"10 billionaires are coming to this year's Forbes Global CEO Conference, as well as 20 other entrepreneurs with assets between 10 billion and 100 billion yen. The combined personal assets of these participants alone exceed 8 trillion yen."
I was sitting on the sofa in the lounge talking to Professor Haruo Shimada of Keio University, when all of a sudden the editor-in-chief of Forbes Asia magazine interrupted our conversation, gushing out this explanation, his large body swaying.
When I asked him why so many notable entrepreneurs were coming to this event, he answered, "Steve Forbes personally visited each of them and asked them to come."
This conference is absolutely amazing, with speakers including Hong Kong entrepreneurs Li Ka-shing and Gordon Wu, as well as heads of state. President Yudhoyono of Indonesia was the speaker at the first day's luncheon, with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking in the evening. At the end of the second day, Lee Kuan Yew, the Minister Mentor of Singapore will make a presentation. Virtually all of the approximately 500 participants are CEOs.
I had been waiting in the lounge for the bus when the editor-in-chief spoke to us. A special, invitation-only reception for speakers and VIPs was scheduled that evening on Sentosa Island. Looking directly at me, the editor-in-chief explained,
"You see, someone in Japan has been turning out many entrepreneurs and has even appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine. I invited him to this conference because I wanted to meet him."
Without saying anything else, he welcomed me warmly with a smile.
I had received the conference invitation in mid-July and was surprised to read the contents. CEO conferences typically cost thousands of dollars, but I was being specially invited to attend for free. I knew I had to do whatever it would take to go and immediately cleared my schedule for early September so I could travel to Singapore.
It then occurred to me that if I was going to participate, I wanted to be a speaker. I negotiated with the organizers and had my name added to the list of panelists. At about the same time, I had also been invited by the American journal Red Herring to speak at their Red Herring Asia 2006 conference to be held in Hong Kong. This made it cost-effective time-wise to schedule both events on the same trip, so I set up a speaking tour of Singapore and Hong Kong to run from late August to early September.
Insofar as possible, I always try to attend overseas conferences as a speaker. Needless to say, it is far more interesting to be a speaker, and it also attracts more publicity for GLOBIS and is a great way to make friends with lots of people. Having said this, you don't get invited to speak unless you have something worthwhile to say. That's why I constantly work on enhancing my English and keeping my mind sharp. Well, I guess my working hard is not a big deal; all I can do is to bluff my way through as well as I can.
Incidentally, Business Week magazine will hold its CEO Conference at the end of October in Beijing, and at the beginning of November, the Venture Capital Conference will be held in Hong Kong. At the end of November, New Delhi will be the venue for a conference organized by the WEF (World Economic Forum), which operates the Davos Conference. The Mumbai Venture Capital Forum will be held at the beginning of December. I am scheduled to speak at all these conferences.
This meant I would be on a series of business trips around Asia, taking me to Hong Kong and Singapore in September, Beijing and Hong Kong again at the end of October, and Mumbai (Bombay) at the end of November. This year my face appeared on the cover of Forbes Asia, and that's why I received so many invitations to speak. To take advantage of these opportunities for boosting the presence of GLOBIS in Asia, I scheduled these overseas business trips together.
The bus arrived at Sentosa Island, the site of the reception. It used to be that you could only get there by cable car, but a bridge was built to provide more convenient access. About 80 people were at the reception. I was joined at my table by Steve Forbes and Minoru Mori, the President of the Mori Building, with his wife.
I sipped the wine poured into my glass and enjoyed its smooth, mellow taste, just the kind I liked. The reception was sponsored by the major French financial institution Société Générale, so the wine was utterly magnificent. A short time later, a wine consultant from France described the selections in impeccable English, with microphone in hand.
"After careful consideration, I decided on a Bordeaux for both red wine selections. It is a little young, but represents a very good vintage, so I picked Mouton Rothschild 1996. We decanted it three hours ago, and after allowing it to breathe plenty of oxygen, we returned it to the bottle."
What thorough preparations! There must have been more than 20 bottles. "The other wine is a Chateau Petrus 1994." They say this wine costs more than 100,000 yen a bottle. It was so delicious I couldn't stop myself from drinking more. Consequently, I was in a very good mood by the end of first day's reception.
The next morning, after attending a breakfast meeting, I headed toward the conference venue. The Shangri-La conference room was filled with 500 CEOs, all wearing smart suits. There were a few female CEOs, maybe about 5% or so, wearing dresses or suits, adorned here and there with red, green and white.
Following the opening remarks from Steve Forbes, the conference began. I was the second speaker on the program. The topic of the first panel was growth and risk. Professor Shimada Haruo from Japan was part of that panel. Professor Shimada is a fluent and dynamic English speaker and definitely had the ability to really fire up the audience.
My turn to speak was getting closer and closer. The theme was investment. This was an venue for presenting the areas and commodities of Asia that were worth investing in. With so many billionaires in attendance, there would be strong interest in what was going on in Asia now.
With all these influential people participating in the conference, I was more nervous than I had ever been before. However, I stood just as firm as always, telling myself that whatever will be, will be, and got on with the panel discussion.
September 5, 2006,
On the flight bound for Narita
1. Article on the front cover of Forbes
2. To get an idea of my speech for Red Herring, please refer to this site below:
Japan Entrepreneurship Returns:
Startups and small venture capital firms gain more respect, and financial returns, in the land of the rising sun.