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

(I put together this column by adding information to and revising tweets I made on the business trip from June 12-16.)

I’m leaving for Jakarta now. My reasons for taking this business trip are to take the podium at the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2011, which the World Economic Forum (WEF) is hosting there, and to deliver a keynote speech at the World Bloggers & Social Media Summit 2011 in Malaysia.

I arrived in Jakarta. There is something special about ambient noise in Asia and the humid air that greets visitors to Jakarta. I received VIP treatment in obtaining my visa and clearing customs on arrival. Airport staff let me cut ahead in lines when I said “WEF.” (I felt sorry for the other people who had to wait a little longer because of me.) After arriving at a hotel, I was given a batik shirt at the reception desk.

Changing into the crimson batik shirt, I rode a courtesy bus to the entrance of the banquet venue. A red carpet led me to a huge hall, which was packed with tables. I glanced over and estimated the seating capacity was about 1,000. I greeted many people around the hall, including Prof. Klaus Schwab. He surely recognized my face. (It took me six to seven years to strengthen our relationship so that he would recognize me at a glance.)

Taking a seat at a table about three rows from the front, I chatted with a young businessman from Indonesia next to me. He happened to be a Stanford MBA holder. He remembered a speech that I had made at Stanford University in 2000. Small world. And people keep connecting with each other in this way. He belongs to a distinguished family that owns one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia.

Prompted by the MC, we got up from our seats and welcomed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia with our applause. The prime minister of Cambodia came in with him. Besides them, the Prime ministers of Singapore, ,Thailand and Mongolia were the speakers of the conference Those I would call top leaders from Asia’s political, bureaucratic, business and academic circles gathered in the hall. The banquet began with President Yudhoyono’s speech.

President Yudhoyono talked about three things. I paid no particular attention to the first point he made. But I looked up when he mentioned “Japan” as part of his second topic. To my surprise, the president talked about Japan for the next five minutes or so. He praised the strong spirit of Japanese people, expressed appreciation for contributions Japan has made to his country up to the present and declared “he would visit Japan this weekend to strengthen Indonesia’s strategic partnership with Japan.” Yudhoyono also rewarded those of us who had traveled from Japan, saying, “Thank you very much for coming to this meeting in such a difficult period.” He immediately won the hearts of all Japanese people in attendance. Yudhoyono is an excellent leader.

To return the courtesy, Chairman Yorihiko Kojima of Mitsubishi Corporation took the platform and spoke in his capacity as a vice chairman of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren). In his relatively long speech, which continued for about 15 minutes, Kojima explained the damages that the earthquake had caused in Japan, described the rapid recovery steps the business community took in response to the tsunami, and asked international community to act calmly based on the evidence to prevent harmful rumors. Then, he stated Japan’s wish to work toward prosperity “hand in hand” with Indonesia and other Asian countries.

The Indonesian president talked about Japan and Chairman Kojima spoke for 15 minutes at the banquet were exceptional. I felt that with those arrangements the organizers demonstrated special consideration for Japan. Participants from Japan accounted for only 2-3% of all in attendance at the conference. These included people like Chairman Atsutoshi Nishida of Toshiba Corporation, Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya of the World Customs Organization and Heizo Takenaka. There were also next-generation leaders from Japan, such as Chief Executive Officer Yoshikazu Tanaka of GREE, Inc., Vice President Daisuke Iwase of Lifenet Insurance Company and President Kohei Takashima of Oisix Inc. (By chance, all three of these individuals head the portfolio companies of GLOBIS Capital Partners.)

The prestige of a nation is on stage at a state banquet like this. The food served was first-class and the performances given were magnificent. The big screen covering the entire wall behind the front stage showed Indonesia’s beautiful nature and the expressions on its people’s faces. I felt it would be a good idea to have a walk around and say hello to people I knew. Between the walks, I enjoyed my conversing with the excellent young man sitting next to me. It was a formal banquet, but perhaps because Indonesia is an Islamic nation, no alcohol was served.

