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

I looked at the G1 Summit Program and the list of participants, hot off the press. Those scheduled to take the platform and other participants were all remarkable people. They were all top-shelf individuals achieving great success in their respective fields.

The uniting theme for this year’s G1 Summit is “Things to Pass Down to the Next Generation, Things to Change, and Things to Create Anew.” In short, the theme reflected the idea of studying what to keep, change, and create in each field and of starting actions from that perspective now. I looked forward to discussions this theme would generate.

I drove my car to the venue for the third G1 Summit. For the first time, the meeting was at a site I could reach by car. In its first year, the G1 Summit was held in Alts Bandai in Fukushima Prefecture and then in the next year, it was at Tomamu in Hokkaido. This year’s venue is Risonare Kobuchisawa. I’ve been taking part in GI Summits with my entire family because this annual meeting is open to families. We would leave for Kobuchisawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, as soon as my children were ready.

Many members of the G1 generation are raising children. They normally spend many hours away from families because of frequent business travel. But they can share time with their families at the G1 Summit. That point has made this event popular. G1 Summit participants arrive with families. Not only the participants, but also their spouses and children have exchanges during the meeting. The Summit offers intellectual stimuli, too. Sessions are open to senior high school students and older family members. Participants can join in without anxiety while their families engage in activities of their own interest.

We can attend the Davos Forum with our spouse, but we cannot take our children there. The permission to bring children along certainly makes program, dinner, and lunch arrangements more complicated. I can understand why the Davos Forum organizers want to keep children away. But I’d like to keep family participation a G1 Summit policy for some time. Basic G1 Summit programs for children are ski lessons. At night, the Summit offers a separate dinner menu for families. Basically, we rent an entire hotel for three consecutive days, which are holidays. I was thinking about this when the time arrived for me to start our two-hour drive.

After arriving at the hotel, my wife and I went to dinner with our kids. I then checked this year’s G1 Summit venue and did my job by welcoming participants as they arrived. My friends arrived one after another. I began to feel excited. I felt ready for a cocktail reception after relaxing with my children in a hot spring.

Leaders who are achieving great success in their respective fields assembled at the reception for this year’s G1 Summit. They included Hiroshige Seko, Hiroshi Tasaka, Jun Murai, Takeshi Natsuno, Kumi Fujisawa, Noboru Hachimine of Opt, Genri Goto of Kenko.com, Masaaki Taira of the Liberal Democratic Party, Yoshiharu Hoshino of Hoshino Resort, Takaaki Umezawa of A.T. Kearney and Hideaki Inoue of Aoyama Flower Market.

The discussions never end when these individuals gather in one place. I finally called the reception quits past 1 a.m. Only a quarter of G1 Summit participants had arrived at the hotel by that point. A workshop was scheduled to begin from 10 a.m. on the following day. After the workshop, the opening ceremony for the G1 Summit was to take place from 12:45. Discussions about leading Japan into a better direction were expected to take place in sessions that would start in earnest after the kickoff ceremony.

Almost all leaders who represent my generation were scheduled to attend this meeting, with the exception of Seiji Maehara who could not come because of a conflicting trip to Russia as the Japanese foreign minister. Maehara attended the G1 Summit last year as the minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism. I accepted his absence at this year’s meeting in consideration of Japan’s current relationship with Russia, telling him, “Do your best for our national interests. Please come to the G1 Summit by all means next year.”

I found my fourth son and fifth son on top of each other when I woke up the next morning. My friend’s son and my eldest son slept side by side on the second floor of a duplex our family occupied. Children at the G1 Summit appear to have started their exchanges already. Everything was cloaked in white when I pulled the curtains open. Snow had begun to fall and accumulate the previous night. The world of white created a fitting atmosphere. I don’t know why, but snow falls every time we hold the G1 Summit.

I could tell from tweets made by G1 Summit participants that many were boarding the Azusa Express in snow to reach this hotel. I felt excited. Shaking awake my children, who had stayed up late, I headed to a restaurant for breakfast.

Later, I welcomed participants at the entrance to the hotel as the snow kept falling. I greeted each one of them, saying, “Welcome to the G1 Summit.” My heart trembled with joy.

The workshop for this year’s G1 Summit began at 10 a.m. The theme for the workshop was “Initiatives for Bettering Japan from the G1 Summit: ‘Actions’ That Follow the Launch of the Athletes Society.” The idea for the workshop was to urge participants to think of small steps that will improve Japan in ten subcommittees and translate them into actions.

