Japan Needs The Return Of Takafumi Horie
In the days leading up to his arrest in January 2006, news reports appeared about him being under suspicion for allegedly illegal business dealings. The television stations featured footage of him cavorting about Tokyo's glitzy Roppongi district in his red Ferrari and speaking to company employees about plans to conquer the world's markets. He had a private jet, a lavish and sexy lifestyle and plenty of money to burn.
Every Japanese newspaper began with a description of what he was wearing: T-shirt, jeans and a sweater. Horie refused the suit and tie ensemble. The media's own message was clear: "It's fine to make yourself conspicuously different, but you had better make sure you are continually alert and looking over your shoulders. In Japan, if you fall, you will be destroyed."
And Horie, whose guilt was never proved in a court of law, has certainly been trampled on. His only guilt lie in the fact he refused to go on camera, bow, scrape and apologize for nothing he was guilty of. Horie refused tradition and refused to take the blame for thieves he gave generous opportunities to. The thieves stabbed him in the back. For this, Horie refused blame, and he should have refused. The old goats in Japan Inc simply wanted Horie gone.
He was not so much of a tycoon as a young people's idol. His back-door assault on the Japanese business establishment was brilliantly conceived, from his first hi-tech venture, On the Edge, which he set up while a student at Tokyo University, to his money-spinning Internet strategies at Livedoor. He rose to the top without paying his dues, as the old men of Japan Inc complained ceaselessly. To these men Horie was an imposter. In truth, Horie was simply more talented, intelligent, and adept at real business than they were. That was the major source of hate for the doddering Japan Inc executives, Horie was everything they would never be.
Horie donned casual elegance, the old men donned polyesther suits. Horie filled a room with scent of Hugo Boss, the old men reeked of last night's sake and cigarettes. Horie drove a Ferrari, the old men drove a Toyota when they did't take the trains. Horie dined at Gordon Ramsay's in the Conrad Hilton, the old men frequented the cheap bars and hostess clubs in Ueno and Shinjuku. Horie created, the old men inherited. Horie innovated, the old men imitated. Horie was a breath of fresh air, the old men were stagnant.
In Japan most people have neither the brash courage nor the fiendish perseverance to challenge the business establishment. People in Japan secretly admire those who do. Horie was a role model for young people wanting to be entrepreneurs and those in older generations who wished they themselves had not opted for a life dedicated to the drab duties of the "salaryman."
But let's return to him today as a role model.
We need that image of Horie that is pre-arrest: a dashing, intelligent man with a multi-billion-dollar hi-tech empire and an inordinate love of groundbreaking tachnology. A man who knew how to put the right people into the right places. His company, in the meantime, is in the control of the very Japan Inc he bucked.
The loss to Japanese society is measured not only in decimated stock prices. It is measured in the fact that the old men won. They beat down the one man who took them on and almost won. Today, few even dream of being an entrepreneur in Japan. They saw what happened to the real deal and they are too fearful of it happening to them. There is a fear of success in Japan as a business owner. That the old men will come for you.
This country once had people in business to look up to, such as Matsushita, Honda and Morita. That era is gone. No one in the future is likely to start as a bicycle repairmanor car mechanic and establish a world-class financial empire.
Horie's example is no longer a beacon in the darkness of the lost decade. The tragedy for this society is that there appears to be no light on the horizon either to indicate which direction to follow. Our hope must be that Horie find his courage once again, and emerge as a softer, less reactive individual than he was before. We must give Horie the chance to allow 7gogo to grow within the bounds of business integrity and the law. Old men of Japan Inc must not be allowed to sabatage Horie again. For the sake of future Japanese entrepreneurs.
By Kenichi Maruyama