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

In 2009, I started the G1 Summit as the Japanese version of the Davos Forum. The concept was to change Japan by bringing together next generation of Japanese leaders from various sectors whom would become prime ministers, Nobel laureates, billionaires, and top business executives.

This meeting has produced three Cabinet members already: Seiji Maehara, Motohisa Furukawa, and Goshi Hosono. Another participant, Shinya Yamanaka is nominated for a Nobel Prize every year. From venture and other business circles, young billionaires like Hiroshi Mikitani and Yoshikazu Tanaka have attended this meeting.

The annual G1 Summit has been run extremely well for the past three years, but it had one problem. It lacked international character. Internationalizing a meeting is easy in an English-speaking country. All organizers have to do is to invite people from overseas. But language always becomes an issue when a meeting in Japan aims to internationalize its contents. After much thought, I reached the following conclusion:

“Let’s keep holding the G1 Summit entirely in Japanese language, while inviting foreigners who understand Japanese to this meeting, and keep it as a place for discussing Japan’s future. At the same time, let’s hold another meeting separate from the G1 Summit and create a place where leaders from around the world gather to discuss issues in Japan, the rest of Asia, and the world entirely in English.”

I named this second meeting the “G1 GLOBAL Conference” and decided to hold it on October 10, 2011, a national holiday in Japan. I chose to use the GLOBIS Tokyo campus as its venue to save our costs.
G1 stands for “Group of 1, Globe is one.” The two letters suggest “there is only one world” and “what matters is the Group of 1, not G20 or G7.”

The day the terrible Great East Japan Earthquake struck, I subsequently moved the G1 GLOBAL Conference back by one month and chose to hold it on November 3. I also immediately named a theme to be: “The Rebirth of Japan.”

I suspended planning of the Conference for a while, because the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear power plant accidents did not allow me for such activities. Under the circumstances, I chose to first contact speakers who are residents in Japan. Accordingly, I confirmed prominent leaders, such as Motohisa Furukawa, Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal policy, Heizo Takenaka, and former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi as G1 GLOBAL Conference’s keynote speakers from Japan. I was also able to confirm speakers among foreign residents of Japan, such as Robert Alan Feldman and Glen S. Fukushima. All of these individuals accepted my request readily because we all share the common goals, principles and concepts behind the G1 GLOBAL Conference.

I began inviting speakers from abroad around July. I focused on contacting Nik Gowing, a leading BBC newscaster, as a speaker from Britain, and started persuading him in Dalian. Alan Patricof, the grandfather of venture capital industries in the United States, agreed to speak at the meeting, too. I also confirmed Vachara Phanchet, former Thai trade representative, as a speaker from Thailand. People like Hiromichi Mizuno and Kotaro Tamura decided to return from Britain and the United States to speak at the Conference.

I tried to mix speakers 50% Japanese and 50% foreigners to give an international flavor to the Conference. They were to discuss topics on the agenda in English. I limited participants in the G1 GLOBAL Conference to the invited individuals only. I sent a letter of invitation to people who had taken part in the G1 Summit, business leaders, journalists, diplomats, and Davos Forum participants. In the meantime, I chose to give other people a chance to take part in G1 GLOBAL. I asked everybody who wanted to attend the meeting to write an essay on themes including the following. “How do you plan to contribute to the G1 GLOBAL?” I asked some pretty tough questions.

I’ve been to many conferences and assemblies. As I recall, the most enjoyable meetings were communal ones where a sense of unity evolved. In other words, places where leaders active in diverse fields are able to take the role as speakers, and then become participants and exchange opinions with others on the floor, have been the most enjoyable. This creates a sense of unity. A conference becomes more interesting as the barrier between panelists and participants becomes lower. That’s why I was fastidious about participation on an invitation basis, and about the quality and attitude of participants. I made this G1 GLOBAL Conference off-limits for people with no credentials, even if they were willing to be generous in their funding.

By October, we had almost 50 speakers on our list. The program was nearly complete. We confirmed participants from all over the world, including ambassadors in Japan, totaled close to 200. I insisted on a number of things. I invited the speakers to my house on the night before the G1 GLOBAL and served them sushi and Italian food. The best place to show my appreciation to speakers from around the globe was at my home. I planned this house party to thank visitors for coming from distant places. I was worried about the size of our house, but decided to make up for it with our hospitality.

