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

Contrary to yesterday’s sunshine, it was snowing today. It has been a zig-zag weather of sun, snow, sun and snow. I was flying home today, so I finished packing most of my bags and went to the main venue. There was one session at 9 a.m. that I didn’t want to miss. It was the “Securing Cyberspace” session.

The one factor that motivated me to participate in this session was Google. One report says that Google had taken such a firm stand because it had received repeated cyber attacks from China, of which the last actually broke through its defense and caused some e-mails to leak from its Gmail account. The article refers to a security company called McAfee that has teamed with Google to investigate the situation and set up a defense.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt insisted yesterday that he would not speak about the subject here at Davos. It’s probably because the company is undergoing some form of discussion with China. Still, I wanted to know. I wanted to know what is going on in cyberspace, and what companies and nations should do.

The members at this session were also of impeccable standing. From the technology field were CEOs from U.S. McAfee and Swiss Kudelski and the Chief Research and Strategy Officer of Microsoft; from the government were a U.S. senator and the secretary-general (Geneva) of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an international institution on telecommunication matters. This session ultimately turned out to be my favorite session of this Davos Conference. (Of course, the one with the director of Avatar was in a different realm.)

First, the CEOs of McAfee and Kudelski and the Microsoft CRSO explained what was currently going on. It can be summarized as follows.

Malicious use of computers has progressed through three stages. The first stage was prank acts, performed by individual hackers and involving the sending of viruses. The second stage consisted of industrial spies operating via the Internet. And the third stage – the most crucial issue today – consists of organized cyber attacks that involve national governments. There are currently about ten nations that possess the ability to conduct such cyber attacks or espionage operations. (As I was listening to this, I was wondering if Japan had that capability.)

There is absolutely no way to defend against these attacks. Explained metaphorically for easier understanding, it is as if you’re in the medieval ages and you’ve built a fortress surrounded by a moat, but you’re then bombed by an air force. In other words, the attackers are attacking the fortresses with more sophisticated weapons. And they execute the attacks from numerous “civilian” PCs of purely innocent citizens that they’ve overridden. (I was listening to this story imagining a typical scene in a movie where a PC in an empty room starts operating on its own.)

It’s difficult to identify the people who are manipulating these numerous civilian PCs. Aided by the very characteristics of the Internet, it’s difficult to identify who is conducting the cyber attacks and from where. Regardless of the size of the nation, any individual or terrorist organization with the will could execute successive attacks.

I was listening to this and recalling the latest sequel to the Die Hard movie. The Die Hard movies of the past were also about terrorism but involved bombs. The attacks in the latest sequel come from a hired group of hackers that start by overriding the computer system in cyberspace. The nation is completely defenseless to the attacks of this group. We’re in that exact state.

There are three possible defenses. One is to defend using technology. What needs to be done in this situation is quite clear, and security companies such as McAfee are doing it already. Another method is to defend through aspects of architectural design. And the third way is to defend by law.

“Is the administration prepared to face this situation?” was the question directed at the senator. This question was posed with masterful timing. Nobody said it, but it was clear to everyone that China was the hypothetical enemy.

The senator gave the following explanation. Congress is currently debating whether or not to make cyber attacks over the internet illegal and to create laws to crack down on them. It is also debating methods to protect the country from cyber attacks. It does not have a fixed plan on how it would protect systems other than the Department of Defense and which other institution would do it. Of course, 85% of important infrastructure (probably referring to electricity, gas, oil systems, and so on) is under the control of private companies. Everything is still being discussed at this point.

Another subject that is currently being considered is what determines an act of war. For example, if someone physically attacks an electrical grid and bombs it, that is clearly an act of war. But they haven’t yet decided whether or not destroying the electrical system by entering from cyberspace would be defined as an act of war. The senator said that he would consider it a clear act of war.

It’s cyber war as we know it. The senator says that the U.S. Congress is still at the discussion stage. But it’s also a clear fact that the CIA and FBI are also undertaking numerous such actions.

So the next issue is, “Should we govern this situation by having an international institution draft a guideline beyond the national level?” It comes the ITU secretary-general. His explanation was also clear. There are 4.5 billion Internet/mobile network users around the world today. To ensure the safety of these users, we must have something of a charter.

This charter would take the following structure.

The first article would state that all people have the fundamental right to express themselves and exchange on the internet.

Article Two would stipulate that all countries are under the obligation to ensure free and proper traffic over the Internet.

