From The Editor

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2002

by Bruce Rutledge

BUYOUT KING WILBUR ROSS has been called a lot of things in his time: 'bond-market bottom-fisher,' 'media poseur,' and 'Wall Street medium-big-shot,' for example -- and that's just from one New York writer. In Japan, he's usually seen as one of the vultures, a figure workers fear and respect, a B-division Carlos Ghosn. So why, you may ask, is his face pasted on a bottle of pills on our cover this month?

A little background is in order. In my short tenure at J@pan Inc, I've never seen a cover go through as big of an emotional mood swing. First there was a particularly unflattering picture of Ross, eyes beadily staring at the reader, pasted on top of a bull's skull. Too grim, some said. Then came the buyout king standing next to a plaster bull covered in stock listings. Corporate, conservative, but too cliche for the cover? We moved it inside. Finally we settled on the cover you see, with the theme of buyout funds as doctors. Some may say that we're being too nice to the so-called vulture capitalists, but what we found is that the buyout players take a bit of a different approach in Japan than they do in the West. Here deals take longer, there's more at stake and turnaround time is anything but quick. In other words, the buyout funds aren't as likely to go in for the quick score; they have to fix what they've bought and bring it back to health before they can pocket the profits.

Also, let it be said that while we've turned the buyout players into doctors in our special three-part feature that starts on page 18, we're acknowledging the fact that some doctors are very good and others can be very bad. (Make your own decisions about Wilbur Ross: Alex Stewart's interview with the 'king of bankruptcy'.)

So, will the targets of these buyout funds be returned to health or will we face a lot of ugly malpractice suits in the next few years? It's too soon to tell, but once you cut through the hype associated with this foreign capital 'invasion,' some interesting details appear. Our senior editor Sumie Kawakami shows in the first part of the series that the foreign funds aren't as 'foreign' as you would think. She also shows us that elements in the Japanese government are happy to see the foreign money buy up the sick and the wounded -- at least some of them. And she shows that the huge deals everyone expected after the sale several years ago of Long-Term Credit Bank, Kofuku Bank and some other big names have yet to happen. More than JPY1 trillion sits waiting, but buyout bargains are not as easy to find in Japan as everyone has assumed.

And if buyouts aren't your thing, don't worry: We have Elvis on i-mode, a robotic seal with therapeutic powers, wireless cards galore and DJ Muneo in the house. Sam Joseph also takes you on a tour of all things open source.

Finally, we'd like to welcome back Eiko Nishida, our new art director, who worked as our graphic designer in our earlier, heftier days. You'll see Eiko's style flourish on our pages in the coming months. And speaking of pages, yes, as some of you have mentioned, we've become a little thin lately. We're still eating three meals a day -- it's just that we've switched from sumo to marathons. We're in it for the long haul, the whole excruciating 42.195 kilometers, and once we emerge from this endurance test, we're planning to put on some bulk.

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