VIPs began arriving in Japan from various countries from November 1. Alan Patricof flew in from the United States, followed by prominent speakers from Rand Corporation in the United States. Vachara Phanchet confirmed his trip from Thailand to Japan, too, in spite of the flooding in his country. Participants from countries such as Singapore, India, and Britain followed suit. They kept arriving in Japan one after another to take part in the G1 GLOBAL. Participants from outside Japan were estimated to total 20 to 30 in number. I swore to keep holding this Conference every year and to evolve it into a strong foothold where leaders gather to send information out to the world.

The reception for speakers began at my house the night before the Conference. To show our respect, my wife and I entertained our guests in kimono. We wanted to thank the speakers who came all the way from such faraway places as Bangkok (then suffering from the flooding), the United States, Australia, and India. Sushi and a top-class daiginjo variety of sake from the Urakasumi brewery proved a hit at the party.

The speakers’ reception at our house ended smoothly at 9 p.m. I helped clean up until past 10 p.m. and then went to GLOBIS Tokyo Campus, which would become the main conference venue the next day. Site preparations began after 10 p.m. when classes at the graduate school ended. About 200 VIPs were scheduled to assemble at the campus the next day. There would be several ambassadors, too. We wanted to ensure the site was suitable for the occasion. We converted the first floor of the school building into a main conference venue that would accommodate 200 people, set up three rooms on the second floor for panel discussions, and prepared a lunch and event space on the third floor.

The work finished some time after 12:30 a.m. Giving a thumbs-up which meant G1, I took a commemorative photo in front of a big banner with the G1 GLOBAL logo on the first floor with the staff who had stayed through to the end of the preparations.

My sense of exhaustion had reached its peak. But people who work at GLOBIS knew how to work under these conditions. We had the energy to issue a cheer of triumph at the end of our work. Hearing the cheer, I felt confident about the success of the G1 GLOBAL.

Note: Everyone in the picture has a wonderful smile, despite their exhaustion. I took this photo with GLOBIS staff members after completing site preparations late on the night before the G1 GLOBAL .

Having returned home, I decided to prepare the speech I was scheduled to deliver at the beginning of the G1 GLOBAL the next morning. When morning came, I walked from my house to the GLOBIS campus. It was going to be the first Davos-type meeting in Japan held entirely in English. I felt uplifted.

Nik Gowing from Britain was already there when I arrived. We started discussing on procedure immediately. Speakers showed up one after the other. Then, State Minister Furukawa arrived.

The G1 GLOBAL 2011 began on time at 9 a.m. My turn to address participants as its organizer came right after a brief opening speech by a GLOBIS staff member who acted as master of ceremonies. The speech for the occasion was not in my head because the running around involved in the preparations left me with no time to memorize it. My words were simple, but I chose to read them from sheets of paper. I tried to speak directly to the audience, right from the heart. After addressing the participants for three minutes at the start, I introduced State Minister Furukawa. Furukawa has attended the Davos Forum more times than any other Japanese politician. He delivered a stylish speech that conveyed a strong sense of stability to the audience.

Following the Minister’s speech, Heizo Takenaka, Yoriko Kawaguchi, and Keiro Kitagami kicked off their panel discussions, which were moderated by Nik Gowing. The panelists had extremely lively discussions.
Next came the breakout sessions, where the issues were to be discussed thoroughly. Assuming my role in an emergency, I took the platform as stand-in moderator. The minister-councilor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, former Foreign Ministry official Hiroshi Tanaka, and International Herald Tribune columnist Philip Bowring sat on the panel for this session. They discussed the “Changing Balance of Power in Asia.”

Three other breakout sessions progressed simultaneously. Seiichi Kondo, the commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and Shinichi Tanaka, president and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard Japan, took the platform at the session on “Soft Power Diplomacy.” Kotaro Tamura spoke to floor participants at a session on “Crisis Management.” Georges Desvaux, managing partner for McKinsey & Company Japan, and Kathy M. Matsui took the stage at the session on “Re-Imagining Japan.”

