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

I bought a large volume of books to prepare for my long trip to the other side of the world. It was my third trip to South America. On my first trip, I visited Venezuela, while I went to Peru on my second. This time my destination was Brazil. The journey was my first overseas business trip since the Great East Japan Earthquake. I planned to fly from Narita to New York on the east coast of the United States, do some work in a lounge at the JFK Airport, and travel to South America from there.

After spending a total of 24 hours in the air, I finally arrived at Sao Paulo in Brazil. The one-way trip took me a total of 32 hours, including four hours spent in transit and an additional four hours needed to get from my house to Narita Airport and then to reach my hotel from Guarulhos Airport in Sao Paulo.

At the hotel, a senior female employee of Japanese descent attended to me in Japanese. She flipped the TV on and changed the channel to NHK as soon as we reached my hotel room.

My reason for visiting Brazil this time was to deliver a speech at the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2011, sponsored by the World Economic Forum, the organization that hosts the Davos Forum. As a secret item on my personal agenda, I wanted to learn more about Brazil. Brazil and Argentina were the only two G20 members I had yet to visit. And Brazil is an important country that is scheduled to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America was to take place in Rio de Janeiro. But given this rare opportunity to visit Brazil, I felt I had to go to Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America, to understand economics and finance. With this plan, I arranged to leave Japan one day earlier and make a stopover at Sao Paulo. As soon as I arrived, I left my hotel for an on-the-ground inspection (or went sightseeing to be more precise). To begin, I visited Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo’s main street.

Sao Paulo has never served as Brazil’s capital, but it boasts a population of 19 million. The city is said to have reached this level of success thanks to its role as a coffee collection and distribution center, which led to the birth of grain and financial markets. Many financial institutions had buildings lining both sides of the Avenida Paulista. Colonial mansions built by coffee plantation owners could be seen in places between them. Some of them seemed to have been converted into offices. Others looked closed.

I chose to visit Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo first. Masterpieces by the likes of Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso were on display in this huge red building of modern design that faced the Avenida Paulista. I heard a president of a local newspaper company donated the paintings which he had purchased for his private collection after the end of World War I.

I go to art and other museums in every city I visit. That’s a personal rule. I visit the museums because they enable me to figure out a city’s cultural level. (In fact, I think Japanese cities are doing pretty well based on this cultural criterion of mine.) Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo was suitable to a country bound to make great strides going forward. The museum gave me a moderate stimulus and inspiration, at a time when fatigue from the long journey and the time difference was clouding my brain.

I become painfully aware of the huge roles art collectors in financial circles play whenever I visit art museums. To cite equivalents in Japan, Matsukata, Ohara, and other collections rival this one in Sao Paulo. The collection of masterpieces on display at Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo was assembled by adding works donated by citizens to a collection of famous paintings, which went on sale in Europe and became the property of a local newspaper company president after the end of World War I.

I don’t have the assets of this newspaper company president, but I’m exclusively buying the works of a future star in the art firmament, based on my instinct as a venture capitalist while they are still relatively inexpensive. Painter Hiroshi Okano is the future star I’m talking about. I’ve already attained the position of one of the world’s leading collectors when it comes to Hiroshi Okano’s paintings.

I left the museum for the Santander Building, for a panoramic view of Sao Paulo. This building changed its name after a Spanish bank placed Banco do Estado de Sao Paulo under its control. The view from an observation deck on the building’s top floor was magnificent. Sao Paulo is located inland at an altitude of 750 meters. Relatively gentle mountains surround this city on its north and west sides. The city of Sao Paulo has a population of 19 million, which accounts for one-tenth of the Brazilian population of 190 million. About 40 million people live in the Brazilian state with the same name.

I descended from the observation deck, walked into a huge cathedral, and spent a quiet moment there. Seventy percent of Brazilians are said to be Catholics. In the downturn area, I bought a pair of socks to match my business suit. I thought I had packed them in my suitcase, but apparently I had forgotten to do so.

I walked around Sao Paulo’s Asian town in the Liberdade district. Despite the name, it was basically a Japanese town. I strolled down a street with hanging lights designed to look like Japanese paper lanterns, and passed through a red torii gate. I crossed a bridge named Osaka after Sao Paolo’s sister city, and looked into a Japanese accessory shop. Many overseas Japanese in Brazil live in Sao Paolo.

