Davos Meeting 2012 (2): Day Three - Becoming on a Par with World’s Finest Business Schools

The third day of the Davos Meeting. I woke up at 6 a.m. as usual. After responding to emails, I checked my schedule for the day. I needed to be at the Global Growth Companies (GGC) board meeting from 7:30 a.m. Several appointments to fulfill and sessions to attend followed. My schedule was extremely tight until a dinner session for university presidents from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. I became strongly aware of the need to keep myself in good shape so that I could make a solid contribution.

My personal goals for this year’s Davos Forum was (1) to be at ease with myself and to communicate with people I meet there with sincerity (normally I am so busy I cannot concentrate on one thing only), (2) to improve the method, as well as the content, of my presentations (to speak with confidence and conviction), and (3) to pay attention to my physical condition. I as a little under the weather this year, so I felt I needed to take things easy.

Once the GCC board meeting was over, I attended a session titled “Smart Growth”. Panelists at this session included Toshiba Corporation Chairman Atsutoshi Nishida, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, the CEO of Vodafone, and the Secretary General of the OECD. The CEO of Accenture moderated their discussions.

“Against the background of growing populations and limited energy reserves, we need green technologies, such as those for atomic energy, smart grids, alternative energy and power saving, in order to achieve eco-friendly, smart growth,” Nishida told the participants at the session. (My observation: Nishida’s argument is straightforward and easy to follow, spoken in clearly enunciated English.)

Based on my quick glance through the program, there were a few Japanese business leaders who are designated speakers at this year’s Davos Meeting. They included Yasuchika Hasegawa, the Chairman of the Japan Association of Cooperate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) who acted as a co-chair for this year’s Meeting, Shigeo Ohyagi, the President and CEO of Teijin Ltd., Atsutoshi Nishida, the Chairman of Toshiba Corporation, and Yorihiko Kojima, the Chairman of Mitsubishi Corporation who was a co-chair for the Davos 2011. We are clearly under-represented.

In the question and answer session, I was the one to pose the first question. “I strongly agree with Mr. Nishida’s point about the need to build a ‘smart community’ to achieve smart growth,” I said. “How can we build such a community? Communities can be created through Facebook, but can they become smart communites?”

I liked the answer from the Vodafone chairman. According to him, a smart community emerges when (1) community members are thoroughly connected, (2) people with intelligence can interact with each other in that community, and (3) their security is guaranteed .

After the session, I paid a brief visit to a panel on Africa. Former British Prime Minster Gordon Brown was moderating the panel that included South African President Jacob Zuma and two other heads of African states. From there, I moved to the venue for the one-on-one session with Chairman Hasegawa of Keizai Doyukai. Hasegawa is the only Japanese invited to speak as part of this one-on-one series. I was curious about what he might talk about in this 30-minute session.

“The world population was 2.5 billion in 1950. Seven billion people live on this planet now. It is predicted to swell further to nearly 9 billion in 2050. In the meantime, advanced countries are faced with aging and declining population. Economic growth is difficult to achieve under this condition. Tackling the population decline is easy in theory, but difficult in practice. The first thing we can do is to increase the number of immigrants. Then we should consider raising the mandatory retirement age. We must also lower pensions, we cannot pass the existing burden onto the next generation as it is. We must act now and make a difference.” Hasegawa concluded his speech with powerful remarks. His session was very well received by participants.

As soon as that session ended, I moved to the main venue for a speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Comparing him with Chancellor Merkel would be interesting. What will Cameron talk about? Will Britain be the subject of his speech? Or will it be about Europe, as was in Merkel’s case?

Cameron was assertive from the start. “Growth has stalled in Europe. Leadership is what Europe needs at this point.” First, he underlined his own leadership achievements as the British Prime Minster, including a successful reduction in the corporate tax rate to 23%.

Indicating that “Britain has been taking necessary steps,” Cameron began talking about ”the European problem”. “For every euro invested in venture capital in the EU, five times as much is being invested in the United States. We must think whether our regulations and tax systems are conducive to growth.” (Notes: Cameron adopted a strong tone that was considerably different from last year., suggesting his eagerness to reaffirm the British position.)

Then he moved on to the issue of the Euro. Citing the requirements for a single currency, Cameron said, “The euro satisfies none of these requirements. People may say that Britain has no business in making these points when the country has not even joined the Euro. I would like to ask those people in return why they need to position the Euro inside the framework of the EU.”

After listing a recent series of diplomatic success that Britain has achieved in cooperation with other European countries, Cameron stressed, “We are proud to work with our European partners.” He concluded his speech on a note of collaboration.

