Hidehiko Yuzaki: "Work Hard. It is the Only Way"

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Hidehiko Yuzaki: "Work Hard. It is the Only Way"

The governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, discusses the value of persistence and humility in entrepreneurship.
Hidehiko Yuzaki speaks at a press conference in Geneva. (Getty Images)

Hidehiko Yuzaki is the governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. As Governor of Hiroshima, he is developing initiatives toward nuclear disarmament. "Hiroshima symbolizes the good and bad nature of the human race," he says. "Disruption by nuclear weapon is the result of human power. Hiroshima has recovered from the devastation and that is also a sign of power."

Prior to being elected to governor in 2009 he served in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. He earned his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1995, then founded ACCA Networks, a broadband telecom carrier in Japan. In our interview, Yuzaki shares his views on the dangers of losing humbleness, and the value of persistence.

In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind what you do?

Increase the value of the region.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

I was born and raised in Hiroshima. When I was deciding where to go to school, my mother recommended that I go to Tokyo. Her intention was for me to learn about a bigger, more competitive world. It led to more opportunities to see other worlds, too. The experience of living outside my hometown is essential to running Hiroshima. It has helped me to look at my region in a more fair way. I believe diversity is very important in an organization. But diversity in yourself is also very important.

What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?

You need to build competitiveness based on your own strength and competencies. Looking back on my entrepreneurial experience, our competitiveness and differentiation were based on partnerships with other organizations. That is not sustainable. It takes time to build, and it quickly can deteriorate. If you take 10 years to change or build something it will take 10 years to change it again. My bus was a CLEC, a competitive local exchange carrier or telecommunications provider. We built our strength on a partnership with an incumbent player. It became a very strong point of differentiation and allowed us to build our business quickly. Revenue grew to $400 million in just four years. We wholesaled our local carrier service to a long-distance carrier and provided DSL service. As the DSL market became saturated, we needed to expand into other domains but our partner did not push our new businesses, and we needed more time to make new partnerships. Your competitiveness and competency can quickly become reversed if it's not your own.

What advice would you give others on how to be successful in life?

Work hard. It is the only way. It's very simple! People say they want to be like Steve Jobs or some other genius. But most people are not [like] him. I am not Steve Jobs. I have to work hard. Many people get tired or give up. They are not persistent enough. But if you keep working hard, your chances of success increase dramatically. There are a lot of smart people out there with very good ideas but persistent execution is very rare. You need to keep executing, making adjustments to what you do based on the results, and keep doing it again and again until eventually you succeed.

How do you come up with your best ideas?

I get good ideas through discussion. Other people's ideas accumulate and help me create new ideas. There is an old Japanese proverb: "If they are three, there will be Monju." Monju is a Buddhist symbol of wisdom.

What is your greatest achievement?

I am proud of the company I created. We introduced broadband and had a very big impact on the development of the internet in Japan. I am also proud of what I'm doing as a governor of Hiroshima. I am changing how the government works. But I would like to do more. I would like to have more of an impact.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

My biggest failure was in business. I lost humbleness. When you have achieved success you get excited and lose insight into the future. You start to go downhill. At the early stages of my business we started to provide DSL service, and there was very harsh competition. We stormed the market with low prices. One of our competitors wanted to strike a partnership but we thought we could do it on our own and rejected their proposal. They were pushed to the edge and merged with another company. They became very strong and eventually bigger than us. Eventually we suffered from this. You need to stay humble.

What values are important to you in work?

To contribute to the good of society.

What impact would you like to have on the world?

In my current capacity as governor I would like to create social and economic systems that would continuously create innovation and entrepreneurship. This will enhance our ability to create sustainability, wealth, security, and safety.

What was your first paying job?

I was a part-time teacher at a private, after-school program. In Japan kids go to school after school to prepare for admissions exams. They call it "cram school."

What is the best business/leadership book you have read?

Built to Last, by Jim Collins, and The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen.

What businessperson/leader do you most admire?

Louis Gerstner. He has totally changed IBM. That was a very tough task. He turned it around and brought a sense of urgency. That's what I need to do in my capacity.

What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?

There are many business skills and techniques taught at Stanford but those change. Basic principles, however, do not change. Those were the classes that have mattered the most to me. I also earned a master of BBQ arts. There is not a lot of opportunity to do that here. I miss having barbeque parties at a friend's house or in the park.

What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?

Applying the skills of business to social causes, like at the Stanford Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank is a great example of this.

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