The third day of the Dalian Davos meeting started with a meeting at 7:30 am of Japanese members of Global Growth Companies (GGC) convened by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the host of the Davos meeting. Scholars such as Heizo Takenaka, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, and Yoko Ishikura also attended.
Since the GGC was just established this year, only about 100 companies across the world have joined so far. Japanese companies make up the highest number, with 13. I believe positive results like this were made possible by a growing number of Japanese staff at the WEF and their efforts. Staff motivation makes a big difference in an international organization like this.
After GGC members introduced themselves, Davos goers talked about how to take full advantage of the Davos meetings. Here are a few of their recommendations.
· "Everyone is on equal standing at a Davos meeting; therefore, feel free to talk to people, even celebrities."
· "At Davos meeting sessions, those who speak up are the winners. If you don't speak up, you practically don't exist, and no one will take you seriously. The virtue, "silence is golden," doesn't apply here. Say what you think, and be eager to make friends."
· "One of the fun aspects of a Davos meeting is the bilateral meetings, which are one-on-one get-togethers. It is better to make an appointment for an informal chat in advance with the person you want to get to know. This way, your network of good friends will expand around the globe. Since influential people from around the world gather at Davos meetings, you should seize the initiative and take advantage of the bilateral meetings."
These exchanges of ideas in the morning boosted our motivation.
While moving directly from the hotel to the World Expo Center, I discussed the sub-prime problem and its influence on the markets with Mr. Matsumoto of Monex, Inc. You can't waste a minute, even while traveling. In fact, I am often able to acquire valuable information quickly during brief breaks in the schedule like this.
We arrived at the World Expo Center, where Queen Rania of Jordan was delivering a speech in the main venue. She is beautiful and speaks eloquently as well. National leaders are eager to enhance their status at occasions like this.
Since I was scheduled to speak at one of the break-out sessions at 10 am, I headed to the meeting space. The focus of this session was on discussing the differences in competencies required by universities and companies, for two and a half hours, from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm. With Professor Tarun Khanna of the Harvard Business School moderating, eight panelists from around the world were to speak, including the dean of a Brazilian business school and the president of an IT school in India.
With so many panelists, I felt I could let up a little, thinking I wouldn't have very many opportunities to speak. So I was surprised when I entered the room to see eight round tables set up, with no stage in front where panelists would typically sit.
I figured out this was not a panel discussion but an interactive format in which workshop-style discussions would take place at each table, and the results shared with all session participants. Furthermore, I was assigned to lead a discussion at one of the tables.
"This could be a little rough," I thought. If I have to lead a discussion with top leaders, I will really have to work. I psyched myself up, sat down, and took the initiative to facilitate the discussion.
After a while, the room was full. Overall, there were about 60 participants, with around eight people at each table. I greeted those sitting at my table and exchanged business cards.
They had come from around the world—India, Jordan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, France, Belgium—and me from Japan.
In the first session, each discussion leader announced their topics. I stated we would talk about the relative effectiveness of Japanese-style management from the perspectives of other countries, such as lifetime employment, the importance of in-house training, sharing a common philosophy, promotion from within, and "community-style" management. After the topics for each table's discussion had been announced, we dived right in.
I first drew the value chains of employment, education, allocation, retirement and others, listed problems that managers in different countries have, and then led the discussion on how they handled these issues. While each country has similar problems, China and India particularly face the challenge of high turnover, perhaps due to an acute lack of labor, with salaries increasing more than 20% annually. In contrast, universities in Jordan have not been able to turn out solid human resources in the first place, forcing companies to employ good managers from overseas. It was interesting to see how the relative priority of issues varied from country to country. French companies stick to "community-style" management, placing importance on in-house training, promotions from within and a shared philosophy, based on lifetime employment, which is close to Japanese-style management. There were many representatives from multi-national companies and the very low turnover rate in Japan became a topic. For the success of Japanese-style management, should an environment in which community-oriented thinking combined with a high level of loyalty is dominant, as in Japan, be necessary to begin with?
As the group discussion at our table became livelier, we learned a lot from each other. The session finished with my presentation to all the other participants about what my group had discussed. I was quite comfortable with this format, since this was exactly the way we held discussions at GLOBIS. I have to admit that our group presentation went well. As the session ended, we said our good-byes and participants went their separate ways.
Anyway, the hall was just so huge. A building as large as the three-story Makuhari Messe (an international convention complex in Japan) was completely transformed into a hotel conference-style facility. The main room could hold approximately 1,000 people and was set up on the second floor, while on the third floor, there were almost 20 rooms for break-out sessions, each holding up to about 100 people. More than 10 break-out sessions were going on at the same time. Once you say good-bye to people, you never know if you will see them again.
I checked the schedule to see what was next. It was already lunch time. I headed toward a huge space that looked like a large cafeteria. It was a buffet-style meal and designed to encourage participants to mingle. I then noticed an acquaintance, the ex-chancellor of INSEAD in Singapore, and sat next to him to have a chat.
