After getting off the plane at the Beijing Airport, I withdrew some local currency, yuan, from the cash dispenser and caught a taxi for downtown Beijing. How many times have I made this trip before, I wonder.
The view from the window was nothing particularly new anymore, so I worked on solving some Go problems on the way to the hotel with classical music on my iPod as background music. It may just have been my imagination, but the traffic seemed worse than before.
The weather was fine, and the window was open; maybe the air conditioning wasn’t working. Hot air flooded in, making me sweat. Downtown Beijing was dusty, perhaps because of the yellow sand. I arrived at the hotel and quickly checked in.
My purpose for this business trip was to speak at the Asian Technology Roundtable Exhibition (ATRE) in Beijing. This event was being organized by my friend, Alex Vieux, and it was the sixth time I had participated in an event he had brought together.
The first was ETRE (European Technology Roundtable Exhibition), the European version of this event, in 2001 in Seville, Spain, as well as in the 2004 event in Cannes. I had participated in ATRE, the Asian version, in Seoul in 2002, and in Shanghai in 2004. I also participated in a 2004 retreat held in Seattle, which included Bill Gates. (Apparently Mr. Idei of Sony and Mr. Mikitani of Rakuten participated in this year’s retreat). So this marked the sixth event.
Since my first ETRE, I have always attended as a speaker. Although in earlier occasions I was a panelist in a break-out session, this time I was invited to deliver a keynote address. The increasingly preferential treatment I was getting was maybe due to my appearance on the front cover of Forbes Asia. Naturally, when you get a chance to speak, you want to have a large stage.
My speech was scheduled to start at five o’clock on the day I arrived. I checked in at three, and had two hours until my turn came up. I was a little nervous.
After checking in, the woman at the front desk said rather curtly that the ATRE organizer had left a message for me and wanted to tell me something, and asked if I could wait for a little while. The standard of service in Beijing is not very high yet. After a while the ATRE staff person appeared and apologetically explained:
“Although your speech was scheduled to start at five, for some reason it was noted in the program to begin at 12:30. At twelve, there was no sign of you, but please don’t worry. We will proceed from five as originally scheduled.”
This explanation just didn’t seem to make much sense. According to the schedule I had with me, I was definitely supposed to be on stage at five. Evidently there had been a last minute change. There was no point in getting stressed out at this point, so I went to my room, took a shower and after changing into my suit, headed for the venue.
About a hundred people had gathered—start-up company managers in the technology industry and venture capitalists—most of them Chinese. As usual, the meeting was behind schedule. It was highly unusual for things to run on schedule at events that Alex organized. That said, he always asks witty questions, and so his reputation remains intact.
Now it was my turn. When Alex, already on stage, called my name, I confidently strode up to join him. I wasn’t on the schedule at this point and I had the feeling that there were fewer participants than planned. Alex and I firmly shook hands, and after a hug, I sat down on the sofa. Alex is a Caribbean-born Frenchman. Hugging and backslapping were customary whenever we meet.
The discussion then began. “Why is there little venture capital in Japan?” “Why have there been no global venture companies in Japan since Sony?”; “Why is M&A among Japanese electronics manufacturers not gathering momentum?”; “Why does it seem that the Japanese have such a hard time with English in the beginning?” Despite his bewildering barrage of questions, I did what I could to respond, half resigned.
The lively exchanges continued. “Why is reform in Japan so slow?”, “What is the lesson of the Livedoor event?”, “Why is GLOBIS running a business school and managing venture capital?” and “What are you really hoping to have happen?” The questions kept coming from every direction.
I answered each question, mixing in a few jokes. Looking directly at Alex as I did my best to respond, I found myself kind of enjoying the discussion. I was smiling in spite of myself. I felt this was the first discussion that I was genuinely enjoying.
My English seemed pretty solid, and I also felt my body language was coming across. More than anything else, it was great that I was having good time, having discussion with the sense of leeway. I suppose this was the result of having participated in this kind of event over and over. Or maybe because of having read the Financial Times everyday with a dictionary in my hand.
In regard to the question about my ambitions, I first answered directly that there were three things I wanted to accomplish, and then explained as follows.
“First, I want to create the No. 1 business school in Asia. North America has Harvard, Stanford and others, while Europe has INSEAD. Today, however, there is no top-level business school in Asia. GLOBIS will occupy this position within the next 10 years. Remember, you heard me predict this here today.”
“My second ambition is to establish the No. 1 venture capital firm in Asia. Silicon Valley is home to very famous venture capital companies like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital. Yet, there are no internationally recognized companies in Asia today. We want to create the next Honda or the next Sony, and raise many companies to be recognized around the world. We also want our investors to receive four- to five-fold returns on their original investments. We want to prove to the world what can be achieved by Japanese venture capital.”
“Finally, my third ambition is the most important of all. As the father of five children, I want to raise my children without a failure (laughs).” With that, I wrapped up the discussion.
As I wrote in the column, “The Balance of Life”, the work-family balance is of utmost importance.
A relatively large number of Japanese panelists were attending this ATRE event. Objectively speaking, it could be said the best speakers were from Japan. eAccess chairman Mr. Senmoto’s speech was particularly impressive. Also speaking at the event were the Vice President of ACCESS, Mr. Kamata, and CFO Kobayashi of Softbrain. Mr. Sekiguchi from the editorial board of the Nikkei Shimbun was actively involved as a moderator, and Mr. Izuka, the president of Digital Forest gave a 12-minute presentation to the assembled venture capitalists.
I have recently been struck by the vitality of Japanese venture enterprises. In addition, their comments seemed to be both broader and deeper in terms of the impact of what they had to say. Next year’s event will be apparently be held in Japan. I intend to actively join this, thinking this is good opportunity to have the world directly witness the strength of Japan’s venture enterprises. Also next year, Japan will host the President’s University (a semi-annual international conference) sponsored by YEO (Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization) and YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization). These two events have not been held here for 10 years. The WEF (World Economic Forum) will hold its Asia-based meeting this June.
Whatever the relative impact of the Japanese economic upturn, the eyes of the world are being drawn back to Japan. In future, I hope that leaders who bear the rising sun flag will actively participate in various fields. (Please refer to column ‘What it means to Carry the Japanese Flag’)
My flight was bound for my next destination in Asia.
I intend to use as many opportunities as I can to get the word out in Asia and in the West and raise awareness of GLOBIS and Japan.
With China and India on an upward swing, I suppose we are representing Japan at occasions such as these shouldering the flag of the rising sun.
We are up for the challenge, in the way of the samurai, with courtesy and a resolute stance, feeling sheer gratitude for any opportunity.
April 27, 2006
On the flight out of Beijing