My First Shanghai Inspection Tour

Up until now I have never participated in an "inspection tour".

I belong to several economic organizations, such as Keizai Doyukai (the Japan Association of Corporate Executives), The New Business Conference, the Rotary Club, YEO, and the Japan Venture Capital Association. Each has invited me to go on inspection tours to China, the Silicon Valley and Eastern Europe, but I've turned them down every time. I guess I had the image that these trips were for top honchos with too much time on their hands, and anyone younger going along would simply be ordered around. I also don't really like group activities, so it's no wonder I never participated.

So this was my first inspection tour, and in fact, I was the one who started the whole thing. My image of inspection tours has changed, which is very strange.

This is what happened. Nine years ago, in 1995, a few budding young managers got together and formed a study group. The idea was to create an opportunity for economic-oriented men (there were also a few politicians) to think about what we should do and what we should be thinking about in terms of welcoming in the 21st century. We were all the same generation and there were about 50 of us, led by those who were then 30-35. We called it the Thinking About the 21st Century Association, and decided to have it end on the first day of 2001. For about five years, we planned, almost every month, a speech session, and once or twice a year we went off together on what we called a retreat.

As planned, this association ended with a closing ceremony in December 2000. However, we continued to keep in touch through an email list. We were all friends of the same generation, who over the last few years had exchanged many frank opinions and had come to know each other very well. Needless to say, we have continued to exchange ideas with each other right up to the present through the email list.

Last November, I posted a column to that email list: "Network with young leaders of China (Japanese)" and this elicited a lot of responses along the lines of members being enthusiastic about going on an inspection tour of Shanghai. Everyone was busy, but we eventually agreed on April, half a year down the line. Ten people would participate. Some members of our group owned factories in China or were running enterprises there, and so these people were appointed to be tour leaders and sub leaders and put in charge of coming up with a program.

Since we were calling it an inspection tour, I was concerned that GLOBIS staff would see it as a pleasure trip—as I did myself—so I took paid time off and booked my flight with mileage points. And I decided to cover all expenses out of my own pocket.

April arrived, and the time came for the inspection tour. (Since it had originally been my idea, I did at first have a hand in the planning, but I left the practical details to the tour leaders and sub leaders, so I was really going to take part as a participant.)

Just like when you're ordering food, if you make all the decisions then you always have the same thing, eating what you already like, but never getting a taste of something new. It's the same with inspection tours. If I plan it, then almost everything will end up being something like inspecting venture capital enterprises, high-tech companies, universities—the same kinds of things related to my own work. In that case, my field of vision wouldn't get any wider. Sometimes, I want to see a completely different side of things. With this in mind, I decided to leave all of the scheduling to the leaders, so I was just as excited as the rest of the participants, like getting to eat something new off the menu.

I went into this tour with two objectives.

The first was to learn to like China. Up until now I had been to Shanghai and Beijing twice and had also visited several places in Xian, but to be honest, I really can't say I like the country, and not liking it can get in the way of genuine understanding. I decided to focus in on the good points and make an effort to like the place.

The second objective was to talk with the other participants as much as possible. They are usually very busy. I first met them more than 10 years ago. These friends who had not been  company presidents at that time were now heading up major companies; they now had families and were busy at home and work. This was a great opportunity, so I intended to talk with them as much as possible and develop closer relationships with each of them.

We got together before the flight left and reviewed the schedule one more time.

 

4/15 (Thursday)
  19:00 Check in to the hotel
Meet, hotel lobby
Travel (taxi)
  19:30-21:00 Dinner at Ming Xuan Noble House
Building 1,No.46, Anting Road, Shanghai
Okura Garden Hotel 58 Maoming Nan Lu, Shanghai

 

4/16 (Friday)
  08:00 Gather in hotel lobby
Travel (hired bus)
  09:00-10:00 Visit Shanghai Stock Exchange
  10:00-12:00 Visit real estate (apartments, golf course, exclusive residential district development)
  12:00-13:30 Lunch at The7
No. 1110 Huaihai Zhong Lu, Shanghai, Donghu Hotel Bldg. 7
Travel (hired bus)
  14:00-15:00 Field trip to Hymall Supermarket
  15:30-16:30 Field trip to Inventec, PC Assembly Plant 
Travel (hired bus)
  17:00-18:00 Lecture by President of Hymall Supermarket
Travel (hired bus)
  19:00-21:00 Dinner at Zhen De Hao
No. 123-1 Xing Ye Road, Shanghai
  21:00-22:00 After Party at Paulaner Brauhaus
Beer Hall, No. 123-1 Xing Ye Road, Shanghai
Okura Garden Hotel 58 Maoming Nan Lu, Shanghai

 

