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

The ASKA Meeting finally begins today. It’s an overnight conference designed for students and alumni of GLOBIS (the Graduate School of Management, Globis University). We closed all three campuses in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka for the weekend. Students, faculty members and administrative staff were to learn from guest speakers in the mountains. The ASKA Meeting, which has grown into an annual GLOBIS event, was once again scheduled to bring together a brilliant team of speakers on this occasion.

Held for the sixth time, the ASKA Meeting evolved from an idea I conceived while bathing on Mt. Koya, which I climbed with students in the winter immediately after my return from the Davos Forum.

A retreat (overnight workshop) for faculty members at GLOBIS began at the second ASKA Meeting. The retreat started at night on Friday and ended at noon on Saturday which was right before the ASKA’s opening ceremony. This time we discussed on the theme: of “Research Activities Befitting GLOBIS”.. Unlike graduate schools with a scholarly focus, GLOBIS is a school that focuses on business administration and has a mission of training leaders. We were to discuss the kind of research that is not excessively academic but makes true contributions to society at this year’s retreat.

I arrived at Risonare, the ASKA Meeting venue located in Kobuchisawa, Yamanashi Prefecture. The mountain air was very refreshing to breathe in. After checking in at the resort hotel, I headed for dinner with the faculty members. It’s the GLOBIS style to make dinner more than a place for a meal and a chat. The dinner during the retreat is a valuable opportunity for all GLOBIS professors to come together. So, I’ve been asking them to talk about their recent interests at the dinner. This year, three faculty members shared their personal interests. Each was asked to speak for 10 minutes, and a 15-minute Q&A followed. These sessions were subject to strict time management. The three dinner speakers each spoke about studying the iemoto system, the challenges faced by Japanese distributors and the latest trends among foreign-affiliated companies in Japan. The outstanding professors provided us with intellectual stimulation and dinner ended in good mood. .

The next morning, I breathed in the fresh mountain air on the trail on my way to the conference room. I then attended the faculty’s’ retreat, confining myself to the conference room. Faculty members discussed the type of research GLOBIS should perform based on their advance reading of case studies at Harvard and Chicago business schools and academic papers on research organizations. They discussed the subject for one hour in six groups, consisting of five members each. Group representatives then shared opinions with all other participants. Through the course of these discussions, I was able to confirm the GLOBIS direction of performing research befitting leadership training and contributing to society by providing information to practitioners in a way that diverges from the academic research methods and excessive journal orientation found at existing universities.

After preliminary lunchtime discussions with panelists, I left for the large hall at 12:30. I greeted students from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka one by one as I passed them on the way. The momentum gathered with each greeting.

The opening ceremony for the ASKA Meeting began on time. The level of excitement in the hall rose as music played and a huge title, reading “A Place Where Visionary Leaders Gather to Study” appeared across the screen. I took the platform as the first speaker at the ceremony. Yoshiharu Hoshino, President & Managing Director of Hoshino Resort followed me with his speech. Taking the platform last, the chairman of the students’ planning committee wrapped up the series of commemorative addresses. The opening ceremony was soon over, and the first part of the ASKA Meeting, the plenary session, began.

After the platform rearrangements, the speakers were introduced. The first speaker was Shiro Hiruta, the former president of Asahi Kasei. Mr. Hiruta spent a little over 30 minutes giving a plain explanation of Asahi Kasei’s reforms. The next 45 minutes were devoted to an interview and a Q&A session. Mr. Hiruta shared many personal episodes during this period, saying, “I could fight back because I had experienced the worst” and “I had gone through internal seclusion about three times, but I had never changed my stance.” I could tell his talk had gotten the ASKA Meeting into full swing from the beginning.

After a 15-minute break, the second part of the meeting got under way. Panelists included Masayuki Makino, Founder and President of Works Applications, Takaaki Umezawa, A. T. Kearney representative for Japan, and Nobuya Ishizaka, Founder, President & CEO of Golf Digest Online. All the panelists including the three of them have volunteered to be on the panel without remuneration devoting time and effort. Actually they even paid their traveling expenses and hotel charges on their own.. The theme for the second part was “strategies for reviving Japan and filling with wild energy.” Vitality returned to Japan to a certain extent as a result of the Japanese team’s good showing at the FIFA World Cup. But a sense of going nowhere lingers in our society. We need the direction to revive our energy. We need a wild kind of energy. I took the platform once again as moderator. I felt that energy began to flow in the room.

The third part of the meeting began. This part consisted of three breakout sessions. I attended the opening portion of a workshop on Global Perspectives Seiji Yasubuchi, President of General Electric Japan, gave the opening presentation. To suit the theme of Global Perspectives, he used slides written in English.

I took part in another breakout session on Corporate Restructuring Mr. Hoshino from Hoshino Resort, Toru Nagasawa, an attorney and corporate turnaround professional, and Masanori Sato, President of J Will Partners, a leading corporate turnaround fund, served on a panel for this session, which was moderated by Toshihiko Aizawa, former President & CEO of am/pm Japan. I found this session very interesting as well.

Let me share some phrases I heard at this session that have stayed in my mind. Mr. Hoshino said, “Bankruptcy is wonderful.” Mr. Nagasawa said, “What I keep in mind working on a bankrupt company is this. Try not to grab a knife when it is falling. Try to pick it up after it has hit the ground.”

