Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

I’m off to Tianjin, the host city for the Summer Davos, flying by way of Beijing. As I travel, I increasingly feel that the world is sharing the view that Japan is in permanent decline. At conferences, Japan is mentioned only in a negative sense. At a time like this, we need a politically strong leader, but listening to Naoto Kan debate Ichiro Ozawa, there seems little hope of that.

The Reputation of Japan is declining worldwide because the government is not undertaking any reforms. However, feeling depressed about the situation will get us nowhere. People naturally feel reluctant to take part in international conferences at times like this, as there is nothing very positive to be said in reply to questions like “How is the situation in Japan?”

But there is no point in worrying. I’m full of energy, and everyone involved in GLOBIS, including MBA students and our portfolio companies, are doing so well. In other words, some sectors in Japan are doing well, even though others are struggling. When someone asks me about Japan, I’m going to say that the “people around me are doing super.”

Incidentally, a huge GLOBIS advertisement appeared in the Financial Times today. I’m taking part in the Summer Davos as the president of ” the No. 1 MBA program in Japan.” I am just making my way toward our goal of achieving No.1 in Asia, just one step at a time.

————————Thirty-Four Tweets in Succession ————————-

(1) I left Haneda for Beijing on the morning of September 13 to take part in the “Summer Davos,” sponsored by the World Economic Forum (WEF). My destination is Tianjin. This meeting alternates annually between Dalian and Tianjin. This will be the fourth Summer Davos. I had taken part in the past two meetings held in Dalian. This will be my first visit to Tianjin.

(2) I deplaned at Beijing International Airport, found a WEF sign, and guided by a Chinese volunteer, slipped into a bus departing the airport at 1:30 p.m. To my surprise, I was the only passenger. The bus traveled a well-maintained, four-lane expressway straight to Tianjin. I concentrated on the video of Michael Sandel’s Justice, which I had downloaded in advance, wearing my earphones.

(3) I arrived at my hotel at 3:50 p.m. The hotel was brand new, completed only three days earlier. After checking in, I went up to my room, put on my suit, and boarded a shuttle bus to the main venue, leaving just after 4 p.m. The building was also brand new. It was completed in a hurry just in time for this Summer Davos.

(4) I completed registration and went inside the main building. I had arrived just in time for a private session attended by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and business leaders. After the session, I proceeded to the plenary hall with Heizo Takenaka and Kunio Yamada, chairman of Rohto Pharmaceutical. On the way, I made arrangements for the next year’s G1 Summit with Mr. Takenaka. At any meeting attended by important people, it is essential to make use of limited free time like this.

(5) The presentation by Wen Jiabao was excellent. Using specific figures, it clearly conveyed the great strides China had made in the past, the challenges that remained at present, and showed the future direction for his country. Asked about actions for controlling CO2 emissions and for addressing the preferential treatment of Chinese companies in a question-and-answer session, Mr. Wen was assertive, while accepting that problems existed. He was quite convincing.

(6) Before visiting China, I had watched debates of Naoto Kan and Ichiro Ozawa. Compared with Wen Jiabao, these two Japanese leaders were disappointing, both in contents and in style. China surpassed Japan in GDP this year. Japanese leaders not only lack any sense of urgency about this development, but also lack strategy for renewed growth.

(7) Something clicked with me telling me that the future has already been decided. I could feel a clear change in my mind. I think China’s GDP will be twice as large as Japan’s GDP in a several years depending on currency fluctuation. China certainly has many problems that must be solved. But Chinese leaders have demonstrated an ability to overcome their problems based on a clear vision. Leaders in Japan do not even have a sense of crisis. It is a real difference between China and Japan.

(8) To important people abroad, China must seem like a “rising dragon” and Japan must come across as a “declining nation unable to solve its problems.” This meeting only reaffirmed this opinion. I went back to my hotel after the keynote speech. During our ride back to the hotel, Mr. Yamada from Rohto Pharmaceutical spoke to me about the current state of his company’s businesses in China. He said that the speed of growth was incredible.

(9) Back at the hotel, I took care of a huge pile of unanswered emails and took a nice, long bath. I left the hotel a little after 8 p.m. to attend a dinner hosted by Mr. Takenaka (a former Minister in charge of reform in the Koizumi cabinet). In addition to people like Hiroshi Tasaka (Guru in consulting), Takeshi Natsuno(a father of i-mode), Kumi Fujisawa (a famous consultant and anchor woman) and Kohei Takashima of Oisix, Keiichiro Asao(a leading politician) and others joined the dinner later in the evening. We discussed Japan’s political and economic challenges, sitting around a round Chinese table. After the dinner I went straight into bed.

