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

The third day of Dalian Davos started with a meeting at 7:30 am with Japanese members of Global Growth Companies (GGC), hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Scholars such as Heizo Takenaka, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, and Yoko Ishikura also attended.

The GGC was just established this year, so only about 100 companies across the world have joined so far, including 13 Japanese companies (a modest majority). Positive results like this were made possible by a growing number of Japanese staff at the WEF. Staff motivation makes a big difference in an international organization.

After GGC members introduced themselves, Davos goers talked about how to take full advantage of the conference. Here are a few of their recommendations.

· Everyone is on equal standing at Davos, so feel free to talk to people, even celebrities.
· At Davos sessions, those who speak up are the winners. If you don’t speak up, you practically don’t exist, and no one will take you seriously. “Silence is golden” doesn’t apply here. Say what you think, and be eager to make friends.
· One of the fun aspects of Davos is the bilateral meetings, which are one-on-ones. It is better to make an appointment for an informal chat in advance with the person you want to get to know. This way, your network of good friends will expand around the globe.

These words of encouragement in the morning boosted our motivation for the day ahead.

While moving directly from the hotel to the World Expo Center, I discussed the sub-prime problem and its influence on the markets with Mr. Matsumoto of Monex, Inc. As the GGC meeting emphasized, you can’t waste a minute, even while traveling. In fact, I am often able to acquire valuable information quickly during brief breaks in the schedule like this.

We arrived at the World Expo Center, where the beautiful Queen Rania of Jordan was delivering a speech in the main venue. She speaks very eloquently. National leaders are eager to enhance their status at occasions like this.

Since I was scheduled to speak at a break-out session at 10 am, I headed to the meeting space. The focus of this session was discussing the differences in competencies required by universities and companies. For two and a half hours, from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm, with Professor Tarun Khanna of the Harvard Business School moderating, eight panelists from around the world were to speak. This included the dean of a Brazilian business school and the president of an IT school in India.

With so many panelists, I felt I could let up a little, thinking I wouldn’t have very many opportunities to speak. So I was surprised when I entered the room to see eight round tables set up, with no stage in front where panelists would typically sit.

It turned out this was not a panel discussion, but an interactive format in which workshop-style discussions at each table. The results would be shared with all session participants. I was assigned to lead one of the table discussions.

This could be a little rough, I thought. If I have to lead a discussion with top leaders, I will really have to work.

The room filled up with about 60 participants and about 8 people at each table. I greeted those sitting at my table and exchanged business cards. They had come from around the world: India, Jordan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, France, and Belgium.

In the first session, each discussion leader announced a topic. I decided that we would talk about the relative effectiveness of Japanese-style management from the perspectives of other countries, such as lifetime employment, the importance of in-house training, sharing a common philosophy, promotion from within, and community-style management. After the topics for each table’s discussion had been announced, we dove in.

I drew the value chains of employment, education, allocation, retirement, etc., listed problems that managers in different countries have, and kicked off the discussion on how they handled these issues.

While each country has similar problems, China and India particularly face the challenge of high turnover, perhaps due to an acute lack of labor while salaries increase more than 20% annually. In contrast, universities in Jordan have not been able to turn out solid human resources in the first place, forcing companies to employ stronger managers from overseas.

It was interesting to see how priorities varied from country to country. French companies seem to stick to community-style management, placing importance on in-house training, promotions from within, and a shared philosophy based on lifetime employmentーsimilar to Japanese-style management. There were many representatives from multinational companies, and the low turnover rate in Japan became a topic. For the success of Japanese-style management, should an environment in which community-oriented thinking, combined with a high level of loyalty, as in Japan, be necessary to begin with?

As the group discussion at our table became livelier, we learned a lot from each other. The session finished with my presentation to all the other participants about what my group had discussed. I was quite comfortable with this format, since this was exactly the way we held discussions at GLOBIS. As the session ended, we said our good-byes and participants went their separate ways.

I checked the schedule to see what was next and realized that it was already lunch time. In the large cafeteria space, there was a buffet-style meal designed to encourage participants to mingle. I spotted an acquaintance, the ex-chancellor of INSEAD in Singapore, and sat next to him to have a chat.

