Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Revitalised and Resurgent: Japan's New Business Climate

Tokyo at night

Tokyo at night


That was an interesting comment, and I was quickly reminded; the Chairman introduced me as having attended the Wharton School, part of the University of Pennsylvania. I was in the States in 1957, and when Sputnik was put up, I still remember the front page of the New York Times. Dr Braun, who had been brought in, maybe from Germany, was being interviewed, and he was talking about what was wrong with the American education system. Why did they beat us, the Soviets? Of course it was at the height of the Communist Party's dominance. Now we don't have to agree with these remarks made by the Chairman of Intel, but certainly it is a mistake, number one, to develop very wishful thinking that some day, some time, China will stumble or tumble conveniently to their knees. Secondly, seriously speaking, whether this is the Communist regime or the democratic system or whatever, the importance of people driven to be more creative, more imaginative, certainly continues to be probably the most important theme: number one, for the world as a whole to be a better world, but for any nation, any corporation or region to be more competitive. In the long term, this is going to be the number one theme, to become more imaginative, more creative in a very positive manner.

This is where Japan has to think very carefully. Now I just brushed through the economic aspect, maybe too simply, but my feeling is that we will do all right. I think in what we all call "the market", some of the market forces we don't like, some of the market forces favour some of the people more than the others, but the Japanese economy has become almost an inseparable, integral part of the global economy, and with its size, I really have no major concern in the short term about the performance of the Japanese economy. But in the long run, when we ask ourselves if we are up to the challenge of being more creative and more imaginative in a substantive sense, this is where I'm not as optimistic as I am on the purely economic and business side. And this has something to do with education. We have come through very major educational changes after 1945, some good, and some bad. On the positive side, we have developed a system in which we probably are the best in terms of developing youngsters almost from kindergarten all the way up to graduate school, who will be able to solve the problems once the problems are given. So we have developed a couple of generations of world-class "how-to" oriented people, but failing in developing at the same time the people who can think what and why. Again some of you may know the current debate that's going on in Japan on the education system. Fundamentally, this debate is how to re-arm our students with better knowledge in specific areas of disciplines to do better in an international context. The other thing is, even at the risk, skills-wise, of doing not as well as we want them to do, developing youngsters who will be willing to think and speak out even if their ideas may be wrong. We would like to develop children who are aggressive and forward-looking enough to form their own opinions. And in the last several years, we have been trying to design programs where students can work together with people from corporations, together with bureaucracy, both central and local, so they can really feel what they learn, what they can read in textbooks. And they can actually ask rather embarrassing questions to their parents, simplistic but very fundamental. Now we are going through that difficult stage, but on top of this whole program is at the higher education level, we have almost totally neglected the very important liberal arts education which is absolutely necessary to develop people who can think.

There are many things that I'm thankful for the education in the United States, I got an MBA, which has been a very effective passport for me to open many doors. America has continued to maintain a very strong liberal education system. When I was brought in to the world of Xerox, back in 1963, I immediately met the man who was the head of Xerox then. His name was Joseph C. Wilson, who introduced me to the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado. This was when I challenged Mr Wilson, for the typical American shortsightedness, quarterly profit orientation, and disregarding long-term investment. “Mr Wilson, America would lose competition to Japan for sure, maybe even to China and Korea.” But Mr Wilson, in his warm, fatherly manner, said, "You are right in that aspect, we are very short-term profit oriented, but that's part of the reality. This is what the market wants us to be but that is not everything about America, that's not everything about American business, and that is not everything about American business people. Go on and visit Aspen, and let's have another discussion after your visit.” To make a long story short, I went to Aspen for the executive seminar. It was two weeks at that time - it's been shortened to ten days now. I felt so ashamed. Unfortunately Mr Wilson had died a few years before. Aspen had been created in 1950, with the urge from the leaders in the United States, and some from Europe. Robert Hutchinson, the president of the University of Chicago, told the people that - this is back in 1950 - we, the Americans, and many of the other developed nations, suffer from our world being run by narrow-minded specialists. They don't know how to talk to each other. So, they went on to create the Aspen Institute, connecting classics with the modern happenings. I told myself, who is shortsighted? It is not Americans or Europeans. No, we Japanese are the ones who should be blamed for shortsightedness, we have become totally how-to oriented, forgetting about the fundamental objectives of why people live. Fundamental objectives of why corporations exist, the roles of corporations in society. We had a chance to think about it. We started the Japan Aspen Institute six years ago, and it is doing well. It is ironical that it was created in the middle of the time when the general air in the Japanese business climate of the last 10 years was that the global business model is the Anglo-Saxon American business model, a sort of misunderstood Anglo-American business model, which was to put the market cap maximisation at any cost, at the top of the list of priorities. This is the name of the game - in other words, this is a shareholder's game. Pardon my extreme language. Stakeholders - nonsense! That is too complicated. You have to run a simple game, you have to please shareholders, in the short-term and long-term: unless you do it, you are lost.