A Vibrant Career Cut Short

Back to Contents of Issue: December 2001

The murder of entrepreneur Roger Boisvert leaves a void in the heart of Tokyo's venture community.

by Bruce Rutledge

DEREK SCHNEIDEMAN, FORMER representative director and president of Gateway 2000 Japan, was ready for a break. After working at Gateway for four and a half years, bringing inexpensive built-to-order PCs to Japan, he was all set to take a year off.

Then Roger Boisvert called.

"The day before I submitted my resignation, he called up and said, 'I know what you've been thinking about. How would you like to start another business?' Schneideman recalls. They agreed to meet at a bar in the Westin Hotel in Ebisu.

Schneideman drank a gin and tonic as Boisvert drew up his plan for CTR Ventures on the back of a coaster. "He was a very persuasive person," Schneideman says. "He told me, 'You should not be doing nothing for a year. That's a waste of talent.'"

After an hour of drinking and talking, Schneideman agreed to join Boisvert in setting up CTR Ventures. "I changed my entire life plan," Schneideman says with a laugh.

Now Schneideman and others who worked with and knew Boisvert are left with a hole in their lives. Boisvert was murdered in the early hours of September 30 in Los Angeles. The murderer approached the idling car where Boisvert and his friend were sitting after getting lost in the city's Hawthorne district. Boisvert was studying a car navigation system map to see how to get to their hotel, when the murderer approached, took Boisvert's money and the driver's cellphone, and shot Boisvert, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Boisvert died instantly.

Boisvert was 50 when he died. He had spent 20 years in Japan, working as a consultant at McKinsey & Co., then, in 1993, founding IIKK, the first commercial Internet service provider authorized by the Japanese government. When that company was bought by PSI, he went on the following year to form the company he is best known for, Global OnLine (GOL), also an Internet service provider. Boisvert built up that company out of a cramped apartment. Finally, he sold GOL to Exodus KK in 1999 and turned his energies to forming CTR Ventures with Schneideman and others.

But it was not so much the impressive resume that made Boisvert a big figure during the 1990s Internet boom in Japan. It was more the way he refused to give up, his friends say.

Sean Hackett, director of Japan market development for the American Electronics Association in Japan in 1997 and 1998, recalls Boisvert's struggle to get a Type II telecommunications carrier license to set up an Internet service provider. "When he wanted a license, Roger gently explained the fundamentals of a new innovation called the Internet to a Ministry of Posts and Telecommuni-cations official, and suggested that Japan's competitive future depended on getting on the ISP bandwagon and quick, and that granting a Type II license would be the first step to getting on that bandwagon," Hackett writes in an email. "After having his application for the Type II license rejected twice, and against the advice of his Japanese translator, Roger, cool as a cucumber, asked the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications official who had rejected his application how he would write the application if he were applying. The official smiled and proceeded to rewrite the application 'correctly' for Roger on a blank piece of paper. Roger thanked the official, took a new application, and had the Japanese translator copy the official's notes word for word on the new application. As history and ministry documents record it ... the third application was approved and Roger got the license."

Boisvert, a native of St. Catherines in Ontario, Canada, came from a poor family. He learned his first business lesson at an early age, says Thomas Caldwell, a Tokyo-based writer who is working on a biography of Boisvert. Boisvert and his brothers sold newspaper subscriptions in hopes of getting new bicycles that the newspaper offered. The brothers sold plenty of subscriptions, Caldwell says, but when they went to collect their bikes, the company wouldn't give them all the bikes they were due. Thus the young Boisvert learned that not everyone plays by the rules.

Boisvert also drove 18-wheeler trucks across Canada and "read books while he was driving," Caldwell says.

Boisvert came to Japan with his wife, Yuriko Hiraguri, in 1981 to help his in-laws run their coffee shop. In 1984 he entered McKinsey as a personal computer trainer. He eventually became a consultant there.

Caldwell remembers visiting Boisvert during those days. "I walked into the posh offices of McKinsey and into his office, and there were computers and parts of all makes and models everywhere, and an ashtray whose contents could be weighed in kilos," he says.

Schneideman recalls that Boisvert's offices usually looked like "bomb sites."

Boisvert was an accomplished mountain climber and a motorcycle fanatic, even after having an accident that damaged his foot. Schneideman says, "He finally started driving a car after we bought him a BMW last fall. But I don't know how much he actually drove it."

Boisvert rode the waves of enthusiasm and skepticism that characterized Japan in the 1990s. At times he was flush; then he'd find himself tapped out. At one critical stage in the early life of GOL, in 1996, he went to his friend, Joe Lestage, now president and representative director at Capital Investment & Realty, for help. Lestage and a group of investors bought 34 percent of GOL. "The rest is history," Lestage says.

Lestage was perhaps one of Boisvert's closest friends. "I talked to him almost everyday," he says. "We advised him during the buyout of GOL. He would not go against his investors. He wanted a better return for the people who supported him. He really cared about people."

Boisvert leaves behind a wife and two sons, and a whole community of friends in Bit Valley and elsewhere. "If you had a complaint about Roger," Schneideman says, "it was that he would say yes to everything." @

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