In the afternoon, I discussed social entrepreneurship with a member of the secretariat of the World Economic Forum. Bilateral meetings were scheduled to start at 2:00 pm. The dean and chairman of a business school in Russia were attending this conference, so I decided to take the opportunity to talk with them. I had met with the dean in Moscow last May, but this was my first chance to meet the chairman, who is the virtual founder of the business school. He is a Russian from Georgia and very warmhearted. To my surprise, he was also younger than I. Although the school had only started its executive program, it had already brought on board former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and others as advisors, and was recognized as an up-and-coming business school with a solid reputation.

For about an hour, we discussed the current situation of business schools in Russia and the GLOBIS approach. I expressed my hope for cooperation among Russia, India, Brazil, Europe, America, and Japan. Since the chairman is an entrepreneur himself, we quickly came to an understanding. We finished the bilateral meeting with a feeling of deep satisfaction and a promise to meet again.

A meeting between Klaus Schwab, founder of the Davos meetings, and the Japanese GGC members started at 3:00 pm. This was an ideal occasion to frankly share our thinking, and I voiced my wish to have more occasions like this in Japan.

Starting at 5:00 pm, I had a bilateral meeting with the chairman of ARTOC, a large, family-owned Egyptian company. The chairman’s name is Mohammed Shafik Gabr. We first met at a retreat of new Asian leaders (NAL) held on Langkawi Island in Malaysia. The King of Jordan and a few members of the Arab Business Council (ABC) were also at that meeting, and we exchanged opinions about the fusion of Asian and Arab business interests as one of the focal points of our discussion. Mr. Shafik Gabr represented the Arab perspective.

Since then, we’d met one other time at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East held near the Dead Sea in Jordan. That made this my third meeting with Shafik. As soon as he saw me at the dinner, he warmly welcomed me in the Arabic style. I was very pleased, but I was even more surprised when I received a request through his secretary to participate in a bilateral meeting with him. I felt honored to have such a top executive remember me and ask to meet.

And so, two days after the opening dinner, I had a bilateral meeting with my Egyptian friend for an hour and a half in the evening. This get-together inspired me like never before. Shafik was shocked by the fact that most Middle Eastern Arab countries are ranked low in the WEF’s Global Competitive Report. In response, he’d established the Arab Business Council (ABC), an organization for advising Arab governments on how to enhance economic competitiveness in the Arab world.

Taking on the post of ABC’s leader, Shafik toured Arab countries to explain how they could boost their competitiveness while seeking advice from the WEC. Driven by concern over the present situation in the Arab world and a sincere wish for growth, he visited approximately 20 countries with ABC members. Some governments refused to see them, while others took him seriously and implemented appropriate measures one step at a time. Later, he had a chance to participate in a G8 meeting and talk with ministers and high-ranking officials. At the first meeting, ministers simply read from a script, but when the meeting finished with no results, Shafik suggested having a face-to-face exchange of frank opinions. This didn’t work, either, and he began to feel his efforts were a waste of time. Since then, he’s tried not to get directly involved with politics, but I could still feel his strong desire to do everything he can for Arab countries.

As I listened to him, I couldn’t help asking myself, Am I doing something beneficial for society beyond the framework of business?

We talked for a long time, far beyond the scheduled period. This is the great thing about bilateral meetings at Davos conferences. We could talk in depth, which was not possible while exchanging greetings and business cards in the conference hall, and didn’t wrap things up until it was time for the next item on the agenda. Shafik presented me with an ancient Egypt book as a souvenir. We said goodbye with a hug, in the Arabic style. I wondered when I would next see him. He invited me to participate in the Davos Middle East meeting to be held in Egypt next May. I promised to be there if my schedule allowed.

I returned to the hotel, where Japan was hosting an evening reception. With just under 80 Japanese participants and Mr. and Mrs. Schwab dropping by, the event was a huge success. Afterwards I stopped by the Russian and Indian dinners before returning to my room, exhausted, but inspired.

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