The ten subcommittees were established to examine the following ten themes – politics, food, information technology and the Internet, agriculture, sports, tourism and regional vitalization, education, retail and distribution, nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs, and Cool Japan. After an exchange of opinions, the subcommittees reported the “small steps” for bettering Japan they thought they could initiate in each area.

For example, the subcommittee on information technology and the Internet had people like Jun Murai, Jiro Kokuryo, Takeshi Natsuno, Hiroshige Seko, and Noboru Hachimine as its members. Small steps for these people could well be large steps for the society at large. They might change Japan in the true sense of the word. The same thing can be said of the subcommittee on politics. Small steps for its members may produce a large impact on Japan.

I could see snow falling thick and fast from a large window at the front of the venue. Akira Tsuchiya, a World Economic Forum Representative for Japan, told me, “The atmosphere at this meeting is becoming more and more like Davos.” With the G1 Summit, I had created the first place where people from same fields could gather and discuss issues. I believe this was quite significant in itself. All participants looked happy. I wanted to paint a bright picture for our future and take actions with them. The workshop ended with oral presentations made by the members of each subcommittee.

The opening ceremony for the G1 Summit began at 12:45 with many guests, including Yoshimi Watanabe, Heizo Takenaka, Tetsuro Fukuyama, Keiichiro Asao, Kazuhiko Toyama, Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and Takuro Tatsumi, in attendance. I was scheduled to deliver the first speech. Tension began to build up inside of me.

The opening clip for the G1 Summit appeared on a screen in front. The letters conveyed the message.

The “lost decade” may turn into the “lost two decades” before we know it

Leaving a strong Japan for the next generation as our “generation’s responsibility”

A group of next-generation leaders gathered with this commitment

The video was good. Photos were clear. The music was moving. There was something brilliant about the log. I’m thinking about uploading the video of this opening clip separately.

My name was called when the clip ended. I stood up, and ran up the stairs two at a time. With my right arm going up naturally to punch the air, I hurried my way to the platform. I kicked off my speech, emphasizing and resolutely stating, “Welcome to the G1 Summit.”

My speech memo covered the following key points.

1.I would like to make the G1 Summit a driving force for changes in Japan. Introducing the theme for this year’s Summit and the aim behind the choice

2. Confirming action guidelines for G1 Summit participants

1) Proposals instead of criticisms
2) From ideas to actions
3) Awareness as leaders

3. Media policy:
Reports in blogs and on Twitter are permitted in principle, with the exception of certain sessions. The G1 Summit adopts this media policy because we must involve many people.

I wrapped up my speech, saying, “Let’s learn many things thoroughly, casually, and joyfully.” Following me, Yoshiharu Hoshino delivered a welcome speech. Introduced by Keiichiro Asao, Yoshimi Watanabe then started his keynote lecture for Section 1 of the G1 Summit.

Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, a medical scientist well-known for his research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), gave the keynote lecture at the first G1 Summit and Seiji Maehara, then minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, delivered the keynote speech at the second G1 Summit.

We made the G1 Summit basically open to tweets and blog reports from this year. We did so because we wanted to share the wisdom and excitement at the G1 Summit with many people, instead of limiting them to ourselves. However, we have yet to lift a ban on mass media coverage. We are planning to make certain G1 Summit sessions open to reports through Niko Niko Douga and USTREAM video-sharing services sometime soon.

Heizo Takenaka took the platform after Yoshimi Watanabe completed his speech (which lasted for 30 minutes). Let me introduce words from Takenaka’s speech that impressed me.

According to Takenaka, this year’s Davos Forum impressed him in three ways – (1) optimism was dominant, (2) China faced strong criticism, and (3) leadership was called into question. Takenaka added, “Prime Minister Naoto Kan delivered a good speech.”

“Tax revenues do not always grow when taxes are increased,” stated Takenaka. “Tax revenues totaled 54 trillion yen in the year when the consumption tax rate was increased. However, the revenues have been falling consistently since that year. Tax hikes remove vitality only unless a growth strategy is there. I’d like to assert here my support for the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) Agreement. Establishing a bilateral partnership with another country is difficult for the United States. Persuading Congress to enter into a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea left scars.”