In the afternoon, I discussed social entrepreneurship with a member of the secretariat of the World Economic Forum, the host of this Davos meeting. Bilateral meetings were scheduled to start at 2:00 pm. Since the dean and chairman of a business school in Russia were attending this conference, I decided to take the opportunity to talk with them. I had met with the dean in Moscow last May, but this was my first chance to meet the chairman, who is the virtual founder of the business school. He is a Russian from Georgia and very warm-hearted. To my surprise, he was younger than I. Although the school had only started an executive program, it had already brought on board former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and others as advisors, and was recognized as an up-and-coming business school with a solid reputation.
We discussed, for about an hour, the current situation of business schools in Russia and GLOBIS's approach. I expressed my hope for the establishment of a loose cooperation among Russia, India, Brazil, Europe, America, and Japan. Since the chairman is an entrepreneur himself, we quickly came to an understanding. We finished the bilateral meeting with a feeling of deep satisfaction. After promising to meet again, I left the meeting room with a souvenir from Russia.
A meeting between Klaus Schwab, founder of the Davos meetings, and the Japanese GGC members started at 3:00 pm. This was an ideal occasion to frankly share our thinking with Mr. Schwab. I particularly requested to have more occasions like this in Japan.
Starting at 5:00 pm, I had a bilateral meeting with the chairman of ARTOC, a large Egyptian family-owned company. His name is Mohammed Shafik Gabr and I have met him twice before. We first met at a retreat of new Asian leaders (NAL) held on Langkawi Island in Malaysia. The King of Jordan and a few members of the Arab Business Council (ABC) were also attending that meeting, and we exchanged opinions about the fusion of Asian and Arab business interests as one of the focal points of our discussion. Mr. Shafik Gabr represented the Arab perspective.
The second time we met was at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East held near the Dead Sea in Jordan. (Refer to the column "Jordan Travelogue, Part 1")(Japanese)
So this was my third opportunity to see him. Since Shafik was attending the opening dinner, I went up to greet him. As soon as he saw me, he warmly welcomed me in the Arabic style. I was very pleased, but I was even more surprised when I received a request through his secretary to participate in a bilateral meeting with him. I felt honored to have such a top executive remember me and ask to make an appointment to meet.
And so two days after the opening dinner, I had a bilateral meeting with my Egyptian friend for an hour and a half in the evening. This get-together inspired me like never before.
Shafik was shocked by the fact that most Middle Eastern Arab countries are ranked low in the WEF's Global Competitive Report. So he established the Arab Business Council (ABC), an organization for advising Arab governments on how to enhance economic competitiveness in the Arab world.
Taking on the post of ABC's leader himself, Shafik toured Arab countries to explain how they could boost their competitiveness while seeking advice from the WEC. He was evidently driven by concern over the present situation in the Arab world and a sincere wish for growth.
He visited approximately 20 countries with ABC members. Some governments refused to see them, while others took them seriously and implemented appropriate measures one step at a time. There were moments when other business people in Arab countries frowned on ABC members, viewing them as busybodies. However, since he was doing what he believed was right, he paid little attention to this.
Later, he had a chance to participate in a G8 meeting and talk several times with ministers and high ranking officials. At the first meeting, ministers simply read from a script prepared beforehand, so the meeting finished with no results. Then Shafik suggested having a face-to-face exchange of frank opinions with no prepared script. He met with them again, but simply was not able to have an honest discussion; he felt he was getting the run-around. He felt it was a waste of time and became disillusioned, and after that experience, he tried not to get directly involved with politics. But, I can still feel his strong desire to do everything he can for Arab countries.
As I listened to him, I couldn't help asking myself, "Am I doing something beneficial for society beyond a framework of business?"
We talked for a long time, far beyond the scheduled period. This is the great thing about bilateral meetings at Davos conferences. We could talk in depth, which was not possible while exchanging greetings and business cards in the conference hall. We finally decided to conclude our bilateral exchange as the clock was ticking for the next item on the agenda. Shafik presented me with an ancient Egypt book as a souvenir. We said good-bye, hugging each other in the Arabic style. I wondered when I would next see him again. He invited me to participate in the Davos Middle East meeting to be held in Egypt next May. "If I can, I'll see you there," I said, and left the room.
I returned to the hotel, where Japan was hosting an evening reception. There were just under 80 Japanese participants. With Mr. and Mrs. Schwab dropping by, the reception was a huge success. Afterwards I stopped by the Russian and Indian dinners and then returned to my room later that night. I had been running around all day from the morning onwards.
After having met folks from China the previous day, this day I had met with Russians, an Egyptian, and an Indian. Associating with up-and-coming leaders of newly emerging countries at Summer Davos was very stimulating.
October 3, 2007