3 Key Words at DAVOS 2016: “Inward-looking,” “Drifting apart” & “Excitement around Technology”

​Yoshito Hori, president of GLOBIS University, managing partner of GLOBIS Capital Partners, shares his views from an entrepreneur's perspective.​

I have been to Davos 8 times in the past 12 years, but this year’s World Economic Forum, running from January 20 to 23, was held against a backdrop of global turmoil unprecedented in the event’s history.

With war in the Middle East, a migrant crisis in Europe, and an economic downturn in China buffeting global markets, we are in a world with no safe havens left.

I identified three major trends in this year’s discussions.

1.Inward-looking
Countries are turning inward to focus on themselves. The US is only looking at the US; Europe only at Europe; the Middle East only at the Middle East. And neither Europe nor the US seems to be willing to tackle the problems in the Middle East.

Here’s an example of what I mean. This year the United States sent a powerful delegation to Davos made up of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew. Nonetheless most discussions on the US tended to focus on the would-be Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (not present!).

2.Drifting apart
Under these conditions, national political leaders are far too busy troubleshooting at home to make a play for global or regional leadership. Drifting apart is the inevitable result.

Take the European Union. The UK will soon hold a referendum to decide whether or not to withdraw from the union. And despite the EU’s commitment to the free movement of people, many European countries are reintroducing border controls to control refugee flows and exclude terrorists. The EU seems to be drifting apart.

What about the United States? After its failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has given up on trying to police the Middle East. No one is taking responsibility for coordinating policy on Syria, for instance: different countries are acting independently according to what they see as their advantage. But no one I asked at Davos had a clear vision to guide the region out of turmoil and toward peaceful co-existence. The Middle East, too, is drifting apart.

A similar drifting apart can also be seen in the economic sphere. China—the apparently unstoppable engine which helped pull the global economy out of the 2008 financial crisis—is now slowing as it tries to shift from manufacturing to services, from exports to the domestic market, and from investment to consumption.

China’s slowdown is having a knock-on effect around the globe: its diminishing appetite for commodities caused resource prices to crash last year, putting producer nations under serious financial pressure. Falls in its stock market then caused a global swoon in share prices in January this year.

What really surprised me though was not that Chinese policymakers are fallible; it was China’s response—or rather the complete absence of a response.

Typically when China came under criticism, its spokespeople at Davos were ready with a rebuttal. This year all they had to offer was … silence. Unfortunately, I didn’t think their silence was strategic. I think they were frightened to say anything.

3.Excitement around Technology
The only area where I detected any optimism among this year’s participants was technology. The main theme here was the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, a new wave of progress caused by the coming together of breakthrough technologies like 3D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and so forth.

This convergence appears to be taking place. At the forum, GE’s intention to become “a top 10 software company by 2020” was quoted, and the CEO of Alcoa enthused about how 3D printing and the Internet of things have revolutionized his manufacturing processes.

The Silicon Valley “usual suspects”—from Facebook and Airbnb to PaloAlto Networks and Palantir—were all there; other than the United States, I got the impression that India, represented by firms like Wipro, Tata Consulting and Infosys, was the country most fired up about, and in tune with, new technology.

Perhaps the most startling development was the transformation in governments’ attitudes toward technology companies. Whereas last year tech firms were out of favor (for not paying enough tax, failing to hand over data etc.), now the political class sees them as an engine able to make the nations they lead more competitive and innovative, and boost their economic fortunes.

Taking these three trends together, what was my personal takeaway from Davos 2016?

・That we are living in a troubled world where technology plays an increasingly dominant role.
・And that such a world requires leaders of a new kind.

We need leaders who look out rather than in; leaders with the courage to propose multi-stakeholder solutions and build alliances to implement them; and finally we need leaders who use technology to communicate their policies to the people to win their support and understanding at every stage.

Author

Mr. Yoshito Hori established GLOBIS Management School in 1992 and GLOBIS Capital Partners in 1996. In 2003, GLOBIS started its original MBA program which, in 2006, received accreditation from the Japanese Ministry of Education and gained “university” status. GLOBIS started a part-time MBA program in English in 2009 and a full-time MBA program in English in 2012.

A Harvard MBA graduate and former Sumitomo Corporation employee, Mr. Hori founded the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Japan Chapter in 1995 and became the first board member from Asia in charge of Asia Pacific region in 1996. He also served on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s New Asian Leaders Executive Committee and Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership, as well as the Harvard Business School Alumni Board from 2005 to 2008. Currently, Mr. Hori is a board member of the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and serves as co-chair of WEF’s Global Growth Companies.

In 2008, he launched the G1 Summit – a Japanese version of the WEF’s annual Davos forum. This led to the foundation of G1 Summit Institute in 2013, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

Just days after a huge earthquake struck northeast Japan in March 2011, Mr. Hori launched Project KIBOW to support the rebuilding of the disaster-affected areas. The following year Project KIBOW was incorporated as the KIBOW Foundation, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

An avid enthusiast of the Japanese game Go since age 40, Mr. Hori has been Director of the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association) since June 2013.

Since October 2013, Mr. Hori has hosted a weekly TV program in Japan called Nippon Mirai Kaigi (Japan Future Conference). He has authored several books including Visionary Leaders who Create and Innovate Societies, Six Dimensions of Life, and My Personal Mission Statement.

Mr. Hori received his BS in Engineering from Kyoto University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an avid swimmer and enjoys spending time with his family, especially his five sons.

Follow him on
LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

PAGE
TOP