“The TPP Agreement will produce the same effect as a bilateral FTA with the United States when it is signed. The Agreement covers other countries, too. Opposition to the TPP Agreement comes from farmers only. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has come up with absurd estimates. This is a great opportunity to fix Japan’s agriculture.”

“I would like to offer my final word about changing your mindset. ‘It was not octopus pots but octopuses that were the problem.’ There are things we can do. Let’s make the initiative for starting action our keyword.”

“Followership is an important word, at the opposite end of leadership. I believe that all Japanese society, including the media, has had big problems in the area of followership. We must correct the erroneous ideas that surround us. Intellectuals taking part in this G1 Summit must act aggressively.” Takenaka delivered these words, which were very easy to understand.

A panel discussion followed Takenaka’s speech. Watanabe, Takenaka, Fukuyama, and Seko, who acted as the moderator for the panel, appeared on the platform.

At the beginning of the panel discussion, Fukuyama stated his opinion for 10 minutes. I’ll refrain from introducing his words here because it involved sensitive issues. Fukuyama was taking part in the G1 Summit for the third time. I could clearly tell his growth both as an individual and as a politician. I saw in Fukuyama the mettle and enthusiasm of a person who has a leading role in the country.

In the discussion, Takenaka made the following proposal. “Let’s adopt the British Salisbury Doctrine as a response when the two houses of the Diet are at loggerheads. In other words, let’s adopt a gentleman’s agreement that says no House of Councillors member shall oppose policies stated in a manifesto for the immediately preceding House of Representatives election. To do this, opposition parties must demonstrate initiative.”

Making an additional proposal, Takenaka said as follows. “Self-help and self-reliance remain the basis for a government regardless of the parties that form it. A welfare society in the true sense of the word cannot be achieved when the spirit of self-help and self-reliance is absent. The government turns to populism when the economy worsens. As a result, the government increases welfare. The increased welfare prevents the economy from achieving a recovery. We must end this vicious cycle.” Takenaka made his point very clear.

Section 2 of the G1 Summit began. This featured a plenary session, focused on economy. Chairman Elect of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives Yasuchika Hasegawa opened the session with his 30-minute speech subtitled “Let’s tell difficult truths now.”

“Japan has entered the ‘second lost decade’ in the post-Cold War era,” noted Hasegawa. “Not only politicians but also business leaders and ultimately citizens are responsible for this situation.”

“Looking at the world, a new order for the multipolarizing global community has yet to be established. Discussions at consensus-based forums, such as the World Economic Forum and the G20 Summit, are rising in importance in an environment where the United Nations and other international agencies are beginning to lose their governance capacity.

“Population decline, accumulated debt, and inequality under the law (inequality in the value of a single vote) are ‘difficult truths’ that exist in Japan. Difficult truths are not limited to global warming. Let’s accept these truths, talk about them, and think of ways to deal with them. I would like to ask all politicians to tackle inequality in the value of a single vote as an issue. No progress has been achieved in this area because of the negligence on the part of the legislature and the weak-kneed attitude adopted by the judicature. I wonder who else will address this issue unless politicians confront it squarely.

“The ruling party and the leading opposition party should present the ‘blueprint of the nation’ they aim to realize. Without that, no politics can solve essential problems.” Hasegawa made these strong statements in very firm language.

A panel discussion for Section 2 followed the speech. Hasegawa, Yoshimitsu Kobayashi from Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, and Seiichi Shimada from the Japan Housing Finance Agency served on the panel, which was moderated by Takashi Mitachi from the Boston Consulting Group.

Mitachi introduced the panelists before asking them to start discussions. “Mr. Seiichi Shimada spent 195 days in jail as a result of false charges a business partner had brought against him while he worked at Mitsui & Co. as the manager of the company’s branch office in Mexico. Mr. Kobayashi has studied in Israel and Italy. Mr. Hasegawa has spent more than ten years in the United States, too. All these panelists share an international background.”

“What do you think about present conditions in Japan?” In response to this question asked by Mitachi, Kobayashi said, “’Sustainability’ and ‘innovation’ are keywords for actions we can take personally.” Shimada replied, “We must earnestly address the issue of how to deal with a declining birthrate and an aging population.” Hasegawa stated, “A national blueprint should be presented, disparities between the outline and existing conditions should be clarified, and a roadmap for correcting the disparities should be prepared.”