And Article Three would rule that no country whatsoever can stage a preemptive attack in cyberspace.

There is concern that countries such as the United States and China, which maintain a comparative advantage and do not want to abandon that advantage, would not ratify the charter, as has been seen with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. But the secretary-general insisted that he wanted to release some sort of guideline to protect the safety of children. The reality, however, suggests that even that could be hard to achieve.

The session then took questions from the audience. There were specific explanations on how Microsoft had defended itself from the threats of cyber attacks, or discussions on the need for regulations similar to those when driving a car, in that people will need to carry a driver’s license over the Internet and register their vehicles to guarantee safety in cyberspace. The greatest threat is the risk of companies or government insiders conspiring with an outside organization to stage an attack. How we counter that risk was another discussion that took place. It’s Die Hard 4.0 for real. I was unable to contain my intellectual excitement throughout this one-hour session.

After the discussions, I chatted with Professor Jun Murai of Keio University, who was at the venue. What I was interested in was, “How is Japan doing on this subject?” Professor Murai said, “It’s doing everything that it has to. Everyone ought to support it.” It’s a big issue indeed. I was reassured by the fact that Professor Murai was actually here listening to these discussions. I can only wish that more Japanese would participate in these sessions and feel for themselves what it going on in the world. Yet an invitation to Davos is not that easy to come by. I’m hoping that professors in various fields will make efforts to communicate to the world in the way Professor Murai is doing. Otherwise they won’t be offered the right to even be at such a place.

Next, I attended the “Global Economic Outlook” session. Participants at this session, by country, were the United States (Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council), Germany (the chairman of the management board and the group executive committee, Deutche Bank), France (the Minister of the Economy, Industry and Employment), the IMF Managing Director, India, China and Japan. The moderator was British (from the Financial Times).

It was a full cast of major countries. But the program didn’t list a Japanese name. That’s because Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama cancelled his Davos visit at the last minute and was replaced by Yoshito Sengoku, the new Minister of State for Special Missions. Finally, on the fourth day of Davos, a Japanese politician was to take the podium. Masayuki Naoshima, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, was to speak at 9 a.m., and Senior Vice Minister Motohisa Furukawa of the Cabinet Office was scheduled for the afternoon session.

This “Global Economic Outlook” session was allotted an hour and a half, rare for a Davos Conference. The session proceeded with the moderator asking each participant a question. Mr. Sengoku was the only one who spoke in a language other than English. And each time he did, participants in the venue had to put on their headphones. The sound of people searching for and putting on their headphones echoed throughout the venue.

Feeling that I wouldn’t learn too much from this session, I left the venue while it was still underway, but my opinion was as follows.

As a Japanese, I was happy that Mr. Sengoku came. This session is one of the main events held in a hall. With China and India speaking as countries from Asia, Japan would have displayed a diluted presence had it not been here. On the international stage, lack of presence – or, in other words, not being there – is the worst situation to be in.

But was the discussion more valuable with that one additional person? I wouldn’t know whether the non-Japanese audience thought the speaker was interesting or not. If you don’t speak English, it is tedious for the audience to wear headphones every time, and if you talk through an interpreter, your intentions will often be communicated incorrectly. I decided to hear Sengoku-san’s words in English through the headphones. As I had expected, it became more difficult to understand. Interpreting into English from Japanese involves a completely inverted sentence structure, and is much more difficult than interpreting from French.

But as I keep saying, the fact that he came was good for Japan. In terms of the Davos Conference – and even on other occasions as well – I believe that the people who are given the opportunity to come or the right to speak should come to this forum and speak out actively.

In Japan’s case, this includes political leaders, heads of internationally renowned companies such as Toyota and Canon, leaders of Doyukai and Keidanren, academic leaders, and editor-level posts of major media outlets. Considering the economic power of Japan, these people could definitely take center stage here, if they only came.

If they don’t come, other people can’t take center stage. And that will quickly reveal Japan’s lack of presence. People like myself aren’t allowed to even speak at a panel, much less take center stage. We can only make strenuous efforts at lobbying.

The people I truly credit in these terms are Heizo Takenaka, the former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, Hasegawa-san of Takeda, Kurokawa-san, the president of the Science Council of Japan, Funabashi-san of the Asahi Shimbun, Professor Murai of Keio University and Takeshi Natsuno. Not only do they take voluntary action knowing very well the need to be present, they also call upon many others to do the same. Unfortunately, these people known as “kokusai-ha” (globalists) in Japan are, in most cases, merely subject to jealousy. We must change that trend.

