Takafumi Horie is one of the most famous men in Japan. He amassed a substantial fortune by his early thirties by starting a company called Livedoor and becoming a pioneer in the late-starting business of hostile takeovers in Japan. He will soon go to prison for a crime that, most observers agree, would not normally send a first offender to prison. His real crimes, most agree, were that he offended the Establishment and did not apologize at his trial.
Not that he did not commit a real crime, of course; he was accused of providing false information about his companyâ€™s finances to increase its prospects and stock price, which most agree he did. (He maintains subordinates carried out any illegalities.) Most also agree that such actions are taken, by many Japanese companies, in a way that does not come to the attention of the authorities. Some say this is because Horie stretched the boundaries of what is unofficially allowed, and some feel Horie was singled out because he had antagonized the Japanese business establishment.
Japan is a country that values many characteristics Americans would consider old-fashioned: Tradition, modesty, formality, consensus, doing things the right way, respecting oneâ€™s seniors, and setting aside oneâ€™s interests in favor of those of the group. Horie not only did not follow these values, he flaunted his disregard for them. He launched hostile takeovers in a country where that was simply not done. He wore T-shirts to meetings with the biggest wheels of Japan, Inc., which many felt was a sign of deliberate disrespect. He boasted that he would become the richest man in Japan, and famously said he could buy anything with money.
Japan is the ultimate â€˜go along to get alongâ€™ country. Little is more important than keeping good relationships - with relatives, schoolmates, co-workers, and even competitors. High-level businessmen make and keep friendships with government officials. One has no problem imagining business and government leaders drinking together in an expensive restaurant, commiserating over how terrible Horie is for Japan. What can be done, one asks? Well, I heard through the grapevineâ€¦