Then, it was time for lunch. We used four classrooms on the third floor of our school building as venues for a lunchtime program that featured senior high school students from the Tohoku region. Conference participants listened to stories told by students who had survived the tsunami as they ate their lunch. As in the Summer Davos in Dalian, their stories brought those in the audience to tears.
The words of the senior high school students who had gone through the tsunami touched hearts more than any eloquent speech.

The afternoon program also began with breakout sessions. One of them focused on media. James Kondo moderated the panel for this session, which included Peter Wilson, the founder of the Japan Today online newspaper, and Nik Gowing of the BBC. Listening to what Gowing had to say was as fun as I had imagined.
Another breakout session simultaneously in progress dealt with Entrepreneurship. Alan Patricof, Daisuke Iwase, Allen Miner, and Terrie Lloyd spoke at this session. Shinichi Takamiya of GLOBIS Capital Partners moderated their discussions.

One more breakout session took place in the same time slot. The theme was on Energy. Panelists for this session discussed topics such as nuclear power. Their discussions were also very interesting.

In a word, the breakout sessions at the G1 GLOBAL were “interesting.” That’s what I thought after dropping by at each of them. They seemed as if it were held somewhere other than Japan. I believed that G1 GLOBAL was the first meeting ever held in Japan in this scale, where English was the only language used. I’d be delighted if this Conference were to serve as an opportunity for Japanese people to improve their ability to debate in English.

The third set of breakout sessions began. They were also fascinating. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fiscal crises in developed nations, and Cool Japan were themes discussed. Keiichiro Asao, former Shinsei Bank President Thierry Porte, and Jesper Koll of JP Morgan Securities Japan sat on the panel for the session on fiscal crises. Hiromichi Mizuno of Coller Capital moderated their discussions.

“In terms of Economic impact, the Eurozone crisis will affect Japan more than the Great East Japan Earthquake did,” noted Asao. “The problem is that Japanese people have been completely unable to exercise their influence (through elections and other means) in spite of the level of damage the crisis is expected to cause on their country.”

“Can people in Europe and the United States remain as quiet and calm as their counterparts in Japan, assuming that deflation and low growth like those in Japan went on for 10 years? The Occupy Wall Street protest movement has already started in the United States. Demonstrations are widespread in Europe,” observed Porte. “These developments are beginning to prove the resilience of Japanese society.”
“The ratio of iPhone components made in Japan was zero at first, but Japanese-made components were estimated to account for nearly 57% in the new iPhone 4s model,” noted Koll. “And these components offer a degree of precision only Japanese manufacturers could achieve.”

Then, it was time for the closing plenary session for the G1 GLOBAL. The panel for the opening plenary session consisted of politicians. The final session had panelists from business and economic circles. Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. delivered a keynote speech at the start of this plenary session. After his speech that lasted for 10 to 15 minutes, panelists including Takashi Mitachi of the Boston Consulting Group and Robert Alan Feldman held discussions, moderated by Nik Gowing of the BBC. The session offered truly world-class discussions.

“As in kendo and judo, a state of calmness is essential for manufacturing,” argued panelist Nicholas Smith. “Getting emotional does no good. Putting too much emotion in manufacturing is not the right approach.”

“Stability is good, but big changes are not bad,” remarked Feldman. “I thought higher crude oil prices created an opportunity a couple of years ago. The yen’s appreciation is not a bad development. Big changes produce big innovations.”

“When I talk to my friends, they all say they want to live in Tokyo,” added Feldman. “The important thing is to make Japan an attractive place for companies.”

Commenting on the observation that “young Japanese people are inward-looking,” Feldman said, “It’s not young people but people who are not young (elderly people, in other words) who should be blamed for this tendency. They have not done what they should have done. They should have educated young people properly and make sacrifices in areas such as pension and medical care before complaining about it.”

“Let me offer you another crazy idea,” elaborated Feldman. “What about using the same money for helping young people study abroad, instead of giving parents a child allowance? I think doing that will produce large educational effects and give Japan a brighter future.” As I had expected, Feldman was very interesting.

Following the final plenary session, I delivered closing remarks as the organizer of the G1 GLOBAL. Then, I asked Alan Patricof, Nik Gowing, Paul Bradley from Singapore, and Kotaro Tamura from the United States to make brief comments on the meeting. A stirring atmosphere created by a sense of accomplishment and an uprise of emotion filled the Conference venue.

