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FEB 17, 2003

A Business Trip in the Freezing USA with Chilly Asian Politics

By Yoshito Hori
Copyright GLOBIS

I traveled to the U.S. this time at the invitation of Mr. Yamanaka, who has taken a career break from GLOBIS to study at Harvard Business School (HBS). He asked me to speak at the HBS Asia Business Conference (ABC).

I decided that if I was going to travel all the way to the States, I might as well schedule other appointments to make it worthwhile. (Perhaps I added too many…?)

· Presentations to current investors and meetings with
  potential investors
· Discussion on the formation of the next fund (lawyers, 
  accountants, etc.)
· Dinner with our partner, Mr. Alan Patricof
· Speech at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  in Washington D.C.
   (refer to the column “Speech at Washington”) (Japanese)
· Speech at MIT (one-hour session)
· Speech at HBS Asia Business Conference (two-day event,
  sponsored partly by GLOBIS)
· Participation in JAGRASS (formerly Boston Masters Club)
· Dinner with HBS Japanese students
· Meetings with HBS professors and HBS Publishing
· Interviews with potential GLOBIS employees

I ended up going to New York (3 nights), Connecticut and Michigan (day trips), Washington D.C. (one night), and Boston (3 nights).

This trip coincided with the UN Security Council convening on the Iraq war amid a stand-off between the United States and the United Kingdom on one side and France, Russia and Germany on the other. The terrorism alert level was high, and so the country was under tightened security. And the entire eastern seaboard was much colder than usual. Since this grueling schedule of meetings with important investors and speeches in Washington and MIT/HBS would be centered on the freezing East Coast, I was determined to do whatever I could to stay as healthy as possible.

With this in mind, the key phrase of this trip was “health and safety.” I had come down with a bad cold before departing, so during the trip I tried to take it easy to replenish my energy, with a little light swimming, exercise each day, and no alcohol to stay in good physical condition. I wrapped up warmly to beat the cold, avoided going outside, and placed the top priority on safety.

The East Coast was absolutely freezing. Boston was minus 20 degrees. I have a strong memory of an accountant from Argentina in the long queue at the check-in counter in Boston’s Logan Airport saying he couldn’t wait to get out of the Alaska-like weather and return home to the warmth of South America.

There is so much to talk about: the frigid cold, the Iraq war, the U.S. economy, investor meetings, my Washington speech… Out of all of these, the most memorable was the unusually strong presence of China at HBS.

When I was there twelve years ago, there were nineteen Japanese students and only one from mainland China. Now the situation is completely turned around, with only twelve Japanese students (there had been only four until graduates complained en masse and the number increased to twelve) and forty Chinese, and if you include Chinese-American residents in the U.S. and their counterparts from Asia, this number rises to about one hundred. There are eight hundred students at HBS, meaning one in ten is Chinese.

When I was at HBS, the Asia Business Club essentially meant the Japan Club. Now that all the board members are Chinese, it might as well be the Chinese Business Club. In this circumstance in which Japanese people were pretty thinly represented, I had received emails from Japanese students asking me to speak at this Asia Business Conference. Sympathizing with their situation, GLOBIS decided to sponsor the event as well as participate in the panel.

What astonished me first was that the keynote speaker slots and other important roles were nearly all filled by Chinese (with one Korean). Aside from me, Mr. Mikitani from Rakuten was there from Japan, but we had been allotted relatively minor positions in the panel discussion and were not keynote speakers. I was OK with the situation, but Mr. Mikitani is not only a graduate of HBS, but an entrepreneur who has created a billion-dollar company (a company with a market capitalization of more than 100 billion yen). Furthermore, he has been hailed as one of the top entrepreneurs by business journals such as Business Week and Red Herring. One would think that he would be more highly valued than the other keynote speakers, such as government bigwigs and CFOs of Chinese subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

The way the Japanese students put it, “What could we do? We’re simply outnumbered.”

A total of forty people participated in the panel discussions. When you include moderators and guest speakers, there were more than eighty. Only two of these were from Japan. Many Japanese corporations had been approached, but all had apparently declined.

I took part in the following three panel discussions:

Panel 1: Late-Stage Investment in Asia
Panel 2: Negotiating Joint Ventures in Asia
Panel 3: Early-Stage Investment in Asia

Panels 1 and 3 were my forte. After all, I’m operating one of the best-performing funds in the world. Regarding Panel 2, I gave a PowerPoint presentation using the example of our joint venture with Apax.

All the panel discussions and presentations went fine, but during the Q&A, all the questions focused on China. What’s more, all the questions came from Chinese students.

“What is necessary for joint ventures in China?”
“What do you think about the current investment environment in China?”
“Which markets should one target for IPOs in China?”
“What are the potential pitfalls for VC in China?”

Even in the panel discussion “Learning from the Economies of Japan and Korea,” I heard that all questions focused on China.

“Can China catch up?”
“What do you think about China?”

All of the panelists wondered why, with a theme on Japan and Korea, did all these students ask about China? Apparently, the same thing happened in the panel discussion with Mr. Mikitani.

China was at the center of everything.

When I asked HBS students about it, this is what they told me: One day, some Chinese students saw a Taiwanese flag displayed in a classroom and took it down since it was not the official national flag. This is supposed to be a business school, so why should politics be brought into the classroom?

According to the Japanese students, the atmosphere in the classroom at HBS is all about China, with the prevailing attitude that there is nothing left to learn from Japan. It seems like the Chinese students are not interested in anything apart from China and are persistent in trying to appeal to other people about their country’s advantages. The Japanese students appear to be fighting alone in the classrooms.

Seeing this situation made me think that soon we are going to see a clash on both a political and economic level between the U.S. which always seeks to be No. 1, and Sino-centrism. What will happen to Japan in the middle of all this? We must do something on our own to further develop Japan.

I realized once again, at a profound level, that we have to work faster to cultivate good human resources, build sound companies, carry out corporate reforms, transmit solid knowledge, and advance the optimum allocation of human resources. We must use our power to breathe new life into Japan’s economy. If we don’t, Japan will end up being slighted by the rest of the world, with the new global framework consisting of Europe, the U.S., and a China-centered Asia.

We must stand up with maximum effort. For Japan’s sake, we must fight on.