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APO Forum for Promoting Entrepreneurship in Asia [18-21 November 2010, Kyoto, Japan]

Welcome Remarks at the APO-hosted Dinner
(La Tour, Kyoto University)
by Ryuichiro Yamazaki
APO Secretary-General

Distinguished Participants in this APO forum;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to host this evening’s reception. As many of you know, the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) is an intergovernmental organization that has been contributing to the socioeconomic development of the Asia-Pacific region for the past 50 years through productivity enhancement programs such as this entrepreneurship forum.

In the so-called knowledge-based economy that we have been living in since the mid-1990s when this concept began to be widely discussed, innovation holds the key to improving productivity and to keeping costs down. To ensure long-term success, both companies and organizations need to innovate constantly to differentiate themselves from any competition. If I remember correctly from my economics 101 course in the Department of Economics of Hitotsubashi University under Professors Ichiro Nakayama and Kenjiro Ara, “innovation” is the key factor for economic growth, a concept advocated by Joseph Schumpeter in the late 1930s. Schumpeter argued that innovation by entrepreneurs like you leads to “creative destruction” as innovations make obsolete any old ideas, technologies, and even skills.

According to the indicators used by international bodies such as the European Union (EU) to compare the innovation performance of EU members with the rest of the world, some of the most innovative countries are, in alphabetical order, Finland, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA. Recently, one of our APO experts for a research project on service-sector productivity, Dr. Alfred Cheng of National Chiao Tung University, Republic of China, has linked the innovation culture of a country with population density, i.e., the lower the population density, the stronger the innovation culture. While there may be some element of truth in his linkage, I prefer to believe that the main reason is due to the strong entrepreneurship culture of the countries concerned. This view is backed by the EU, which lists entrepreneurship as one of the key dimensions to measure innovation among its member states. Entrepreneurship encompasses not merely individual entrepreneurial efforts, but also collaborative efforts among entrepreneurs, with other innovating firms, and even with the public sector.

What does this mean for you all? Crucial to you as entrepreneurs working in this age of the knowledge-based economy are skills relating to innovation, partnerships, flexibility, and expansion of an international perspective. All entrepreneurs, both in SMEs and larger corporations, need to be receptive to new ideas and think outside of their own box of conventional thinking.

Let me cite an example. One of the most innovative, creative companies of recent times is the multibillion dollar, multinational corporation Google. It is well known that Google has a policy called “20% time” which encourages employees to take 20% of their time during working hours to do whatever they like. Ironically and even paradoxically, this 20% time has proven to be some of the most productive time spent at Google. Just one example is the creation of g-mail. Of course, most of the ideas fail but some are adopted. Most importantly, Google has successfully created a culture of new idea creation and constant experimentation leading to innovation.

I would like to invite the following guests to come forward:
First, the APO’s partners: Dean Kobayashi and Associate Professor Hikino from Kyoto University Graduate School of Management; Ms. Harada, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Entrepreneurship Development; and Mr. Kobayashi, Secretary-General of Honda Foundation. Second, our resource speakers: Mr. Hayashi, President of Fukuda Metal Foil and Powder Co., Ltd.; and Mr. Kawake, President of Future Venture Capital Co. Ltd. Third, representatives of the companies that hosted visits: Mr. Tsutsui, President of Miyako Taxi Co., Ltd.; and Mr. Noda, President, Nodaya Co., Ltd. Thank you very much again for your important contributions to the success of the forum.  Please give them a round of applause.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize that entrepreneurship is crucial in building a society with sustainable economic growth. However, I am fully aware that this is not an easy undertaking. The late Mr. Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony Corporation, once commented that, “The only sure thing in business is that nothing is sure.” However, I am definitely sure that this APO forum will help all participants to achieve even greater success in promoting entrepreneurship in their home countries and throughout Asia. I would like to propose a toast to all the entrepreneurs who make things happen and to a fruitful and successful forum.

Thank you very much.

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