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

I arrive at Tomamu Station amid white snow that greets the participants. The station announces the arrival of an express train, which slowly glides its way alongside the empty platform. Its passengers disembark in the snowfall. A hotel rep holds up a signboard and calls out, “This way for the G1 Summit,” and I approach every familiar face that I find and greet them. If a friend has a light load, I take off my gloves and greet him with a handshake; if he carries a lot of baggage, I bow.

I lead them to the bus that I board with them and we head to the hotel as we chat. I repeated this routine until the summit began. I recalled last year when I first held this Summit.

“How can we change Japan with what we’ve got?”

I’ve always pondered this subject. I can offer support from my position running a private business and my perspective on educating leaders. I can also create new industries through venture capital. But I’m not a politician, so I can’t change the national framework, policies or systems. I’m not a scholar so I can’t heighten the standard of Japanese knowledge, and I’m not an iemoto so I can’t contribute to the development of traditional culture.

I’ve often felt my utter powerlessness particularly in terms of politics. The country could be out to make a law that clearly goes against Japan’s national interests, but I would absolutely have no means to stop it. The government must change, or else Japan will never recover. But I’m not in the position to get involved in politics. So I’ve decided to offer full support to politicians who have ideas close to my own, and I’ve done so ever since.

I have assumed posts for the Tokyo campaign groups for Hiroshige Sekou and Yasutoshi Nishimura of the LDP, who are both close friends and born in the same year of the tiger. I have also taken an executive post in the DPJ’s campaign group for Seiji Maehara. I have also been close with some other politicians who are not in the same age range. In no particular order, these are Keiichiro Asao, Taro Kono, Koji Matsui, Hiroshi Suzuki, Tetsuro Fukuyama, Motohisa Furukawa and Yoshimasa Hayashi. I’ve spent a great deal of time offering support for their activities from my position in private business.

On the other hand, I myself have developed various networks in the last ten-plus years: entrepreneur networks such as YEO (currently EO), the association of young business owners, study sessions of experts, and circles in the same age range.

An idea that has been on my mind for several years is that I will need a friendly network of similar interests if I really want to change Japan. One person only has so much power. That’s why you look for friends, and you share your strong intention to change Japan with them and have them spread that passion in their own circles. We could change Japan with this power of intent.

What prompted this idea was a conference I attended in the summer of 2008 that was run by an organization called the Australian Davos Connection. This meeting was launched about ten years ago when a friendly network in Australia decided to create a Davos-like community. What surprised me was that the Australian prime minister was enjoying this conference of Australian leaders. And it wasn’t just the prime minister; ministers and state governors were doing the same. They don’t simply give speeches and leave; they stay at a hotel for one or two nights. (See the column, “Conversation with the Prime Minister of Australia – ‘Expecting a Second Meiji Restoration’ (Japanese)” for scenes on the 2009 ADC)

Inspired that we should do this in Japan, I set to work. I sped up my efforts after the so-called Lehman Shock in September. I asked for volunteers to become board members, and entered into discussions. Everyone on the board was of the same generation. Sekou-san of the LDP and Maehara-san of the DPJ assumed board roles. I had people representing entrepreneurs, business owners and leadership roles in other fields join in. I called only on people who held the same ambitions, and we held our first G1 Summit at the foot of Mt. Bandai in Fukushima Prefecture.

We initially set a media policy of no releases whatsoever, including blog reports, since all our talk was off-the-record, as it was with Australia’s ADC. This year, with the spread of Twitter, we’ve essentially made it OK to release comments except for those on actual statements made by participants. That’s why I can now reveal the entire content of the meeting. However, we haven’t made a website at this point and we’re asking the media to refrain from releasing anything on us.

We’ve decided to call it the G1 Summit. G1 connotes meanings of, “One Globe,” “Aiming for Global No. 1” and “A gathering of a Generation,” It also contains our notion that there’s only “One Group (G1)” rather than G20 or G8.

The following is an excerpt from my speech at this year’s second summit:

At this G1 Summit, I am hoping that my same-generation friends at the forefronts of their circles will discuss and learn about different fields such as politics, economics, business, the environment, community, science and technology, education and culture beyond their positions, and connect the experience to specific actions. The objective of the meeting is to learn from one another the knowledge and perspectives required as social leaders, establish a vision, come up with specific measures, and work toward achieving a better society as we heighten exchange with our good friends.
I hope that you will keep the following points in mind during the G1 Summit discussions.
1) Proposals rather than criticism
2) From thoughts to actions
3) Develop self-awareness as leaders of the next generation.

This is the G1 spirit. In other words, one of the Summit’s primary objectives among study and exchange is to begin actions toward improving Japan. The milestone First Summit was held at the foot of Mt. Bandai based on that concept. We talked a great deal among over 100 participants. And the Second Summit this year was held at Tomamu in Hokkaido, at an even greater scale.

March 23, 2010
Yoshito Hori

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