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Aiming to take Japan’s best onto the global stage

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

Japanese leaders in business, culture, politics and other fields should look abroad and take what Japan can do best to the world, said Yoshito Hori, president of Globis University and managing partner of Globis Capital Partners.

The head of Japan’s largest business school operator also said that the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting on global leadership, commonly called Davos after the Swiss ski resort at which it is held, is an excellent opportunity for Japan to present its strengths to the world. Hori is a regular speaker at Davos, which will run this year from Jan. 23 to 27. He will hold a “GLOBIS Night!” event after the Japanese government’s Japan Night event at the conference.

“In order to promote Japan’s strengths to the world, instead of expecting the government to do something about it, we as a society should put pressure on everybody to fight in a global field. We should promote the mentality that it is meaningless to be satisfied with being a leader only in Japan,” Hori said in an interview with The Japan Times.

A record 90 Japanese participants will attend the Davos conference this year, of which about a dozen are speakers. Hori said he would like to see the number of Japanese speakers rise in the future.

“There are conferences with businesspeople only, scientists only and politicians only. But Davos has all kinds of people. It is very meaningful to send out messages on Japan’s strengths to the world at a forum such as Davos,” he said.

As for examples of Japan’s strengths, Hori referred to animation, other pop cultural aspects and mobile game companies such as Gree Inc. and DeNA Co., which he said make more profit than foreign rivals.

As for examples of those who take their strengths to the world and are successful, he referred to the AKB48 all-girl pop “idol” group, movie star Ken Watanabe and professional athletes such as Ichiro Suzuki in baseball and Shinji Kagawa in soccer.

What some of these have in common is Japanese uniqueness.

“Yasushi Akimoto (who produced AKB48 and its sister groups) once said, ‘Sell natto (fermented soy beans) in foreign countries exactly as you do in Japan.’ And AKB48 is popular outside Japan,” he said. (Natto‘s rotten smell is generally unpopular among non-Japanese.)

Ken Watanabe, who went on the global stage with roles in Hollywood movies such as “Last Samurai” and “Inception,” was popular when he made a speech at Davos last year because he “spoke English with an accent and has his own coolness,” Hori said.

On industries that are not successful outside Japan, Hori said consulting, investment banking and legal services fall into such a category, adding that those require complicated communication in foreign languages.

Music, movies and other entertainment industries, media entities and academia are also not doing well due to language issues, he said.

On the other hand, Hori said, Japan has chances to thrive in the world in hardware such as cars and infrastructure such as water supply systems, as long as they are not “commodity goods” such as TVs, which caused Sharp Corp., Panasonic Corp. and other electronics makers to post massive losses amid intensifying price competition with foreign rivals, he said.

Hori said he will discuss in his Davos speech his role as one of three co-chairs in Global Growth Companies and as a member of the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership in the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. The council researches why various global problems, ranging from global warming to the euro crisis, cannot easily be solved and why things that have been successfully done in the past cannot be done now, Hori said.

Hori started a Davos-like event in Japan in 2009, dubbed the G1 Summit. Participating in Davos, he was impressed with the quality of the discussions and the fact that former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been joining a Davos-like conference in Australia since he became a lawmaker.

“Then I told the Davos people I wanted to do it in Japan. They told me I should do it. That’s how I started the G1 Summit,” he said.

One difference from Davos is the G1 Summit’s focus on a younger demographic. Members must have been born in or after 1955, and those older than that can only become guests.

Through the G1 Summit, Hori wants “to make Japan better.” The mottoes of the G1 Summit are 1) Propose rather than criticize, 2) From thoughts to actions and 3) Build confidence and behave like a leader.

As for Globis’ business, Hori said that last year he did many new things such as opening offices in Singapore and Shanghai. This year, he will focus on building a strong foundation instead of doing something new, he said.

Globis, which has MBA courses taught in Japanese and English, began recruiting students from overseas in 2011 and now has students from 25 countries. Globis is Japan’s largest MBA school in terms of capacity and wants to be Asia’s best in the future, he said.

Globis is aiming to draw 480 new students in fiscal 2013, which starts in April. It enrolled 437 in 2012, up from 348 a year before.

Globis recently began the Global Immersion Program for companies aiming to expand globally to train their employees to be future leaders. It began an Indian Program for Showa Denko K.K. in September, in which Globis collaborates with the Indian School of Business to train the Japanese chemical company’s employees in India.