These people represent Japan and are talking in their non-native English in an unfamiliar culture, and taking on the world here at Davos, a forum where public opinion is formed. We must strive to increase the number of representatives who can participate on behalf of Japan. And we should not only increase the number of participants but also encourage them to play active role and earn acclaim from many people. It’s almost the same as Ichiro and Matsui showing their presence in Major League Baseball. Good people will receive acclaim someday. If these good people are Japanese, they would heighten the world’s assessment of Japanese in general, which inevitably heightens the power of the Japanese voice. It’s very simple logic.

For this to happen, these people need to be trained from when they are young. In the same way Ichiro and Matsui trained diligently, we need to strive to achieve the goal. And they need to be given opportunities. We need to provide prospective human resources with opportunities to build experience as young global leaders. I was also involved in recommending people to attend the Davos Conference, so I was especially happy when I heard that Mr. Iwase (of Lifenet Insurance Company), a Harvard alumnus who graduated after I did, was selected.

Either that, or you have to continue active involvement on the global stage through international institutions such as the EO and YPO. EO currently has a tendency of going abroad actively. It’s a good trend. And they don’t have to come to Davos; there are many international conferences for every industry. They should participate actively in these conferences and speak out enthusiastically if the opportunity arises.

What I strongly felt here at Davos is that when you enter this venue, you don’t have any background support. You can’t bring any assistants with you, and your title no longer matters. In a meeting, you have to speak in your own words. Your facial expressions, body movements, words, perspectives and everything else that defines your personality as a live human being come into play. It depends solely on how much appeal you can display “stark naked.”

It’s probably the same at G8 and G20 meetings. What counts is how much appeal you have as a human being, how many different perspectives you have, and how much human breadth and philosophy you possess. To heighten that human capacity, you need to train daily.

As the appeal of the Japanese market and economy declines, we are in an age when we need, more than ever, human resources who can play an active role on the global stage. Last year, Globis University started offering an International MBA Program in which students can obtain an MBA in English.

In the reasonably near future, students of nationalities other than Japanese will comprise the majority. I hope you will take advantage of the program to acquire the skill to debate in English. We have an “a la carte” system that allows you to experience even a single course without enrolling in the school. The first step is the most important. Go and take that first step.

To allow as many people as possible to experience something similar to the Davos Conference, I am hosting the Asuka Meeting – what I call the Japanese version of the Davos Conference – exclusively for Globis students, to create new frameworks for young leaders who would potentially lead Japan. I hope that these opportunities assist many Japanese in moving onto the global stage. My role is to provide the infrastructure (opportunity).

I left the main venue of the Davos Conference and agreed to an interview with CCTV, China’s state-run television. I currently have a policy of not appearing on Japanese television, but will actively accept invitations to appear on television overseas.

I returned to my hotel amid heavy snowfall, changed my clothes, finished packing my bags and checked out. The city view of Davos from the hilltop hotel is excellent. A member of the hotel staff gave me a lift to the station, and a while later I boarded the train. Transferring twice, I arrived at Zurich Airport. From there, I worked intently on writing this column in the airport lounge and on the plane.

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Davos Conference. Convinced that it was my duty to share the experience with many people, I worked endlessly at my computer to write everything out at once, while the excitement and memories were still fresh.

I’ll be arriving in Narita soon. Fortunately, I think I can finish writing this by the time I touch down. Once I’m back in Japan, my eldest son will be taking his entrance exams for junior high school. I can only have faith in him and pray for him.

The Asahi Elementary Newspaper had an article on the Davos Conference, so I think my children are, in their own ways, aware of the importance of the meeting. Whenever the opportunity allows, I tell my children, “Be someone who’ll play a role on the world stage.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that I consider English to be the only important thing. In fact, I believe that it’s more vital for my children to experience many challenges and develop a firm identity as a Japanese. (I will go into all of this educational philosophy on another occasion.)

If every citizen understands that he or she represents Japan and wishes to make this country better, it will become better.

I’ll be resuming my work in Japan tomorrow. As the saying “shed light on a corner” says, I hope to build on my small efforts in my own field and contribute even in a small way to turning Japan, Asia and the world in a better direction.

Finally, let me thank you sincerely for reading this WEF Annual Meeting 2010 in Davos column to its end.

January 31, 2010
On the plane, 
Yoshito Hori

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