Cutting my time at the banquet short, I left the hall to chat with politicians and other participants from Japan with Takenaka-san. After exchanging views with them on diverse topics, such as the political situation, energy policies and the possibility for a grand coalition, I went back to the hotel where the nightcap is held. I wanted to show my face because the young man who sat next to me at the banquet was the host of the nightcap. The nightcap program was being held by a swimming pool in the hotel’s courtyard. A well-known Indonesian singer was entertaining the crowd in a beautiful voice.

Many gorgeous women were at the nightcap in addition to forum participants. I wondered why and talked to three of them. One was a newscaster who had once represented Indonesia at the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Another was a well-known violinist (Mayra). And the third was an actress who also had a background as Indonesia’s Miss Universe (Agni). All three seemed to be huge celebrities in their country.

They were not only just beautiful; but also they were intelligent. I had a wonderful time talking with the three fluent English speakers. I asked why they were there and they said they took part in the program to “entertain VIPs from other countries as Indonesian representatives.” They offered their service as volunteers. I left the nightcap after promising to connect with the three women on Facebook later.

From my hotel, I went to a nightclub with my two “bad friends” – one from Mongolia and the other from Thailand. We cross paths often at WEF events. I left the club for my hotel room early because I had to prepare myself for a speech on the next day.

I attended a breakfast meeting the next morning. The meeting was held to discuss dialogue between Japan and other Asian countries. Two Keidanren vice chairmen, Chairman Nishida of Toshiba Corporation and Chairman Kojima of Mitsubishi Cooperation, along with Heizo Takenaka attended this meeting. Cabinet ministers from Indonesia and Malaysia, the South Korean ambassador to Indonesia and the deputy mayor of Dalian, China, took part in the discussion. Nishida delivered an impressive speech at the beginning of the meeting. I find top leaders from Japan’s business community reliable to a large degree.

Assistant Secretary-General Thomas Stelzer of the United Nations impressed me with the following remark he made at the meeting. “There is an issue of triple 50. The global population will rise 50% by 2050. At the same time we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50%. Clean energy generated by nuclear power plants is essential for doing this. We are concerned that the volume of CO2 emissions may increase as a result of German and Swiss withdrawals from nuclear power generation. Green economies built around nuclear power generation are important.”

The luncheon with the prime minister of Thailand was about to begin. Managing Director Dominic Barton of McKinsey & Company sat at the same table next to me. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke fluently in English. In my view, Abhisit is the best English speaker among Asian prime ministers. He delivered his speech with no manuscript or the like, and with several jokes thrown in. But the ability to speak English does not necessarily make someone a good leader. English proficiency is a clear advantage, but leadership ability is more important. Whether Abhisit could win the general election on July 3 or not was important, I thought. I hope he would win.

After lunch, I took part in a panel on Social Media. GLOBIS has invested in more than 10 companies in this field. GREE leads them in business success. I believe I made a good deal of contributions to this panel because social media was one of the fields where I had knowledge and experience.

Post-session audience reactions usually show whether or not a panel discussion was good. The discussion is successful when many people come up and say, “Good job. That was interesting.” The Daily Jakarta Shimbun, a Japanese-language newspaper published in the Indonesian capital, asked me questions on social media after the discussion.

(Author’s note: An article in this newspaper caught the attention of a GLOBIS MBA student later on. The student shared the article with fellow MBA students using their mailing list, stating as follows. “I visited Indonesia on business last week. When I was there, I found a news story on Dean Hori on the front page of The Daily Jakarta Shimbun (a newspaper for Japanese residents)…. I didn’t know GLOBIS was beginning to attract attention overseas with Dean Hori at the center. Anyway, it was a nice surprise to find this article on the front page of an Indonesian newspaper.”)

The conference came to grand finale with a speech by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit. I found a reply on Twitter around that time. The reply said, “I would like to thank people in the Kingdom of Thailand for the gas turbine.” Finding this tweet, I walked up to Prime Minister Abhisit and said, “Thank you very much for sending the gas turbine to Japan” as we shook hands. The prime minister squeezed my hand back and said, “Our pleasure.” I felt refreshed after expressing our appreciation for the gas turbine directly to the prime minister on behalf of Japanese people.