The G1 GLOBAL ended with the excitement. It was time for the farewell reception. After the closing session, I had a Bloomberg TV interview and headed to the venue for the reception. VIPs who had assembled from around the globe were chatting pleasantly when I arrived at the venue, where notes of the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument, were being played as background music. Three shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument, players, the Shibata Family, started to perform just as I finished greeting all the people I recognized. They performed brilliantly.

The Conference participants went home after the shamisen performance. I gave a polite send-off to each one of them. After everything was over, I held a little thank-you party for the GLOBIS staff who worked behind the scenes. All of them worked very hard for this gathering. The staff were exhausted by then, but they praised each other’s contributions, half jokingly, half seriously. From the party, I went back to the GLOBIS campus to say “thank you” to other staff members who were still cleaning up at the venue. I returned home from there. Arriving home, I found the tweets that I had received via Twitter as follows:
“The G1 GLOBAL offered many lessons and discoveries. I found it very stimulating. The fact that so many participants assembled for this first G1 GLOBAL from literally all over the world was awesome. I believe this gathering served as a new milestone for GLOBIS, Many, many thanks to Mr. Hori!”

“I took part in the G1 GLOBAL and immersed myself in English from morning till night today. At the Conference, I realized that Japan was far more globalized than I had imagined. The meeting also made me aware that many non-Japanese are informing the rest of the world about what is good in Japan. This was good news. Let’s have confidence in ourselves.”

“I have learned the importance of taking risks and responsibilities, opening up ourselves and having self-confidence at G1 GLOBAL. Leaders at the Conference were all lively and cheerful. They said many things, but ultimately they love Japan. It was a good community.”

“To make networks with people in the world was one message speakers at the G1 GLOBAL shared in common. The message means establishing connections by overcoming our fear of opening up…I’d like to think of what we can do as young people. This meeting itself connected diverse types of people with each other and produced chemical reactions.”

“I had never thought an international conference of this level was possible in Japan. Everything I saw at the G1 GLOBAL was excellent.”

“Thank you very much for an extremely exciting day.”

“The G1 GLOBAL gave me stimuli of a most comfortable kind. Conferences with no interpreter are not unusual in English-speaking countries, but they seem rare in Japan. The lineup of speakers assembled from all over the world reflected the enthusiasm that Mr. Hori of GLOBIS had for this meeting. The conference brought into sharp relief the position Japan holds in the world.”

Tweets came in from people who accessed the sessions via the Internet, too.

“I’m listening to a G1 GLOBAL session now. The sessions seem intended for Japanese people. Speakers are using English that is very easy to understand (in terms of both speed and vocabulary) for their discussions. I think this English is enabling many people to follow discussions without interpretation.”

“The G1 GLOBALwas fun. I followed its live streaming broadcast. There were several fast-talking panelists who were difficult to follow, but I would like you to hold more meetings like this in Japan.”

We received comments from G1 GLOBAL viewers overseas, too. When sessions are broadcast in English, reactions arrive from across the sea:

Yoko Ishikura wrote about the G1 GLOBAL in her blog: “I thought it was an extremely meaningful conference. I felt that because not only were the panelists and moderators excellent, but also the participants (most of them appeared to be young Japanese) raised questions and commented in a very active manner…This one-day conference I attended was held entirely in English (with no interpreter), but I didn’t feel that the meeting was any different from other international conferences (such as the workshop I attended in New York last week or the conference in Abu Dhabi). Discussions in English were so natural that I almost forgot I was in Tokyo.”

The G1 GLOBAL was a smashing success. To tell the truth, I feel like having a party to celebrate its completion. But I need to prepare for the second “Tokoton” debate on the TPP tomorrow, instead of basking in the afterglow of the G1 GLOBAL. This second debate will be a decisive battle. I’m not going to take the platform as I did at the first debate on nuclear against Mr. Son of Softbank, but I’d better go to bed early to prepare for the next day.

Connect with Insights

Trouble keeping up with all the insights? Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly career inspiration right in your inbox!
Your newsletter subscription with us is subject to the GLOBIS Privacy Policy.