4/17 (Saturday)
  06:45 Gather in hotel lobby
Travel (hired bus)
  08:00-09:00 Field Trip to Yagi Fashion (Suzhou)
Wujian, Jiangsu Sheng Luxu Zhen
Travel (hired bus)
  10:00-11:00 Visit Shanghai Shikibo Garment
North Jin Yang Rd, HuMin Road, Min Hang District, Shanghai
Travel (hired bus)
  12:00-13:00 Lunch at Chinese rural cuisine restaurant
Travel (hired bus)
  15:30-17:30 Visit Hangzhou Tingyi, No. 10 Gianwang Street. Hangzhou Economic and technological development area
Travel (hired bus)
  18:30-20:00 Dinner at Lou Wai Lou
No. 30 Coo Shan Lu, Hangzhou
Travel (hired bus)
Okura Garden Hotel 58 Maoming Nan Lu, Shanghai

 

4/18 (Sunday)
  06:45 Gather in hotel lobby, return to Japan

 

We would not be confined to Shanghai as this hard four-day itinerary would take us through Suzhou and Hangzhou. We would be visiting supermarkets, noodle factories, textile plants, and real estate markets. None of this would have been included had I been arranging the program. There was a lot of travel. How would this all work out?

The first day, as soon as we checked into the hotel, I had a swim, and as we had some time before dinner I worked a bit. While I was writing emails, I got carried away and ended up writing a column ("Why I Write ‘Views from an Entrepreneur"). This was followed by a dinner party and then we moved to a bar that afforded a view of the night scenery, and then had a Chinese-style massage. We really "chilled out" on the first day.

Day two commenced with visiting the Shanghai Stock Exchange, followed by an inspection of high-class condominium units, an up-scale residential area and a golf course before lunch. After fully enjoying some Chinese food, we visited a supermarket called Hymall. It was so lively. The president, who was the also the founder and owner, showed us around. The supermarket was a masterpiece. On an average weekday, 50,000 people come, rising to 70,000 on the weekends.

Next we visited a factory called Inventec, where notebook PCs are made for Hewlett Packard and other companies. We then headed for the headquarters of the Hymall supermarket that we had just visited. The president showed a video and then spoke about business in China. We then went for dinner, at the invitation of the president, during which we were able to ask him lots of questions. That night, we were off to New World department store and amusement complex.

The third day involved a lot of moving around. We traveled from Shanghai to Suzhou, and after that returned to the Jinshan district of Shanghai, and then out to Hangzhou. Although the roads in Shanghai are well-constructed, they were very bumpy. There were only ten participants in the tour, but we hired out a full-size coach instead of a minibus, which would have been insufficient on these bumpy roads.

I was always in the back seat with my Go friends. As we traveled, we took out the Go set and we played with the board on the middle seat. I had taken the trouble of bringing a big magnetic set with me from Japan just for this occasion. The result is I won twice and lost three times. The fact that an old timer like me managed to get in five games gives you an idea of how long we were traveling. (Although for me, this was not travel time, it was Go time.)

In Suzhou, we visited the Yagi Corporation's local factory, the Factory of Shikibo, which is one of the affiliates of Maruhachi Mawata, in Shanghai's Jinshan district, and the Tingyi ramen noodle and beverage factory in Hangzhou, which is financed by Sanyo Foods. That night the executives at Tingyi invited us to dinner, which was Chinese cuisine at a premier restaurant called Lou Wai Lou on the lake shore of Xihu (West Lake) in Hangzhou.

Afterwards we returned to the hotel in Shanghai, arriving at 11:30 p.m. We took the first flight home the next morning. The four-day trip had gone by in a flash.

Here are the things that impressed me the most.

1) This was my third trip to Shanghai, and I was beginning to like it. This time, except for a night out in the New World, the main focus had been visiting factories and other places, and while I can only give my impression—in line with the pace of China's economic development and growing confidence as it gains a stronger foothold—I felt that anti-Japanese sentiment is starting to fade away.

One of my goals for this year is to learn to like China and to better understand it. I am planning to travel again to Shanghai in June. If possible, I would also like to visit places like Dalian this year.

2) We visited many companies like Hymall, Tingyi and Inventec, which were managed and set-up by Taiwanese managers. Last time I visited China in 1997, I went to the U.S. companies (for example Whirlpool) and Chinese state-owned companies (Baoshan Iron & Steel Complex), so my impressions this time were very different. They were dynamic and fast-paced. According to the presidents I met, being fast on your feet was the key to succeeding in China along with having an effective strategy. One is competing in a huge region, so there are important strategic areas. How you become number one in these areas is crucial.

I'd like to start writing a case study related to China for the Globis Management School soon.

3) Finally, I am blessed with such great friends. We are all managers in completely different fields, so it is fascinating to hear diverse perspectives. Many of them even have factories in China. Most interesting of all was having the opportunity to visit these factories and affiliates. Everyone talked candidly about their successes and failures, their struggles from their point of view of as managers. This was a really unique experience.

I was really happy to have been able to speak in depth on the flights there and back with friends that I cannot easily meet usually. I found this kind of inspection tour to be extremely valuable. There is talk of going to Russia next. So, will it be Vladivostok, Khabarovsk or Moscow? Wherever we go, if it involves traveling with good friends, then I'll be ready to take paid time off and pay for it out of my own pocket.

In My Mountain lodge 
Yoshito Hori

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.

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