I boarded the bullet train from Nagoya and headed for Nara via Kyoto. With me were Mr. Kaneyama, a first-year GLOBIS MBA student, and Mr. Kazuhiko Toyama, the COO of the Industrial Revitalization Corporation of Japan (IRCJ). We were all going to the ASKA Conference.

We arrived at Kyoto, and on the way to Kintetsu Kyoto Station we bumped into even more conference participants, such as former GLOBIS faculty member Tatsuya Kato (currently vice-president of CYBIRD) and Ms. Misa Matsuzaki (the president of AGASTA). I was so excited to see all these friends coming together. Traveling on the Kintetsu Line to Nara Station felt almost like a school excursion. Mr. Toyama was sitting next to me, behind me was President Yoshiharu Naito of Pokka Corporation, and on the other side of me were President Shin-Ichiro Okumoto of Okumoto Flour Milling and President Minako Kanbara of News2U. It was great to be among so many familiar faces.

We turned right to continue through Nara Park and its famously friendly deer. We stopped halfway through and petted the heads of a few, then continued on our way to the venue, Asuka Sou Hotel. An executive committee made up of volunteer GLOBIS students was manning the reception table. The conference was to be held on the second floor, where a lectern had been set up beside a gilded folding screen. Right in front was the projected ASKA Conference logo.

Gradually, the room began filling up. President Yoshitaka Taguchi of Seino Transportation, Mr. Akihiko Kawashima, the former president of VeriSign Japan, and other participants arrived. You could sense the enthusiasm. The expectations and excitement peaked just before the session commenced at 14:30. Mr. Kenzo Takahashi, chair of the executive committee, got up on stage and formally declared the opening of the session.

When my name was announced, and I started my opening speech:

“Welcome to the ASKA Conference, everyone. I am very pleased to see all of you here today. I am deeply moved when I think that all this has come together just two months after the idea first came up in the bath at Mount Koya. The ASKA Conference revolves around the GLOBIS educational principles to deliver a place for constructing a human network, developing knowledge, and cultivating ambition. Please take full advantage of this event to make new friends, gain new knowledge and raise your ambitions even higher by sharing your dreams.

“Just like the Davos forum, I want you to remove your neckties and enjoy a friendly, casual atmosphere. This ASKA Conference is starting out small, but it is my hope that it will grow into a major event. This year marks the first ASKA Conference. I would like to continue meeting all of you five, ten, and twenty years from now.”

The first ASKA Conference consisted of the following agenda:

Day 1: Saturday 23 April

14:30-15:00 Opening Ceremony

15:00-16:30 Part 1: Creation Section, “Pain and Growth in Venture Creation
Mr. Tatsuya Kato, next President of CYBIRD, Ms. Misa Matsuzaki, President of AGASTA

6:30-18:00 Part 2: Innovation Section, “Innovation Model for Japan” 
Mr. Kazuhiko Toyama, Industrial Revitalization Corporation of Japan (IRCJ) COO / Mr. Yoshitaka Taguchi, Seino Transportation President / Mr. Yoshiharu Naito, Pokka Corporation President

18:00-18:15 Presentation of Alumni Award

Day 2: Sunday 24 April

9:00-10:30 Part 3: (1) Career Section, “Career Model for Becoming a Management Professional”
Mr. Akihiko Kawashima, former president, VeriSign Japan / Ms. Etsuko Okajima, President, Globis Management Bank

Part 3: (2) Government-People Competition Section, “On Market Research”
Mr. Sadahiro Sugita, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Trade Finance and Economic Cooperation Division, Director

11:00-12:30 Part 4: (1) Environment section, “The Environment – A Challenge for Survival or the Source of Profit? Learning from the Environmental Strategy of Hoshino Resort”
Mr. Yoshiharu Hoshino, President, Hoshino Resort, / and others

Part 4: (2) Japan Section, “Japan, Where the Country is Headed” 
Mr. Koutaro Tamura, member of the House of Councillors / Ms. Shihoko Urushi, Vice Dean, Shinagawa Joshi Gakuin (Women’s School)

The initial part of program, the Creation section, kicked things off with emphasis on dialogue (a key part of the conference) in an interactive discussion between the panel and audience. The discussion provided a frank, honest exchange of opinions, beyond any comparison with panel discussions held in Tokyo. I was surprised at the depth of the exchange and ideas.

To conclude the discussion, the program leader, a GLOBIS student, asked everyone to write down how they intended to start doing tomorrow based on the discussion. He then shared his own ideas: “What I learned is that, first, believe you can do it. Second, actually do it. And third, as Mr. Toyama put it, get through a period of being poor.” This generated a roar of laughter from the audience, and with that the section on creation came to a close.

Before introducing the second round of panelists, the program director began with a question:

“For an organization to reform, it must become single-minded. What stands in the way of this happening?”

The audience shared a few comments: no sense of urgency, individual egos, no shared sense of ownership, the experience of success, the baggage of past obligations and relationships, important past decisions, lack of leadership, lack of commitment from top management, bad assets, bad loans, and so forth.

The panelists were then introduced and began to share actual examples from their own companies, simply overflowing with knowledge about management and reform.

There was a lot to take away from all this. By the end, my notebook was packed with what I had learned. I was sad that 90 minutes of intense, focused learning had come to an end.

I stepped onto the stage again to start the Alumni Award presentation.