(10) I woke up at six the next morning, and went to the hotel’s swimming pool. As everything else in China, the indoor swimming pool was gigantic. I swam 1,000 meters and returned to my room. I took the shuttle bus to the venue, departing at 7:30 a.m. Along the way, I had a pleasant chat with a friend from India. I took part in the partners’ meeting for global growth companies (GGC) from 8 a.m. Yoshitaka Kitao from SBI and Oki Matsumoto from Monex attended the meeting from Japan.

(11) Tim Brown, president of IDEO, was participating from the United States. India had two people in attendance, including the head of a fast growing solutions service provider. From China, the top executive of Neusoft, the country’s largest software company, was present. Many other countries were represented, including South Africa and Germany. It was my third time taking part in a GCC meeting, so I spoke actively to lead the discussions.

(12) I left the GCC meeting while it was still underway a little before 9 a.m. because I was scheduled to take the platform at another session from 9:15 a.m. This was a workshop on “Intrapreneurs.” Participants were divided into six teams. I was the leader of the team that was assigned to discuss “how to select and train Intrapreneurs.”

(13) My team consisted of a Stanford University professor and the president of a graduate school of management in Moscow. Using a whiteboard, we discussed issues such as the skills required and the selection criteria, for about 30 minutes. Then, a box was abruptly brought in. The box turned out to be material for a new assignment. The assignment asked us to “build a 3D model based on the discussions using the bits and pieces found in the box, and explain the discussions using the model.”

(14) Each team worked together to build the 3D model, based on their discussions. When the team time was up, each team brought the completed models to the front of the room and started their presentations. The workshop ended with these presentations, which covered topics such as “culture” and “organizational structure.” The next session I attended explored “music and leadership” as its theme. It was incredibly interesting. Traits shared by both classical music and leadership were discussed, to the accompaniment of a live violin performance.

(15) I left this session a little before 1 p.m. to move to the venue of a CEO lunch sponsored by Professor Klaus Schwab. I felt honored to have been invited to join the world’s leading business leaders at this lunch. I sat next to Mr. Victor Chu from Hong Kong, renewing our acquaintance. I had met Mr. Chu on more than ten occasions previously, but we had never really had the opportunity to talk one on one before. This is why I asked to be seated next to him.

(16) Mr. Chu is an investor in a budget airline company with All Nippon Airways. I learned many things from him while making a casual pitch for GLOBIS. I noticed Professor Schwab was looking at us again and again in the course of our conversation. Then, Mr. Schwab stood up slowly, walked over, and began talking to me.

(17) Prof.. Schwab asked me to explain “Table for Two.” Whenever he encounters me, Mr. Schwab always points out, “Oh, our young global leader.” I’ve always responded with a smile, even though I’m not young enough to be qualified for YGL..

(18) “Table for Two” is an NPO started by YGL in Japan. I was at the press conference at Davos where its launch was announced a few years ago. James Kondo and Motohisa Furukawa are the key players initiating it. Prof. Schwab introduced me to the members around his table, and left. Taking his seat, I began explaining Table for Two to the VIP of Summer Davos..

(19) Because Prof.. Schwab had been there, an extremely large number of VIPs were seated around the table. They included Mr. Yasuchika Hasegawa, President of Takeda Pharmaceutical,, Sir Martin Sorrel of WPP from Britain, Mr. Jack Ma of Alibaba from China, and the Alcoa CEO and so forth. I also noticed the logo for Table for Two standing on the table.

(20) Speaking with Mr. Takenaka just the day before, he said, “We must come up with something that follows Table for Two to improve Japan’s presence.” I explained GLOBIS to the VIPs after Table for Two. After all, it is “people” who improve the presence. I kept answering questions until the time was up.

(21) Saying good-bye to the VIPs, I left the room and walked around the venue. On the way, I ran into Mr. Michael Roux, the organizer of the Australian Davos Connection (ADC) forum in Australia. I had taken part in the ADC forum twice at his invitation. ADC is an Australian version of the Davos Forum, with people like Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (then) and his successor Julia Gillard in attendance. After chatting with Mr. Roux, I headed to a session where our mutual friend was scheduled to take part in..

