On the weekend of February 10, 2007, over 1,000 students, scholars, professionals and executives continued a more-than-decade-long tradition by congregating on the Harvard Business School campus to attend the 16th Annual Asia Business Conference at Harvard University.
This year’s conference, entitled “Transformation and Sustainability,” focused on the rapid transformation Asia is undergoing as a result of internal and external pressures. More pertinently, the conference examined how Asian political and business leaders are trying to create a model of growth and development that is not only fast but sustainable for the region.
The two-day conference featured five keynote speeches, two executive plenary sessions, and sixteen panels comprising over eighty speakers and moderators from various corners of the globe. Jointly organized by 100-plus students representing the Asia Business Club of HBS, the Harvard Asia Law Society of HLS and the East Asia Caucus of KSG, the Asia Business Conference at Harvard has historically been the largest student-run business conference pertaining to Asia held in the country. This year was no exception.
The conference opened on Saturday morning with a keynote address by Mr. Hideki Komiyama, Executive Vice-President of Sony Corporation and Chairman of Sony Electronics. Before an audience of over 900 attendees in Burden Auditorium, he discussed the Japanese consumer electronics industry in the context of a rising Asia. In particular, Mr. Komiyama detailed how the Internet, digitization and the increasing competitiveness of Chinese players have intensified his industry. Directly following Mr. Komiyama’s address, Mr. Charles Ormiston of Bain & Company-an HBS alum and Baker Scholar-contemplated how many of the challenges faced by Asian firms can be solved through the use of four strategic levers: product innovation, customer segment focus, distribution, and supplier relationships. Throughout the rest of the day, panelists and participants were able to exchange views on subjects ranging from the “Aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis,” “Macroeconomic Sustainability” and “Keeping Asia Healthy.”
Much excitement swept through on Saturday evening, when the conference led speakers and attendees to The Charles Hotel in Harvard Square for a formal reception and dinner banquet. The event featured a keynote address by Mr. Matthew Ginsburg, a Harvard college alum who now serves as Head of Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley Asia. His discussion centered around avenues of growth for the investment banking and finance industries in Asia. Complementing the event on Saturday evening was a touching presentation by the Children of Rural China Foundation (CRCF), a non-profit organization benefiting children in China who face abject poverty, lack of educational resources, and limited opportunities. A silent auction of artwork created by these children brought to life CRCF’s message and cause.
On Sunday morning, Burden Auditorium was again filled with conference attendees, this time gathering for a keynote address by Mr. Katsuhiro Nakagawa, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Toyota Motor Corporation. In his remarks, he stressed the importance of implementing green business practices as well as building a presence in China through local partnerships and social contributions. Over the course of Sunday, panelists and participants engaged in vivid dialogue covering topics such as “Peace & Security in Asia,” “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Venture Capital & Entrepreneurship.” On Sunday afternoon, the conference culminated in a closing keynote address by Mr. David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Carlyle Group. Mr. Rubenstein shared with conference attendees his views on the increasing momentum of private equity in Asia as well as thoughts on how the industry may evolve in the coming years.
All in all, feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Mr. Ye He, an MBA student traveling from the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, felt that the conference “provided a valuable platform to establish long term friendship and communication between current and future leaders of Asia.” Ms. Poonam Shah, an MBA student from Baruch College in New York, remarked that the discussions “gave students insights into the Asian corporate world directly from the eyes of leading practitioners in the region.” And Mr. Alex Grove of The Wharton School felt that his favorite aspect of the conference was “meeting all of [his] peers from other universities who will be [his] future colleagues upon graduation.”
The 2007 Asia Business Conference was officially sponsored by Bain & Company (Platinum), Morgan Stanley (Platinum), Goldman Sachs (Silver), Indochina Capital (Silver), JPMorgan (Contributor) and China Future Leadership Program (Contributor).
The HBS co-chairs of this year’s conference were Michael Chu (OF), Yukiko Kase (OJ), Voon Siang Lee (OE), and Eric Wong (OI). For additional information on the conference, please visit www.asiabusinessconference.org