The third working session looked at the Environment. Mr. Akihiro Sawa, a former Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official well-known for his TV appearances, Yosuke Kiminami, Founder & CEO of Recycle One, a leading eco-business venture, and Junichi Fujino of the National Institute for Environmental Studies took the platform at this session, which was also intriguing.

After the third part of the meeting, a tea party with invited speakers was held from 5:15 p.m. This was followed by the Alumni Award ceremony and a dinner from 7 p.m., followed by small-group discussions with platform speakers called nightcaps from 9 p.m. The nightcaps with the guest speakers evolved into open discussions over wine around 10:30 p.m. Perhaps influenced by all the intellectual stimulation, we ended up discussing serious subjects, such as the conditions surrounding Japan and the world.

After all the discussions were over, I walked to the Onsen alone. It was late. Students of both sexes were enjoying an amusing conversation in the mixed open-air bath. Returning to my hotel room, I switched on the TV. To my great surprise, Argentina was losing 0-3. The score then became 0-4, and the match was over. It was the second World Cup sensation in succession, following Brazil’s unexpected defeat the night before.

I chose to skip the early-morning programs (such as yoga and walking) and took part in the Power Morning program from 7 a.m. The people attending were already awaken with full excitement. Following these programs, the breakout sessions began at 9 a.m. These sessions had three themes – “Creativity,” “Historical Perspectives” and “Media & Internet.” I attended the breakout session on “Media & Internet.” Alpha blogger and former Globis student Motohiko Tokuriki (who boasts 200,000 followers on Twitter), Hajime Fujii, Deputy Editor in Chief at Diamond Magazine, and Satoshi Kawashima of JBPress ,independent web publisher took the platform at the session.

Guest speakers at the working session on creativity included Shujiro Kusumoto, Founder & CEO of Cafe Company, and Masamichi Toyama, Founder & President of Smiles, the company that operates the Soup Stock Tokyo chain of restaurants. Haruaki Deguchi, Founder & President of Lifenet Insurance, was invited to speak at the workshop on “historical Perspectives.” All of these highly appealing speakers made it very difficult for students to choose which session to attend.

The topics of the next breakout sessions encompassed “Corporate Communication,” “Careers,” and “Power and Influence.” I attended the session on “Corporate Communication..” The theme for this session was risk control and communication in a global society as seen in the Toyota case. Shinichi Tanaka, President of Fleishman-Hillard, was the main speaker at the session. I can’t tell you how session participants discussed this subject, because this session was held with a strict disclosure policy. No tweeting was allowed here.

Following these programs, the sixth and the last session began. Mr. Hiroshi Tasaka was the last guest to speak to the audience at the plenary session at this year’s ASKA Meeting. “Philosophy: Why do we live with aspiration?” That was the theme Mr. Tasaka addressed in his speech. Asked to stop using their computers, everyone in the audience listened attentively to what Mr. Tasaka had to say about that question.

The program for the meeting advanced to the final closing ceremony with participants feeling the powerful emotions Mr. Tasaka evoked with his speech. At the ceremony, Mr. Yasubuchi of General Electric Japan offered his closing comments, the chairman of the students’ planning committee gave a speech and I summed up what we had achieved. All participants then rose to their feet and joined in a chorus of “Let’s meet again at the next ASKA Meeting.” With that chorus, the ASKA Meeting 2010 came to a close.

As if to welcome the occasion, the rain that had continued intermittently throughout the meeting stopped and the sun appeared from behind the clouds. I saw a sense of achievement, a sense of fulfillment and overflowing motivation on the faces of the participants who enjoyed a stand-up farewell luncheon on the open patio.

I boarded a limited express Azusa to go home, and slept well on the train. The ASKA Meeting gave me great lessons once again this year. I keep themes and platform speakers in mind when I design the program for this meeting. Interesting talks come only from interesting people. Planning starts by finding interesting people who are right for the themes and sending them an invitation. I think I was blessed with wonderful platform speakers this year. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the platform speakers who took part in the meeting without remuneration.

For young people who eventually aspire to lead others, it is essential to keep in touch with good leaders while studying hard at schools like GLOBIS. Leaders working in the forefront of their fields provoke intellectual stimulus, energize their surroundings , and yet show modesty, all of which can be felt through face to face contact with them. Continuous and sustained contact with top leaders encourages young people to aspire to higher goals. I have achieved personal growth in that way myself.

I kept asking questions to myself while continuing my contacts with global leaders. “What are the great things about that leader?” “What are the things that leader has and I don’t?” “How can I improve to become a great leader like them?” I think the world of global leaders finally became closer to me after more than 20 years spent building myself up based on those questions.

The ASKA Meeting was launched in the hope of giving GLOBIS students chances to learn from leaders. I wanted to give them direct opportunities to learn what top leaders have thought and how they have acted. Reading participants’ tweets, I understood that the stimulus caused chemical reactions beyond my imagination. The meeting was a great success.

I hope that the many visionary leaders of the future will spread their wings and fly using the lessons they learned at this ASKA Meeting. I would like them to create great dynamism for creation and innovation. The ASKA Meeting is the place where legends of visionary leaders are born.

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