(22) The venue for this session was arranged like a television studio, since China Central Television (CCTV) was scheduled to broadcast the proceedings. I have known the moderator for the session, for several years and he had become my closest friend in China. Whenever we meet, we always embrace to express our closeness.

(23) We embraced again, before I took my seat. Then, CCTV began shooting. The moderator was very calm. The panel featured Mr. Heizo Takenaka from Japan, Sir Martin Sorrel from Britain, Sir Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, and an economist from China.

(24) The theme for this session was, “Is China’s development sustainable?” While it was underway, I noted incoming emails and news reports on the outcomes of the election for the president of the Democratic Party of Japan on my mobile phone, and skimmed through the program for the meeting to check upcoming events, because to a certain extent I could predict the direction of the panel discussion. But then the moderator suddenly called my name when the session reached the midway point. I rose from my seat, but my mind was blank.

(25) I stood up, thinking, “Darn it! I have no idea.” Taking the microphone, I said whatever came to my mind for a few minutes. In fact, I was impressed with my impromptu performance. I was able to state a decent opinion with absolutely no preparation. But my whole body was in a cold sweat. I perspired all the more when I remembered that my speech would be televised across China.

(26) The session ended. I went up to Mr. Takenaka on the stage, and said to him, “Mr. Kan won by a landslide.” Mr. Takenaka shared the news with the people around him. After the session, I had another chat with my friends over cups of tea. Noticing a professor from KAIST in South Korea nearby—another friend—I went over to say hello.

(27) I then spotted yet another friend from Thailand, and went over to shake hands. The true joy of the Davos Forum lies in this type of networking. We can talk with other participants in any way we like. Friendships deepen as the number of encounters grows from one to three, then to seven. Then, irreplaceable friends are made.

(28) My mobile phone rang. It was a call from my secretary, telling me that Mr. Robert Greenhill, Managing Director of the Davos Forum, had contacted her with a request to meet me. I felt extremely honored. Mr. Greenhill and I met for about 20 minutes from a little after 6 p.m. We exchanged our opinions on the Summer Davos, GGC, and Japan. I had met him seven or eight times previously. A personal relationship like this is not something that can be achieved overnight.

(29) That night, I attended the Cultural Soiree hosted by the mayor of Tianjin. I was surprised to find that to entertain the Summer Davos participants, the city had rented out a large chunk of a downtown district redeveloped from a former Italian settlement. I enjoyed a Chinese dinner with a choir singing in the background, and returned to my hotel in about two hours.

(30) I woke up at six the next morning, and went to the swimming pool. After swimming my routine distance of 1,000 meters, I rode the same shuttle bus as the day before and left the hotel for the main venue at 7:30 a.m. Twenty Japanese participants from political, business, and academic circles attended a breakfast meeting held there from 8 a.m. In addition to the people I mentioned earlier, Yoshihiko Miyauchi of ORIX, as well as Taro Kono and Yoko Ishikura were at the gathering.

(31)Then, I took part in the mentor session held by Mr. Jack Ma of Alibaba from 9 a.m. After the session, I spoke with a president of a business school, boarded a shuttle bus, and returned to my hotel. I checked out and left the hotel shortly before 12 noon. I took a cab to the Tianjin Station, and then the Intercity Rail to Beijing, and a taxi ride to Beijing Airport. The whole trip took me three-and-a-half hours. But I wanted to try China’s bullet train.

(32) The bullet train was as comfortable to ride as its Japanese counterpart. It resembled the Japanese version in appearance, too. However, according to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, China owns 100% of the intellectual property rights for its bullet train. I flew straight from Beijing to Haneda. After the gigantic Beijing Airport, the international terminal at Haneda looked shabby by comparison. I rode a bus from my plane to the arrival gate at Haneda. I felt as if I had been thrown back into the past.

(33) The difference seemed to symbolize the senses of speed and urgency the Japanese and Chinese governments possessed. On this trip, my thinking had clearly changed. I began to feel that Japan would not be able to avoid financial collapse, given the lack of awareness and will within the Japanese government.. Moving at such a high speed, I think China would leave Japan behind.

(34) I’ve made it a rule always to assume the worst and prepare for it. How should I prepare for a future scenario in which China will widen its lead and Japan will fail financially? What should GLOBIS do? What should we consider doing as citizens of Japan? This trip has prompted me to think about “what ifs” of the worst scenario for Japan.

September 17, 2010
Yoshito Hori
Written by revising and making additions to my tweets at my house on the following day

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