Friday, January 20, 2006


"In a land of dark-suited, largely anonymous executives, it is hard to miss the jeans, sneakers and spiky hair of Takafumi Horie, founder of livedoor, an internet and finance company. A survivor of the internet bubble in the late 1990s, the brash 33-year-old is known for his outspoken defiance of old-style corporate Japan—as well as his love of the spotlight and gorgeous women. After starting his first internet company, aptly named Livin' On The Edge, a decade ago when he was still a student at Tokyo University, he dropped out of school to ride the internet wave, advising like-minded students to do the same.

Even in its early days, people took note of his company, tucked away in the back streets of Shibuya, Tokyo's hotspot for the young. Since then, Mr Horie has made a fortune: first by listing his company on Mothers, a stockmarket for start-ups run by the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and then by using the profits to buy livedoor, a defunct internet-service provider. Chiefly through financial engineering (his company, renamed livedoor in 2004, has split its stock 30,000-fold) and a succession of often surprising mergers and acquisitions, the market value of the empire Mr Horie built rose to about ¥930 billion ($8 billion) at its peak. Livedoor controls around 50 companies, including an accounting-software house, an online travel agency, a securities company, a mail-order retailer and a second-hand car firm. In the year to last September livedoor's profits quadrupled, to ¥15 billion.

Yet on January 16th it was Mr Horie who was taken by surprise. His company, now located in Roppongi Hills, a prestigious Tokyo landmark, was raided by prosecutors and investigators from the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC), on suspicion of securities-law violations. They also raided his home in a probe that lasted until dawn."



"For Japan Inc., which long seethed at Horie's unconventional and cheeky ways, a sense of revenge is in the air. Rather than delighting in Horie's woes, the establishment should appreciate what he's done for an economy struggling to find new sources of growth amid China's rise.

Last year, the scrappy entrepreneur shook things up by waging a hostile takeover battle with Fuji Television Network Inc., the nation's largest broadcaster. Such a move was almost unheard of in Japan. His unsuccessful campaigns to buy a baseball team and enter parliament also challenged Japan's stuffy ways.

If only Japan had 100 such entrepreneurs defying the status quo, taking risks, testing financial market rules, questioning shareholder-unfriendly practices and urging executives to change with the times, its economy might be far more dynamic."



Todd said...

I've heard that Horiemon didn't receive the customary "courtesy call" from police before the raid, making it even more of a surprise. One wonders if he isn't having his ears boxed by Corporate Japan - a little reminder of just who is still in charge...

Robert Brady said...

Yes, he certainly has stepped on some well-polished toes... It's the old "We're shocked, absolutely shocked..." (that this young punk is up to our old tricks, without permission)