I studied the history of Japanese immigrants at Museu Historico da Imigracao Japonesa no Brasil. The first group of Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil in 1908. The majority of first-generation Japanese people came to the country before World War II. Emigration to Brazil reportedly continued until 1973. Brazilians of Japanese descent number 1,500,000 across the country, with 400,000 in Sao Paulo today. Brazilians are pro-Japan because of a high level of respect these Japanese Brazilians have earned.

There is a 12-hour time difference between Brazil and Japan. Brazil is on the exact opposite side of the globe from Japan because it is located in the Southern Hemisphere. Japanese immigrants and their families spent 50 days at sea to reach this place by way of the Cape of Good Hope. By a curious twist of fate, the largest enclave of overseas Japanese has emerged in a land that is as far away from Japan as you can get. Starting around 1980, an increasing number of Japanese Brazilians who traveled in the opposite direction, to work in Japan, but many of these migrant workers went back to Brazil after the Lehman shock.

I visited a leading graduate school of management in Brazil in time for my appointment at 4 p.m. First, I attended a meeting at Fundacao Dom Cabral (FDC). Then, I looked into the Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV) campus. Both FDC and FGV offered MBA and other training programs, mostly in Portuguese. I felt GLOBIS was more advanced in both business models and language. I planned to visit FGV again in Rio de Janeiro the following day to form an international alliance with the school.

After the appointments, I returned to my hotel briefly, checked emails, and then visited a business manager I had never met before at his house. Before my trip to South America, I asked fellow members of a global organization of business managers called the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) for the first time, “Is there anyone (in Brazil) interested in meeting me.” High interest in the earthquake in Japan was evident here and there in conversations I had with the Brazilian business manager. I heard the state governor had invited a Japanese cuisine chef to his residence, and hosted a charity event the night before.

On my flight from Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport to Rio de Janeiro, I recalled that all the monitors installed at the airport were South Korean products. South Korean companies similarly dominated airport advertisements in the same way. Such was the situation in the largest city in South America. Japanese companies need strong leadership. I realized the importance of the personnel training GLOBIS is offering.

I found Brazilian women attractive. They looked so nice that I ended up saying, “Those glasses look great on you,” without thinking when I saw a gorgeous woman wearing stylish glasses at a Guarulhos Airport check-in counter. Thanks to them, I enjoyed traveling their country alone, feeling good.

The landing at Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont Airport at the end of my domestic flight was spectacular. The plane began flying low in from the ocean side, descending close to the surface of the water, passed by an aircraft carrier, and landed in an urban area. It reversed engine thrust the moment it hit the runway.

I got into a cab. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado was on my right, an odd-shaped rock called Pao de Acucar (which means “sugar loaf”) was on my left, and the Copacabana beach was right in front of me.

The taxi traveled to the Ipanema beach, playing samba as background music on the way. It started to rain, but both the cab driver and I were both in high spirits. From Ipanema, we headed to the Sao Conrado beach, where my destination, a conference hall, was located by way of the Leblon beach. The yellowish sand on the beach was beautiful. I saw some small islands offshore. There was the Statue of Christ the Redeemer spreading his arms wide open on Corcovado as I looked up on the mountain side.

Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo had entirely different flavors. Rio de Janeiro had an atmosphere that was more open, bright, and cheerful. Nominating relatively close candidates from my personal database, I concluded that the contrast of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro was closest to that of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Both Sao Paulo and Johannesburg were major cities that played important roles in their countries. But they were not capitals. In both combinations, one city was located inland and the other was situated on the coast. There was something about the landscapes that made those two pairs look similar, too.

Rio de Janeiro has a population of 11 million. According to Forbes, Rio de Janeiro is the happiest city in the world. I could understand the magazine’s assessment, looking at the beach in front of me, listening to samba, feeling the climate, and admiring the big statue of Christ that keeps watch over the city.

After checking in at my hotel, I visited a business school in Rio de Janeiro. The view from the school was also beautiful. It consisted of a beach, palm trees, and the rocky “sugar loaf” mountain in the background. The cab I took at the hotel traveled along the beach to the school and on the return journey. The clouds had cleared. I saw people in swimsuits enjoying beach volleyball and other activities on white sand.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America 2011 got formally underway in the late afternoon of April 27. The first program was a reception. I rode a rocking bus for more than 40 minutes to reach the former official residence of the Brazilian president, which is called Palacio das Laranjeiras. Completed in 1913, this palace had been used as the president’s official residence until 1960 when the capital of Brazil moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brazilia. The building has since been used as a state guest house.