Then, Cameron stepped forward from the podium, and began taking questions from the floor. In sharp contrast to the cheerfulness he had displayed last year, the British leader wore a stern expression on his face. But I felt that he gradually started to win the support of participants with his openness.

Cameron took the clear position that Britain is a “major power in the EU but outside the Eurozone.” He argued: “The new treaty does not offer any safeguards for those EU states not participating in the Euro, so I ask Eurozone countries to solve the problems outside the EU framework.”

After those comments, Cameron invited the Mayor of London onto the stage, along with Sebastian Coe, the Chairman of the London Olympics Organizing Committee. The London mayor is a striking personality, as funny as “Beat” Takeshi Kitano and with a physical appearance resembling Jimmy Onishi (a Japanese comedian-turned-artist).

It was time for a hotel lunch. There are more than 20 hotels in Davos, which serve as venues for breakfast, lunch, and dinner sessions. At every mealtime, participants migrate among different venues. They drop by at a cloakroom, leave the main conference hall at the Congress Center, and proceed to a hotel on foot or by shuttle bus. They then retrace their steps on their way back, and have to undergo airport-tight security checks again.

At lunch, I attended a session on e-Philanthropy, which is a project undertaken by a Ukrainian billionaire. The terrific list of speakers drew me to this session. Tony Blair, originally scheduled to speak here, cancelled his appearance at the last minute due to diplomatic engagement in the Middle East. But the lineup of the other speakers was good enough for me.

First there was Sean Parker. Compared with the reckless image portrayed in the movie, The Social Network, the real Parker was better-dressed and came across as rather modest. Then there was Yuri Milner from Russia, the head of DSTGLOBAL, a renowned company that has invested in Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon. Added to these panelists was Eric Schmidt. Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, moderated the panel discussions.

It was strangely refreshing to witness Chelsea’s poor moderation skills (excuse me for my honesty!). After a round of discussions, the moderator called for questions from the floor. One of the questioners was introduced as “Mr. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.” It is these high-leveled participants that make Davos all the more attractive.

Taking the same route, I walked back to the Congress Hall where I sat in a session titled “Risks in a Hyperconnected World”. I’ve been attending this session on information security every year in Davos to learn about the latest trends in Internet security.

Again, the speaker choice for this session was very attractive. The moderator was the Director of Europol. The panel consisted of the CEO of ICANN, the CEO of TCS (Tata), the EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, and a professor from the University of New Mexico. After a while, I moved to another session at the Congress Center to meet new people.

From 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., I attended a meeting of the Global Agenda Council of which I am a member. The meeting was enjoyable thanks to Daniel Goleman, of the person responsible for popularizing the EQ concept. I left this meeting halfway through at 6:30 p.m. to head for the venue for the Japan Night event.

This year’s Japan Night was produced by Kundo Koyama, and sponsored by the Prime Minister’s Office. Every year, Japan Night is a centerpiece at the Davos Meeting because of exceedingly good food served there. The event had a large turnout once again this year.

After staying at the Japan Night event for half an hour, I decided to move to a gathering for university presidents. Because of the heavy traffic, my taxi I took a roundabout route to the venue.

Let me share with you the scenes at the dinner session. The presidents of top business schools around the world came to this dinner. They included the representatives of the Wharton School in the US, INSEAD and LBS in Europe, CEIBS in China, ISB in India, and GLOBIS in Japan. The invitation to this dinner meant that GLOBIS is now regarded as equal to these schools.

After the dinner session, I took part in a Oxford University reception and another event called the McKinsey Night. At the latter, I chatted with Dominic Barton of McKinsey & Company and Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan. There was a long line of people before the cloakroom when I tried to leave. By chance, I spotted Carlos Ghosn. I walked up to him immediately to say hello.

I walked back to my hotel. On the way, I was joined by a group of Young Global Leaders, such as Kota Matsuda, Kohei Takashima, and Chikara Funabashi. Larry Summers was behind us when I chanced to turn around. I wasted no time and invited him to join us. We walked back to our hotel together. Brazenly, I shared a hotel elevator ride up to my floor with Summers. I wondered if the atmosphere in Davos makes people more open to each other. Everyone seems to be happy to be talked to.

Michael Porter and George Soros were among the other individuals I spotted today but was unable to talk to. It might have been OK for me to act a little more aggressively. I decided to take a long, relaxing bath before going to bed. Another busy morning awaited.

January 30, 2012
Yoshito Hori
Written on a flight

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