Learning. Lifelong. Worldwide.

Alumni and business luminaries seek to vitalize Japan and solve global economic issues during the 2013 Wharton Global Forum in Tokyo.

By Susan McDonnell

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In 1947, a Forestry Office of the Imperial Household in Tokyo was reincarnated as the nationally owned and operated Hotel Teito. In 1961, it was reinvented yet again as the Palace Hotel featuring award-winning architecture and a modern design. In 2012, the facility was built anew, and the Palace Hotel Tokyo celebrated its grand opening.

“Not grand reopening,” emphasizes Jeffrey Sheehan, Wharton’s associate dean of international relations. “It was the Palace Hotel Tokyo’s grand opening—even though this hotel had existed for decades. It was built new. For me, that’s the perfect symbol of the Wharton Global Forum in Tokyo.”

On May 24 and 25, 2013, the Palace Hotel Tokyo will host Wharton alumni and business leaders from around the world during the 43rd Wharton Global Forum. Takashi Kobayashi, WG’74, is president of the high-end establishment. The forum’s theme, vitalization, is well represented in its venue. The goal of the forum is to find ways for Japan to solve its existing problems in new, previously unexplored ways. To start from scratch. To build rather than rebuild.

Vitalization of the world’s third-largest national economy is essential. In the 1990s, the country’s stock market plummeted, public debt soared, real estate markets imploded and population growth stagnated. In an October 2012 Wall Street Journal article, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development referred to Japan’s enormous public debt—which primarily is held by domestic investors and is now more than 200 percent of the country’s gross domestic product—as being in “uncharted territory.”

“The organizing committee of the Tokyo Forum thought it would be a good idea to draw a thick black line under these problems and focus on the vitalization of Japan,” says Sheehan. “They said that the only way we can change in a meaningful way is to start over, to confront these problems as if they were brand new.”

The committee includes Honorary Chairman Yotaro Kobayashi, WG’58; Chairman Keisuke Muratsu, WG’75; Junichi Endo, WG’93; and Shuji Honjo, WG’93.

The Tokyo forum will host a series of dynamic discussions and keynotes featuring leaders from academia and the private and public sectors who share this conviction. The forum will address issues that confront Japan as well as countries throughout the industrialized world, such as an aging society, energy and sustainability.

As a Lifelong Learning event, the forum will feature master classes during which alumni and attendees can learn from Wharton faculty and from each other. One new addition will be three round-table discussion and networking sessions through which alumni can connect with their peers in a more intimate setting. Sessions will be tailored toward rising managers, CEO s and women in business.

“We’ve created a venue through which alumni, regardless of industry, can engage with each other to discuss challenges they’re facing, to share ideas and to network with one another,” says Lizann Rode, Wharton’s executive director for alumni relations.

The addition of these sessions highlights the forums’ continual evolution throughout their 19-year history. The events initially launched in Manila in 1993 as Regional Alumni Forums. In 2004, they were renamed Global Alumni Forums to reflect the international nature of business. In 2006, forum programming began to include master classes. During the 2012 forum in Milan, attendees participated in tours and activities centered on the culture and business of the city. Tokyo will feature such events made popular by former forums. On October 10 and 11, Wharton will travel to Paris for the next Wharton Global Forum. For both events in 2013, the forums were rebranded to reflect their impact on not only the Wharton alumni community, but also the international business community at large.

“Historically, the forums have always been open to non-alumni,” Rode explains. “The idea behind taking alumni out of the name is to communicate what the event really is—a global conversation about relevant business topics, using and trading on the brand of Wharton which brings the best experts in the world into the room.”

Editor’s note: Read our side story about another Lifelong Learning opportunity, this past fall’s Wharton MBA for Executives Reunion.

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