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

I travelled straight from my house to the Haneda Airport at night, after kissing the cheeks of my three younger sons asleep in their beds and saying goodbye to my wife and two older sons who were still awake. After takeoff, I fell fast asleep and woke up just before the plane landed. It was 6 p.m. local time when I arrived at Los Angeles Airport. It was already dark outside, and I was greeting by cool, dry air. I headed straight from the airport to a restaurant in which GlobisGLOBIS Capital Partners (GCP) has an investment.

A member of Watami Food Service’s first management team had moved to the United States alone and opened this restaurant, called “Tokyo Table,” in Irvine, with the aim of creating a chain of Japanese restaurants. He started this business out of his wish to introduce Japanese-style pubs in the United States, although he was not a fluent speaker of English.

GCP invested in his venture, impressed with his thinking and concept. Some of the participants at the G1 Summit held the other day (refer to the G1 Summit webpage for details) pointed out “there are Japanese restaurants overseas, but only a few are managed by Japanese people.” This restaurant was different. At Tokyo Table, a person from Japan was working to localize and popularize Japanese food.

I walked into Tokyo Table with Mr. Katayama (CEO of Dream Dining Corporation in the United States), who met me at the entrance. The tables were neatly arranged in this medium-sized space, which seats 140 people. The restaurant was full and the atmosphere was lively. Most of the customers were local people, and I saw few Japanese people. The restaurant seemed to have successfully gone native. As an investor, I delighted in the sight.

With Katayama at the same table, I looked over the menu. I asked him to order “best-selling items at this restaurant.” That’s how we decided on our order. Warm “house sake” arrived first. I hadn’t had heated sake in several years. The name, “house sake,” sounded new to me. It must be the sake version of house wine, I figured. Garlic Edamame (boiled soybeans flavored with salt and garlic), Hamachi Carpaccio (thinly sliced yellowtail sashimi), Lobster Dynamite Roll, and Sushi Pizza followed. The novel ideas represented by the dishes astonished me. Katayama told me they were big hits in Irvine. After these items, we ordered dishes such as Beef Wrap and Bacon Wrap, which were variations of yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers), and Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice (roasted to achieve crispiness), an item popular with Americans.

Savouring these dishes, I recalled an episode from years ago when I invested in a bagel shop. My Jewish-American partner came to Japan, saw a teriyaki bagel, and said, “This is not a bagel. Bagel is something you eat with cream and salmon.” I immediately responded with, “And California Roll is not sushi, either.”

Food is interesting in that innovation occurs through the process of localization. Katayama told me, “These are menu items we can export to Japan.” I agreed. The Garlic Edamame, Dynamite Roll, and Sushi Pizza were all delicious.

I gulped down my first bottle of heated sake in a long while, producing a fit of spluttering. I had a good appetite because I had slept throughout my transpacific flight without having any meal. Our conversation picked up as we ate.

Katayama shared his interesting background with me. “I worked at Ricoh Americas for many years. I served as the company’s director, too, but I wanted to stay in the United States and do something on my own. I looked for Japanese industries that were slow in developing overseas operations, and realized the service and fashion industries fit that description. I came across with this company in the course of my research on companies in those fields, and decided to join it.” Adding, Katayama said, “Our net sales declined a little following the Lehman shock, but we are expanding our net sales at a steady pace now. We will have to discuss whether to prioritize our operations in the United States or our box lunch business in Asia going forward.”

Katayama explained that he had chosen to join this company partly because it was headquartered abroad. “I joined this company because I was delighted by its unwavering resolve to cut the line of retreat, base itself overseas and operate exclusively from that base, instead of following the instructions of Japanese head office.” Katayama and his company’s founder are now focusing their efforts on the United States and Asia, respectively.

GCP supports entrepreneurs with high aspirations like this in the areas of capital, manpower, and business knowhow, and help them bring new value to society. Through this supportive role, we deliver returns to investors who have place their trust in us. The combination of unaccustomed warm sake and Katayama’s passionate words gave me a sense of exaltation. And there was sushi pizza sitting on the table right in front me.

With dinner over, I said goodbye to Katayama and took a cab. In a manner peculiar to Japanese, Katayama saw me off by standing completely still on the spot until my taxi disappeared from his view. Santa Monica was an hour cab ride from the restaurant in Irvine. I took another nap in the backseat during the drive. Stepping out of the taxi, I checked into the beachfront hotel. I needed to attend two important meetings scheduled in the next morning. My business trip continued.

Jetlag woke me before dawn the next morning. Taking advantage of the early hour, I took care of some business. I pulled the curtains open as the sky seemed to brighten. I could see the Santa Monica beach through the green palm trees outside my window. The sea was light green. Purplish clouds hung over the horizon. The sky had turned blue already. The cool air rushed in as I opened the window. I heard the calls of birds that sounded like crows. I was ready to start the day with a power breakfast.

At a poolside restaurant offering a cafe-like atmosphere, I had breakfast with one of the most influential people in Los Angeles. It was winter, but the morning sun was bright. The restaurant seemed to belong to the world of drama. I glanced at an older many who had just walked in; I was sure it was the actor Jack Nicholson, holding a walking stick in one hand. My first impression was proved wrong, however. The man looked exactly like Nicholson, but was apparently someone else. I felt a little deflated.

After the power breakfast, I visited an investor. I took a cab with fellow GCP member Shinichi Takamiya, who had waited for me in the hotel lobby. Our taxi travelled the Pacific Coast Highway along the Santa Monica beach with the blue Californian sky overhead.

We returned to our hotel in Santa Monica, exhausted after an intense meeting in Century City. We took a walk from the hotel to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade a little past noon. Drawn by a beautiful blonde woman standing at the entrance, we walked in an Americanized Italian restaurant. We took our seats around an outdoor table set on the Promenade. The location allowed us to watch passersby.

The three men in our group, namely fellow entrepreneur Mr. Hashimoto who would go to Denver with me, Takamiya, and myself, ordered hamburgers and pasta. The sun was dazzling. I regretted my decision to leave my sunglasses in the room. I slowly removed items of clothing, warmed by the intense sun, until finally I was down to my t-shirt. Street musicians in the middle of the promenade supplied background music with guitars and singing voices.

After saying goodbye to Takamiya, who was in Los Angeles on a rush four-day business trip with a single overnight stay, Hashimoto and I headed to Los Angeles Airport. Our destination was Denver, a city where close to 1,000 managers were scheduled to gather from all over the world. Close to 20 executives were scheduled to travel from Japan to Denver for the occasion, too. I’m sure my readers will immediately understand what a visit to Colorado in February means. However, going there just for a conference seemed a waste, so I decided to visit a certain place while I was in Colorado.

March 3, 2011
Yoshito Hori
Written on my flight back to Japan based on my own tweets

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