The St. Gallen Symposium is an event (its 40th this year) led by the students of St. Gallen university and is held in the small city of St. Gallen, Switzerland. This is a very compact city that is incredibly clean with houses and streets having this movie set like appearance (pictures below). The city itself is about one hour outside of Zurich and was my first opportunity to spend several days in a Swiss city besides my jaunts into Geneva in years past.
Apparently, the weather was unusually wet and cold for the season but I didn’t mind at all. While it was raining from time-to-time, the weather was nice and crisp. In fact, I believe we were very lucky because the rain stopped at critical times (i.e., in between sessions when we had to walk between venues or when the Swiss air force or Patrouille Suisse gave a demonstration of their aerial acrobatics – twice). Furthermore, since this was the last leg of my month long trip out of Tokyo, I did not pack any warm clothes so I couldn’t complain.
Anyway, the symposium was attended by approximately 1,000 attendees. What is unique about this event is that it is completely organized and run by students. While they have many world renowned advisers, the students basically run the 2 day (May 6-7) event. The symposium was actually founded 40 years ago and the organizers make it a point to let people know that they are 6 months older than the Davos event next door. Out of the attendees, approximately 200 are graduate students (this year was the first year they limited it to graduate students) from around the world who have shown an active interest in entrepreneurism. The students were selected to come to the event via an essay contest (in English) and/or nominations by their country heads. This year, out of all the essay contests and nominations, Japan sent (selected) eight students (out of the 45 students that applied (6)/nominated (2) – while this was the most out of all the countries, perhaps because English was a limiting factor, the percentage acceptance was the lowest). The remaining participants included entrepreneurs, politicians, heads of corporations, academics and business people.
From Japan, we had several people come including the following who had an active role in the symposium were:
- Hiroshi Mikitani – Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Rakuten Inc.
- Yoshinori Imai – Vice President, NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation (moderating my session)
- Prof. Yoko Ishikura – Professor for International Business Strategy, Hitotsubashi University (moderating Mr. Miktani’s session)
- Rintaro Tamaki – Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs of Japan
- Dr. Hiroshi Tomono – Representative Director & President, Sumitomo Metal Industries, Ltd.
For my presentation, I had a about 15 PowerPoint slides ready to setup the discussion where entrepreneurship and politics intersect. Mr. Imai had opened the session by introducing himself, his fascinating background and me. Slightly through my presentation, I noticed that the mouse did not work as well and didn’t realize why. Nevertheless, unfazed, I proceeded. After about halfway through my presentation, the laptop ran out of batteries (someone forgot the plug the laptop in) and the screen went blank. Murphy’s law would have it that I was one one of my more complicated (not busy)/involved slides. Since the staff had to look for an AC adapter, reboot the machine, have it sync with the projector, there was probably a good 3 minutes where I had to improvise verbally. Obviously, God was challenging me to be flexible and entrepreneurial here – it could have been worse.
- Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach – Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs International
- Christine Lagarde – Minister for the Economy, Industry and Employment of France (taped)
- Judy Leissner – Chief Executive Officer, Grace Vineyard
- Prof. Kishore Mahbubani – Dean & Professor in the Practice of Public Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
Update: I’ve added links from other participants to the end of this blog.
For some pictures of the St. Gallen Symposium and the city of St. Gallen, you can view my pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whsaito/sets/72157623910177957/
For Professor Yoko Ishikura’s blog on the symposium can be found starting here: http://www.yokoishikura.com/english/?p=1637
For Ryo Umezawa’s (nominated Knowledge Pool participant) blog on the symposium: http://am6.jp/b0aicm
For Kanetaka Maiki’s blog: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/kanetaka/
Your comments are always welcome.