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

At night, Davos offers excitement of an unusual kind. The main venues for night programs are the hotels. Let me briefly explain their location in relation to each other.

The main venue for the Davos’s daytime programs is the Congress Center. This is a facility reserved exclusively for the Forum. Only invited members can pass through the strict security checks. The Congress Center is located right in the heart of Davos, a valley town that faces the Alps to the north and south. The town stretches out east to west from the conference hall, in a long and narrow oval shape. Forum participants stay at the hotels that dot the town. The same hotels become the venue of night events. 

All evening to night programs at Davos are private, except for those known as “Interactive Dinner Sessions.” This characterizes the night programs at Davos. The private events do not appear in the Davos’ program. In principle, official events are only open to Davos participants, however, the private evening events are open to non-members as long as they are invited. .

Evening programs at Davos are classified into three broad types based on their hours – “reception programs” held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., “dinner programs” scheduled from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and “party programs” involving dancing that start from 10 p.m. and go until late in the night.

University alumni reunions account for one of the largest group of reception programs. Presidents of major universities (probably limited to the top 20 schools in the world, including the University of Tokyo and Keio University in Japan) are invited to the Davos. Several of their alumni and faculty members are also invited. Naturally, those universities hold a reception in Davos, inviting their alumni.

I took part in alumni reunions hosted by Yale University, Harvard Kennedy School, and the University of Oxford at this year’s Davos as a guest of my invited friends. As always, participating in these reunions gave me the strong desire to hold a “GLOBIS Reception” in Daovs in the future, by inviting people who graduated from the Graduate School of Management, GLOBIS University, which will surely send many graduates to Davos in due course.

Dinners comprise the second type of night programs. Some of these are hosted by nations. National governments or collection of private leaders sponsor programs such as Japan Night, Korean Night, Indonesian Night, and Indian Night to maintain and bolster their prestige. They bring in important participants attending Davos, emphasizing their national characteristics. The satisfaction of the important participants would give diplomatic and business advantages. I will report on Japan Night in detail later in this column.

Invitation dinners comprise the second-largest group of dinner programs. Companies sponsor these dinners, inviting some of the Davos’ participants. I received an invitation for the first time this year, but could not go because of a schedule conflict.

Party programs comprise the last category of events held at night. As mentioned, they start at 10 p.m. I had a great time at dance parties thrown by Arthur D. Little when I took part in the Davos in 2004 and 2005. All drinks and canapés at these parties are free of charge. Participants could drink as much champagne as they wanted and dance happily to live music. Vocalists of the bands shouted, “Arthur D. Little,” during breaks between their songs. The model for these dance parties is somewhat resembling the so-called “Free” recouping through advertisement.

McKinsey & Company and Google organize similar events. WIPRO of India began reserving a nightclub in Davos for its exclusive use and hosting an event called “Bollywood Night” two or three years ago. When I stepped into the club, I saw many Indian people dancing to Bollywood film music and enjoying themselves.

There is an impression that men dominate the Davos, but many women attend, too. The male-to-female ratio seems fifty-fifty, as far as night program participants are concerned.

Basically, all night events at Davos are free of charge and on an invitation basis. Admission requires an invitation, but Davos participants are eventually allowed to join in most cases. When you have taken part in the Davos on four occasions as I have, your friends naturally grow in number. I dropped in at just about every event, and hugged and shook hands with my friends to celebrate our reunion. As I have begun to receive invitations to early-morning meetings in recent years, I can no longer stay up late and enjoy myself, which I find a little disappointing. For your reference, let me describe the events I attended on my first night at Davos this year.

The first events I attended were receptions. I showed up at the reunion for Harvard Kennedy School alumni, exchanged greetings with Larry Summers there, and then took part in the reunion for Yale University graduates. At this gathering, I had conversations with Professor Michael Porter and Professor Josh Lerner from Harvard Business School. I also met former Japanese Foreign Minister Junko Kawaguchi at the Yale reception. I moved to my next destination, sharing a ride with Kawaguchi-san at her invitation.

After the receptions, I took part in dinner and theme programs. The third event I attended that night was Opera Night, organized by Zurich Financial Services. It was done brilliantly. Leaving the hotel where Opera Night was held, I moved to another hotel where a wine-tasting event was taking place. I met more friends there because I’ve been a regular participant in this program. Members of the Krug family—renowned for Krug champagne—were on hand. They introduced their choice of champagne to the people in attendance.

Taking advantage of a break, I headed to China Night presented by China Central Television (CCTV), the state-run broadcasting station in China. It was the fifth program I attended that evening, and I sampled some Chinese dumplings made of wheat and other ingredients. Leaving the state-sponsored dinner, I showed up at the sixth event, a cocktail reception planned by the Forbes magazine, to wrap up my tour for the night.

On the following night, I participated in Japan Night from 7:30 p.m. until past 10 p.m. after attending a speech by Bill Clinton. I chose to stay at Japan Night from the beginning to the end this year, as I felt I must help entertain guests and energized the atmosphere as a host in my new position as a leader from Japan. I noticed one point while serving as a self-appointed host.

Playing the part of a Japan Night host gave me the feeling of playing the home game. That is to say, I could start a conversation, saying, “Welcome to Japan Night,” and take it to the next point by asking, “Are you enjoying your food and drinks?” The question prompted a guest in front of me to say, “Yes, I’m a big fan of Japanese food,” partly because the person was invited there to enjoy all food and drinks free of charge. This would lead to an exchange of business cards. It also allowed me to take the lead in conversation.

Japan Night attracted more visitors this year than it had done in the past. It was a significant success. Taking some time away from my work as host, I had a blast myself, eating sushi, oden, and kushikatsu and drinking a considerable helping top-quality sake. Japan Night was the best event after all. JETRO sponsored Japan Night at Davos last year and this year. I hope it will continue its sponsorship next year, because it is an extremely important event.

After Japan Night, I took part in a German event, and then traveled between the Oxford alumni meeting and a dance party organized by McKinsey & Company. I thought about going to Bollywood Night later that night, but I was exhausted that I chose to return to my hotel. My feet were dead tired, since basically all night events took place in a venue with no chairs.

On my way back to the hotel, my car was caught in a traffic jam. It was past 11 p.m., but a long line of cars wasn’t moving an inch. In spite of that, I didn’t want to walk. My feet were sore. This is a night scene familiar to Davos during the Forum.

February 2, 2011
Yoshito Hori
Written at my house in Sanbancho

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