Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, January 27, 2006

Tearing Down the Gates of Japan

No, I'm not talking about gates in a literal or metaphorical sense. I'm talking about Gates. As in Bill Gates. Japan's analogous equivalent has just met a very unexpectedly stinky fate.



Takafumi Horie was born to a typical, mail-order businessman & housewife family down in Kyushu. In high school, though obviously bright, he was something of a troublesome student. The problem was that he was more interested in pursuing his own projects than participating in class or doing his homework. He was a whiz with computers and electronics, but his grades were consistently near rock bottom.

In his senior year, with graduation drawing near, he suddenly decided he wanted to enter Tokyo University, Japan's most prestigious institute of higher education. He then spent a couple of months in intensive study, whereupon he not only caught up with his classmates, but left them behind. He passed "To-dai's" brutal entrance exam with flying colors.

He became a liberal arts major at Tokyo University and intended to concentrate on religion. However, before his first year was over, he dropped out (citing "boredom") and, together with his friends, formed a website development business called "Livin' on the Edge" in the mid 90s. After a few years it grew to become an internet provider and networking outfit called LiveDoor. Not long after the turn of the century, LiveDoor had become quite a power player in Japan's business scene, investing in a wide range of businesses and projects and even trying (but failing) to acquire a professional baseball team.



Horie was never popular in Japan's corporate society because he was the antithesis of everything they stood for. He rarely wore a suit, refused to wear a necktie, and often appeared at official events in a T-shirt. Although he lost the long hair he sported in his younger days, he came to sport a spikey hairdo. His manner was also brash...even arrogant. He had no respect for ettiquette or protocol, and he tended to speak in a very rough, in-your-face way. Younger generations saw him as a hero, but he was more like a villain to the old guard. He was seen as a black sheep in the world of big business in these islands, but in many ways he was more like a black knight. He was unstoppable...and he had few scruples.

Unlike Bill Gates, Horie never involved himself much with charity or international causes. However, he threw himself into his dreams tooth and toenail. First, in accordance with his stated plan to render traditional media "obsolete", he tried to take over broadcasting giant Fuji TV by buying a huge lump of its shares after trading had officially ended. Doing so technically gave him controlling interest, and there were no laws in place to stop him, but corporate Japan immediately cried foul and rallied against him. After much lobbying, it was decided that Horie would not take over Fuji TV but would become one of its executives. (After that, Japanese investment laws were hastily revised before he could try a similar stunt.) After that media feeding frenzy was over, he started becoming involved in politics, which made people start watching him very closely. Perhaps they watched him closer than he intended, because the axe finally fell.

Not long after the dawn of 2006 it was announced that an investigation had revealed several...irregularities...about the way LiveDoor had been doing business. Accountants there had been cooking the books, exaggerating earnings in order to drive up stock prices. At the same time, LiveDoor's various subsidiaries were buying enormous amounts of stock in targeted firms, often to the point of bankrupting themselves, and then selling them to LiveDoor itself at a huge loss. The result was that LiveDoor was acquiring control of businesses at a phenomenal rate while conveniently sidestepping the new laws. Even more conveniently, LiveDoor's chief economic advisor killed himself as soon as these facts came to light.

The law wasn't amused. Horie was arrested last Monday on a number of charges, and he has now formally resigned as CEO of LiveDoor. Tokyo's stock index immediately plummeted, and even the government is in shock (since Horie was a staunch ally of PM Koizumi). The media feeding frenzy is still very nauseatingly in progress. Many are calling it the end of a (remarkably short) era.

Even so, Horie is down, but he's not out. I'm sure that, like the Terminator, he'll be back.

3 Comments:

  • Money is the root of all evil. He sold his soul for stocks and now he's in the stocks.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 12:17 PM  

  • Ba-dum DUM!

    Kudos, Pa've!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:06 PM  

  • Horie's book title says a lot: 'Earning Money is Everything: From Zero to 10 Billion Yen, My Way'

    Very embarrassing for PM Koizumi who had Horie amoung his "assassins" - pop culture people (mostly attractive women) who ran against those LDP diet memebers who rebelled and voted against his postal "reform" plan.

    Maybe Koizumi is calling his buddy W now to ask how to distance himself, like W is doing with Abramoff.

    "Takafumi who?"

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:34 PM  

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