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  • July 14, 2011

Japan needs reignition of entrepreneurial spirit

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – It is time for Japan to hit the “reset button”, announced William Saito at the recent SCCIJ luncheon. Saito is an award-winning entrepreneur and founder of his own technology consultancy, Intecur, and was selected as the 2011 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum in March. Saito said a reignition of entrepreneurial spirit could restore “Made in Japan” as one of the world’s most desirable brands. Saito believes the innovative spirit and energy necessary for success are already there -- they only need to be released.

William Saito at the SCCIJ luncheon

Depressing Developments

The lecture at the well-attended SCCIJ luncheon started with some depressing presentation slides: “How Japan does it – the world’s toughest competitor” was the headline of Time magazine in March 1981, accompanied by the image of a camera-wielding Samurai warrior attacking the world. Thirty years later in March 2011, the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek showed a cracked, red sun with the headline “Crisis in Japan”.  

Even worse, Japan would become increasingly irrelevant, Saito predicted. The fertility rate would go down within the next five years from 1.2 to below 1.0. Hence, in 2050, for every 10 working Japanese, there would be seven people of retirement age. Government debt already is at 219 percent of GDP, and 16 percent of the population live below the poverty line.  

Stifling Regulation

Saito said that companies are stifled by a government that supports corporate financing and issues effectively non-expiring loans to them. Established companies bound by tight labor laws and the tradition of lifetime employment would rather cut wages than fire workers outright. As a result, newer, younger, innovative companies have to decrease prices and spend less money on research and development, he analyzed.  

From this state of affairs, the lecturer concluded that Japan needs to become more efficient through innovation and entrepreneurship. In his view, government should tear down regulative hurdles, companies and individuals should think more globally, and women should be empowered.

Passionate Teams

Saito's solution to initiate change in Japan is the building of passionate teams. “Almost everything in life is done in teams,” claimed the 40-year-old entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Team members would share the same vision and have deep mutual respect for each other. The best people would go to great lengths to make others successful, he argued.  

Japanese companies already work in teams, but make some mistakes in decision-making, said Saito. First, they would confuse consensus with decision. According to Saito, disagreement is needed to stimulate the imagination, but a fear of conflict often prevents necessary discussions from happening.  

Another piece of advice was: “Don’t ask for permission, but beg for forgiveness.” Many people wait for permission in Japanese companies instead of asking for it, he said, leading to poor communication. This would cause an absence of trust, and leads to the hiding of weaknesses as well as to demeaning failures.  

Importance of Failure

Saito sees failure at the core of entrepreneurial success. “If you are not failing sometime, you are probably not taking enough risks,” the consultant emphasized. Organizations, he said, should consider rewarding success and failure but punish inaction.  

In a short list, Saito summed up his conclusions on reigniting Japan’s entrepreneurial spirit: To be unafraid of conflict and of showing weakness, to learn the formation and leading of groups, to volunteer and to go global. The lecture ended with a quote from Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”  

A Successful Entrepreneur

William H. Saito, a Japanese-American, is himself a successful entrepreneur. At the age of 20, he founded I/O Software in California and built it into a global leader in security software development. In 2000, Microsoft integrated the company’s core authentication technology into the Widows operating system.  

In 2005, Saito moved to Tokyo and founded InTecur to address business and technology issues for clients worldwide. The consultancy helps companies identify and develop applications and markets for innovative technologies. Saito also invested his own funds in 14 young companies to further their future growth.  

 

Picture: SCCIJ

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