Every year, I promise to take five days off each week during the summer, but usually my schedule quickly fills up. This year is particularly busy.
First was the company trip to Okinawa during the first week of August, which was fun. I spent the second week in Karuizawa, where I held a three-day, four-night summer retreat for the Entrepreneurial Leadership Course (ENL) at which I lecture, and also convened the Keieidojyo (Management Training School). In the afternoon of the final day of class, we had a BBQ at my mountain lodge in Karuizawa, to which ENL students and past students were invited. During the third week, Mr. Alan Patricof, partner of our venture capital business, came to Japan. Now in the fourth week, I am in Hong Kong on a business trip.
I am here to put together the Davos Forum’s New Asian Leaders (NAL) organization. We’ve decided to create the NAL executive board with a total of five principal members representing each area: China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Japan and Korea. These members would be joined by one director from the body that organizes the Davos Forum, the World Economic Forum. Together we’ll now decide how the NAL organization will be run going forward.
I arrived on August 17 and went straight to dinner with the other members. As soon as the usual pleasantries were completed, we began deliberating over how best to run the NAL. All sorts of things were discussed, starting with how to define where Asia begins and ends, and then moving on to the requirements for participants, relationships with other Davos Forum organizations, formulation of the executive board, and so on. The debate raged over Chinese food. We were at one of the most famous restaurants for Cantonese cuisine, but had no time to savor it.
The formal discussions really began the next morning with the people selected:
The representative from Southeast Asia was an Indian-Malaysian. Now 35 years old, at 18, he started up a company with his partner and was a self-made entrepreneur. Typical of such a person, he tends to dominate conversation, in both a good and a bad sense.
The representative from China is an American-Chinese who was born in Hong Kong but educated in the U.S. He is currently the CTO of a division of Intel and spends more than 60% of his time in China. He is just under 40. He served as the secretary on this occasion and was responsible for summing up the discussion.
The representative from India is a second-generation representative of an Indian financial clique. He is a nice young man, having been educated in India, the U.K. and the U.S. He is a vegetarian, so he skipped the Chinese dinner. He is 37. Like many Indians, he places a lot of importance on logic, and meticulously points out grammatical issues in mission statements. He is also very vocal.
The representative from Korea is the president of a family business that mainly deals in aloe and health foods. He was educated in the U.S. from high school and went as far as completing his doctoral studies. He is fluent in English and served as the chair for this meeting. Although he doesn’t say very much, at the end of the meeting he provided a helpful summary of what everyone had said.
The director from the WEF was a German-Swiss fellow.
I was chosen as the representative from Japan. Aside from the WEF director, the group is made up of two entrepreneurs, two people from family businesses, and one professional.
This meeting was particularly important because it was intended to establish the overall framework of the NAL. This meant we would decide mission statements, goals and activities, the frequency of meetings, and the method for selection of members. We also decided the board members and roles, terms of office, and so on. Most representatives were fluent in English (hardly surprising, since English was in fact the mother tongue for most of them). It was the same with putting together the YEO organization, and, as I expected, strong idiosyncrasies of each country were demonstrated on this occasion, too. Needless to say, if you didn’t actively engage in the discussion, then the very reason for your being there would come into question.
I was really pressed to think hard about how to position myself in such a group of individuals with such strong personalities. There was the Indian-Malaysian fellow who continually tried to dominate the discussion, the Indian who always had something to say, the Chinese-American with his logical approach to everything, the Swiss WEF director with power and authority, and the chairman from Korea. All of them really talked a lot. There didn’t seem to be any value in restraint or taking a moment to enjoy the atmosphere. It was very high-powered.
I inevitably ended up with the role of raising questions and providing direction when the discussion swerved off on a tangent. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t share everything we talked about, but the discussions were extremely meaningful. We were able to set up the overall framework in one day. It is rare for a company meeting to wrap things up in such a constructive manner. When different personalities come together, they end up complementing one another. The Chinese American representative made a closing summary, and we were done.
We will meet again on a retreat in October just before the World Economic Forum East Asia Economic Summit, where an official announcement regarding the NAL would be made. The China Summit and then the annual meeting in Davos would be up next. We at the NAL will take part in these important gatherings.
I’ve got a feeling that lots of interesting things lie ahead. NAL board members will serve two-year terms. I’m going to give it my best shot.