Red carpet was being rolled up and to be taken away. I walked on it halfway down, and I realized the conference was truly over the moment when I stepped off the edge and landed my foot on ordinary carpet. My speech went well. I met new people and deepened old friendships. I thought the conference was quite a success.

I had dinner with Indonesian friends from the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) that night. After dinner, we visited two bars for additional drinks and chatting. I traveled to Jakarta and set up the Indonesian Chapter of the EO (then known as the YEO) in April 1997 when I was the first EO International Board Member in charge of Asia. Fourteen years had passed since then. Inaugural Indonesian Chapter members were among the friends who came to the dinner.

My friends from the EO asked me why I was in Jakarta. I told them, “I came here to deliver a speech at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.” The answer took them all by surprise. “How can you attend such conferences?” “Why did the WEF invited you as a speaker?” They asked me endless questions. I surprised them again when I mentioned the names of Indonesian people I had befriended at the conference. I could tell that they began to look at me in a different way. I thanked God for having been given such a privileged opportunity.

Japanese EO members are desparately globalizing themselves enthusiastically. They are joining English clubs and actively attending overseas events. An increasing number of Japanese EO members are relocating overseas, too. Those recent emigrants include Mr. Inozuka in Singapore and Mr. Yokohama in Jakarta. Yokohama helped me on this Jakarta visit, and I’d like to thank him here.

I’m leaving the hotel for my flight to Malaysia now. Just under 40 hours I spent in Jakarta were extremely meaningful. In the meantime, my contributions to a column series called Kokorono-no tamatebako [Treasure boxes in my heart] began appearing in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun evening edition in Japan the night before.

I arrived at Kuala Lumpur. The airport here is modern, but it’s a little far away from the heart of the city (albeit not as far as Narita). After checking myself in, I washed my own underwear, hung them to dry, and started to open my notebook computer in my hotel room. I’ve been washing my own underwear to travel light lately. I heard Wipro Technologies founder Mr. Azim Premji is doing his own laundry in hotel rooms on his business trips, too. I respect Premji for doing that despite his esteemed status as a billionaire.

I just finished preparing for my speech at the World Bloggers & Social Media Summit 2011. This summit, attended by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, was planned to open with a 20-minute speech by the Malaysian minister of information, communications and culture. I was then set to take the podium as the next keynote speaker. Organizers gave me more time to speak than the Malaysian minister – 25 minutes to be exact. I chose “Earthquake and the KIBOW Project” as the theme for my speech.

The “Email from Japan” led me to this speech. I continued sending emails to 3,600 VIPs around the world after launching the KIBOW project on March 14th. Requests for speeches began to reach me from all over the world as I continued desperate efforts to send emails in English in the period immediately after the earthquake. As far as I could remember, I received such requests from countries like South Korea, Malaysia, China, Switzerland and the United States.

Taking the platform after the minister, I spoke cool-headedly and passionately for 25 minutes, barely glancing at my notes. Reactions were pretty good. I left the Summit venue for the office of an investor in Malaysia after listening to a panel discussion that followed my speech. An extremely capable and impressive Australian serves this giant corporation as its CFO. We exchanged our opinions over Chinese noodle soup.

After returning to my hotel, I replied to some emails. Then I had a swim in the pool to work off my fatigue from journeys that took me from Boston, Tokyo, Jakarta and here in KL. I left the hotel to fly out of Malaysia after having a relaxing massage.

I’m in a lounge at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport now. Japan Airlines has closed its own lounge and rented from Cathay Pacific. I understand that JAL had to do so to reduce costs. Sad to say, the only food available here was Hainan Chicken Rice,which was dry and it wasn’t any good.

I fell sound asleep on the flight back to Japan. My airplane arrived at Narita the next morning. I had to start a day on a tight schedule starting with lunch that day. This way, my life journey continues.

June 20, 2011
Yoshito Hori
Written at my house in Sanbancho

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