“What is your opinion on discontinuous innovation?” Responding to the question, Kobayashi said, “We should make better use of people who say and do things that are out of the ordinary. Their age doesn’t matter. We should use old people if they are interesting.”

“We must nurture a risk-taking mentality and improve our ability to assess risks,” stated Hasegawa in reply to the same question. “I worry that Japanese people are not good at taking and assessing risks. We must change our culture.” On the same point, Kobayashi said, “I think there is no point talking about it unless people spend five to 10 years in English-speaking countries.” Offering his opinion, Shimada said, “If possible, Japanese people should spend time abroad while they are still young. ‘Silence is golden’ may be a good policy at home, but Japanese people must develop the ability to debate from the same viewpoint.” Making another contribution, Hasegawa said, “People should throw away their ego. They should listen to many opinions with a free and open heart.”

“What are the things Japan should keep?” Asked to mention them, Kobayashi said, “We should keep our consideration for others. We should also maintain our ability to recognize subtle differences, such as those in food.” Shimada replied, “It’s our ability to not see things in black and white. It’s also the Japanese atmosphere, full of sentiment.” Hasegawa cited three points in reply to the question. They were (1) the culture that fosters possibilities, rather than selecting results, (2) the ability to look at things from medium and long-term perspectives and (3) the power generated through team efforts.

The panelists expressed other opinions, such as the following one offered by Kobayashi. “Mitsubishi Chemical assembled people from overseas. But all of them left. They did so even though we paid them four times what we pay our president. We must be aware of cultural differences that exist between Japan and other countries. Things may not prove to be that easy even if Japan does open its doors to immigrants. But onsite capability is falling in Japan. It’s a fact. Manpower is a difficult issue.”

A question-and-answer session followed the panel discussion. Speaking from the floor, Professor Jiro Kokuryo of Keio University asked the panelists as follows. “Job hunting activities have become ridiculous. They are like a scramble for first-class cabins on the sinking Titanic. I think it’s about time for Japanese companies to change their culture. I want them to hire Japanese people with different experiences. What do you think about this?”

“We have entered an age in which companies and people choose a country, like overseas Chinese have done,” Kobayashi offered his view in reply. The participants made many other suggestions regarding the point raised, but I will leave them out of this report.

After the question-and-answer session, the G1 Summit moved into Section 3. Yoshikazu Tanaka from GREE, Miki Watanabe from Watami, and Kazuhiko Toyama from Industrial Growth Platform were on the panel for this section. They exchanged many opinions with the mediation of GLOBIS Professor Etsuko Okajima, who acted as moderator.

“Unlike government enterprises, private enterprises succeed because they make skillful use of human desires,” noted Watanabe. “Basically, government enterprises do not work effectively because they receive state funds and then relax. In the meantime, private enterprises improve services for the customers before their eyes because they are paid by the customers.”

“We always run into vested interests when we try to do something new,” pointed out Toyama. “And when we confront those interests, we are always criticized. All entrepreneurs who have gone before me have received criticism at the point when they emerged as major competitors. All phenomena in the world are essentially battles between people trying to do something new and people who have vested interests. These battles are quite dirty.”

“Companies that have achieved global success share a distinctive flavor of their native countries,” added Toyama. “IBM has a touch of New York. Apple gives a West Coast impression. Nordic mobile phone companies display their strong Scandinavian identity, too. Globalization does not mean companies lose characteristics peculiar to their home countries.”

“Japanese companies should choose employees who love Japan for their globalization,” Toyama elaborated. “They may keep functional headquarters overseas, but their globalization fails unless they differentiate headquarters by positioning their spiritual headquarters in Kyoto, for example. They will lose tacit knowledge when they make a mistake in this area.”

“We plan to appeal the good points of GREE in our overseas markets without thinking too much,” said Tanaka. “We will find something uniquely Japanese and take it overseas. This approach has enabled game companies to enjoy global success. I think we are lucky to be in this industry.”

“How can we succeed in our fight against vested interests?” This question asked by a participant in the floor caused Governor Yasushi Furukawa of Saga Prefecture to offer the following opinion. “You should seek to bring the debate into balance, instead of making a one-sided argument. What do battles against vested interests cause? Local governments will lose capital and central government capital flourishes as a result of such battles.”

