Sunday, October 09, 2011

Phenomena in Cambridge and Kyoto, and the need for a Japanese Hermann Hauser

"We don't have a 'Kyoto Phenomenon' because we don't have a Japanese equivalent of Hermann Hauser".  I heard this statement at a recent meeting in Japan attended by a small group of academics, entrepreneurs and investors, and it triggered the following thoughts.
There are, of course, numerous outstanding entrepreneurial role models in Japan, individuals who have driven major transformations in industries and defined whole new product categories.  For example, Akio Morita of Sony (who co-founded the company and introduced the famous pre-cursor to the iPod, the Walkman), Masayoshi Son of Softbank (an outspoken multi-billionaire who built Softbank into one of the country's leading internet and mobile phone companies) and Tadashi Yanai of Uniqlo (another of Japan's richest men, who built a global clothes design and retailing empire).
Despite such notable successes as these (and others), commentators highlight the absence of a thriving startup culture - in part a result of the comparatively weak domestic VC industry -  as a key reason for Japan's 'lost decades' (the period since the early 1990s during which Japan's economy has stagnated).  But what about alternative models of recovery?  Though there are plenty of good arguments that point to embedded structural problems with Japanese companies and their strategies, there are also quite a few that point to their ability to respond to and cope with change.   Kyocera's growth from 3,000 to 60,000 employees up to and through the lost decades is an example.  The strategy of Japanese firms in India is another one. But the role of Japanese entrepreneurs in stimulating economic recovery in Japan is, as Ben Goldacre would put it, 'a bit more complicated than that', and so this topic will be the subject of a longer post later in the year.

In the meantime, to find out why Hermann Hauser (and the numerous other successful role models) have been so important to the birth and growth of the Cambridge Phenomenon - and why the absence of a local version of him in clusters elsewhere is perceived as a handicap - come along and hear his views in person at this week's Cambridge Network meeting at Robinson College at 17:30 on12th October.

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