping for?”
Looking directly at Alex as I did my best to respond, I found myself kind of enjoying the discussion. I was smiling in spite of myself. My English seemed pretty solid, and I also felt my body language was coming across. I suppose this was the result of having participated in this kind of event over and over, or maybe of reading the Financial Times everyday with a dictionary in my hand.
When he asked about my ambitions, I told him that there are three things I want to accomplish.
First, I want to create the No. 1 business school in Asia. North America has Harvard, Stanford, and others, while Europe has INSEAD. Today, however, there is no top-level business school in Asia. I assured him that GLOBIS would occupy this position within the next 10 years and told him to remember my prediction.
Second, I want to establish the No. 1 venture capital firm in Asia. Silicon Valley is home to famous venture capital companies like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital. Yet, there are no internationally recognized companies in Asia today. We want to create the next Honda or Sony and raise many companies to be recognized around the world. We also want our investors to receive four- to five-fold returns on their original investments. We want to prove to the world what can be achieved by Japanese venture capital.
Finally, and most importantly, as the father of five children, I want to raise my children successfully. (This got a good laugh.)
With that, we wrapped up the discussion.
A relatively large number of Japanese panelists were attending this ATRE event, and they seemed to be the best speakers. eAccess chairman Mr. Senmoto’s speech was particularly impressive. Also speaking at the event were the Vice President of ACCESS, Mr. Kamata, and CFO Kobayashi of Softbrain. Mr. Sekiguchi from the editorial board of the Nikkei Shimbun was actively involved as a moderator, and Mr. Izuka, the president of Digital Forest, gave a 12-minute presentation to the assembled venture capitalists.
I have recently been struck by the vitality of Japanese venture enterprises. Their comments seemed to be both broader and more impactful. Next year’s event will apparently be held in Japan. This will be good opportunity to have the world witness the strength of Japan’s venture enterprises. Also next year, Japan will host the President’s University (a semi-annual international conference) sponsored by the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization and Young Presidents’ Organization. The WEF (World Economic Forum) will hold its Asia-based meeting this June, as well.
Whatever the relative impact of the Japanese economic upturn, the eyes of the world are being drawn back to Japan. I intend to use as many opportunities as I can to raise awareness of GLOBIS and Japan.