Entering the palace, I walked around to exchange greetings with Forum participants. Friends asked me if everything was OK when they saw me. I could tell from their words that the participants had a strong interest in the situation in Japan. Finding Keiichiro Asao in the crowd, I went to say hello. I also had a chat with Prof. Klaus Schwab before the opening ceremony. After expressing his heartfelt condolences for the victims in Japan, Schwab said he wanted to show the World Economic Forum’s solidarity with Japan and commitment to the country’s restoration efforts on his next visit to Japan in mid May.

Many people I met at the reception, including Prof. Schwab, surprised me by telling me they had been reading my emails in English. I also said hello to Robert Greenhill, the second-highest ranking World Economic Forum (WEF) official. He said he and his wife had been reading my emails. I had by that time sent seven post-earthquake emails to 3,600 VIPs, with whom I had exchanged business cards. I learned at the reception that my messages had definitely reached them. There were just three or four participants from Japan. Traveling to distant lands becomes all the more important at a time like this, I thought.

The opening ceremony for the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2011 began with a speech by the governor of the Rio de Janeiro state. Following the mayor of Rio de Janeiro and two Brazilian state ministers, Prof. Klaus Schwab appeared on the platform. Rio de Janeiro will be the site for the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the venue for the Summer Olympics in 2016. I felt the energy of this rising city. All Brazilians at the ceremony were full of confidence.

No one mentioned Japan in their speeches. More than a month and a half had passed since the earthquake. The world had obviously kept turning. This was no longer the time for Japan to exercise self-restraint or allow power shortages to strangle its economy. The world was moving fast enough to leave Japan behind, unless we do things at full blast. Japan must speed up its actions, looking forward.

During my bus ride to the hotel, I looked out from a window. Beautiful Flamengo and Copacabana beaches jumped into view. I saw people playing football, volleyball, and other sports on the beaches. The installed lights enabled anyone to enjoy these beach activities at night. My thoughts drifted back to Japan. “Is the momentum for restoration gathering amidst the aftershocks,” I wondered.

I took the platform as a panelist from 9:30 the next morning. The panel discussed “Global Risks with a Latin American Impact” as its theme.

“If you were to dig a hole in the ground, you would eventually hit Japan on the other side of the world,” is how I started my first contribution to the panel, on the belief that hooks are important. “I came to Rio de Janeiro from a country on the other side of the globe. It’s fascinating for me to find that this country, despite being as far away from Japan as is possible, is home to the largest community of overseas Japanese. At any rate, it’s a great honor for me to take part in this meeting in South America.”

Risks were the theme my panel was asked to discuss. I chose to explain my thinking about risks, using what happened in Japan as an example, because I wasn’t that familiar with the situation in South America. I gave a general overview of conditions in Japan. I talked about supply chains and power shortages, in addition to the triple disaster of the earthquake, the tsunami, and nuclear power plant accident. I referred to the earthquake’s still invisible effects on the economy (such as bankruptcies and higher unemployment rates) and the possibility of financial collapse, too. Of course, I didn’t forget to offer information that reinforced the argument that Japan is safe.

I then cited three strengths South America had and proposed three actions for bettering the region. The panel consisted of a business manager from Brazil, a Brookings Institution expert on South America from Colombia, a United Nations officer in charge of the region from Ecuador, a WEF chief in charge of risk studies from the United States, and myself. The president of a business school in Ecuador served as the moderator. I occupied the position of a third party on this panel because I was the only one from outside the Americas. I offered my third-party perspective based on this understanding.

South America’s three strengths I mentioned were (1) young population, (2) a land suitable for mining and farming, and (3) the optimistic and cheerful character of its people. I called for the three actions of (1) laying an emphasis on education (elementary-school education in particular), (2) opening doors to the rest of the world to bring in investment, technologies, and knowhow, and (3) building infrastructure.

I think I did a decent job as a panelist. I feel I’ve grown pretty used to panel discussions over the years. Participants on the floor approached me after our panel discussions were over. They unanimously praised Japanese people’s patience, spirit of dedication and service, strong discipline, and integrity.

I took part in a private session the next morning.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America 2011 hosted by the WEF concluded late in the afternoon of April 29. I met many people and learned many things in the course of this fulfilling three-day gathering. I received significant attention and appreciation because of this particular period.

May 3, 2011
Yoshito Hori
Written on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Panama

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