“Vested interests are a complex issue,” noted Toyama. “Owners’ capital is lost when companies with such interests go bankrupt. Central government capital is fine as long as it protects the jobs of part-timers and regular employees. People in provinces abhor central government capital. We must engage in a test of patience to break down vested interests. Following the crowd is part of Japanese culture. People remain rock-solid until an opinion gains the support of 51% of them. But things change quickly after the support exceeds that level. It means we must continue our efforts without giving up.”

“Battles with vested interests become a question of management efficiency,” maintained Watanabe. “Vested interests exist at schools, hospitals, and care facilities, too. Things change when a successful model appears. Leadership remains effective after 100 years. The Analects of Confucius are not outdated. At Watami, we are trying to keep the words of the founder.”

Tanaka then shared an opinion that drew applause from participants on the floor. “People today are living as if they are forced to listen to the following demands from their grandfather. ‘To tell you the truth, Yoshikazu, I have some debts. I want you to pay them back by working until the day you die. I have one more favor to ask you. Pay my expenses after my retirement because I’m anxious about my old age.’ We can only choose one from these two requests, debt repayment or support in old age, no matter how we look at them. On top of that, our seniors are asking us to ‘respect’ them because they are ‘great.’ In the end, they are telling us, ‘You look a bit down these days.’” Tanaka’s observation caused a whirlpool of cheers and applause in the audience.

At the end of the discussions on the first day, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuyama asked for permission to speak from the floor. Fukuyama made a statement to the effect that he “took the point Tanaka raised seriously as a politician.” It was a weighty statement that reflected his sense of responsibility. I began to feel that the world could change when politicians get serious. I felt strongly the need for us to throw our weight behind them as good followers. The time for a dinner party arrived as I immersed myself in this thought.

The dinner party began after a cocktail reception where G1 Summit participants engaged in active exchange. Chairman Elect of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives Hasegawa proposed a toast to participants. He kicked off the dinner party, raising his glass emphatically and saying, “Here’s to the passionate patriots who have gathered for the G1 Summit.”

During the dinner party, Takuro Tatsumi and Tadashi Agi, the author of Les Gouttes de Dieu, held a discussion on wine. A tasting event for red and white wine followed. Basically, all wine bottles served in the event were domestic. The tasting event was held to promote Japanese wine. It has been held continuously since the first GI Summit.

An incredible sensation awaited us after the dinner party: a recital by that piano genius Yukio Yokoyama. I brought my chair to a place within Yokoyama’s reach to watch him play the piano. I could see from up close how he moved his fingers. I could feel his breaths.

Yokoyama also had an enjoyable discussion about music with Tatsumi. Anticipating each other’s moves, they talked to each other in between Yokoyama’s soul-stirring performances. The audience gave Yokoyama a standing ovation after the last number. Yokoyama played his own composition for an encore. All party participants rose from their seats and clapped endlessly. A powerful emotion traveled all over my body. The audience became one.

The dinner party concluded with a speech delivered by Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, one of the most outstanding scientists in Japan, who is said to be sure to win a Nobel Prize one day. Yamanaka opened his speech with a joke, saying, “I’m facing the greatest challenge in my life because I’m asked to perform the difficult job of closing this party after that brilliant piano performance.” Yamanaka impressed me by bringing all listeners into his world, involving Seko, his junior and senior high school classmate, and Tatsumi, who happened to have attended the same high schools years earlier, making jokes along the way.

Finally, it was time for after-hours activities. Active exchanges and discussions take place at night because the G1 Summit attracts powerful individuals. As on the past two occasions, I’m sure we created work for Mr. Hoshino, who offered his hotel for the meeting, and his staff. Participants finally left the party venue more than two hours after the scheduled time.

The night was not over yet. We next held an informal drinking party in a hotel room. Learning on Twitter that Seko was drinking in another room, I called his mobile phone and barged into his room. Tatsumi, Jun Murai, Natsuno, Agi, Yuki Naito from Drecom, and I continued talking in the room until 3 a.m. We became somewhat inebriated but kept exchanging opinions. The G1 Summit continued until morning.

Here is good news for readers. I have decided to introduce the Niko Niko Douga video-sharing service to the G1 Summit from next year based on discussions I had with Natsuno. I cannot make all parts of the Summit available to users of this service because I must maintain the good aspects of the meeting. But I want to disclose as much as possible. I would like many people to share the G1 Summit experience and lead Japan in a positive direction.

February 14, 2011
Yoshito Hori
Written at my house in Sanbancho based on my own tweets

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