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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 13:14 GMT
Japan's outspoken internet bosses
By Jon Cronin
BBC business reporter

Livedoor boss Takafumi Horie
Livedoor is run by 33-year-old entrepreneur Takafumi Horie

Japanese entrepreneur Takafumi Horie is not a man who minces his words - especially when it comes to his views on Japan's traditionally staid business world.

"All the evils come from aged business managers," the 33-year-old boss of Japanese internet firm Livedoor once declared.

But Mr Horie has been forced onto the back foot after prosecutors raided the Tokyo offices of Livedoor on Monday, following allegations of fraud at the firm.

The move sent shockwaves through Japan, spooking investors and helping to bring about the unprecedented early closure of the Tokyo stock exchange on Wednesday, as a mass sell-off in shares threatened to bring the market to a halt.

Some critics are now beginning to question whether the brash approach to business espoused by Mr Horie and other up-and-coming "new economy" business leaders has a place in corporate Japan.

Anti-establishment

Spiky-haired, podgy-faced and immensely wealthy, Livedoor's boss has shot to fame as much for his failures as successes.

It would be rather irresponsible to speak about whether I will step down or stay when we are yet to get hold of the current situation
Takafumi Horie

In 2004, he failed in a bid to buy a Japanese baseball team, while last year he raised eyebrows among old guard rivals with an unsuccessful hostile takeover approach for the popular Fuji television network.

He also, again unsuccessfully, ran in parliamentary elections last year as an independent candidate supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

But despite these setbacks, Mr Horie's fortunes - and those of his internet business - had been going from strength to strength.

Livedoor, which offers consulting, telecoms and software development services, has grown rapidly through a series of takeovers and stock splits into a group with a value of about 730bn yen ($6.3bn; 3.6bn) before the scandal surrounding the firm broke.

Mr Horie revels in his role as something of an anti-establishment figure.

Risk takers

A university dropout, he stands out in the largely conservative world of corporate Japan, preferring to wear T-shirts than suits to business meetings and regularly appearing on TV quiz shows.

Softbank President Masayoshi Son
Softbank's boss has had much to smile about

Critics say much of his personal philosophy would not have looked out of place in the cut-throat world of 1980s Wall Street.

"Earning Money Is Everything: From Zero to 10 Billion Yen, My Way," the title of a recent book by Mr Horie confidently displays.

Supporters say Mr Horie and other like-minded peers are breathing new life into Japan's business world, showing that risk takers can attract the interest of investors both at home and abroad.

Internet landscape

Internet firm Softbank is another darling of Japan's booming new economy.

Its boss, Masayoshi Son, has become one of Japan's richest business leaders by radically shaking up the country's internet landscape.

But the developing scandal at Livedoor is stirring concern about the strength of Japan's new tech boom.

Shares in Softbank closed down 13% on the Tokyo stock exchange on Wednesday.

Critics worry that the steady sales-focused foundations upon which much of Japan's companies are traditionally built are being overlooked in a new world of rapid expansion fuelled largely by takeovers.

"Could it be that the Tokyo prosecutors' investigation stands as a warning about the climate that says you're a 'winner' if you make money even if you break the rules?" Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper opined on Wednesday.

'Rather irresponsible'

Bosses at Livedoor have denied the company broke market rules by giving misleading information to shareholders

As for Mr Horie, since prosecutors arrived at the offices of Livedoor on Monday night, he has decided to keep his own counsel.

"It would be rather irresponsible to speak about whether I will step down or stay when we are yet to get hold of the current situation," he said.

Past experience leads many observers to believe he won't stay silent for long.


SEE ALSO:
Selling panic closes Tokyo market
18 Jan 06 |  Business
Livedoor denials as shares tumble
17 Jan 06 |  Business
Japanese web firm Livedoor raided
16 Jan 06 |  Business
Better times for Japanese economy
29 Nov 05 |  Business
Koizumi's 'assassins' get set for poll
07 Sep 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Softbank to offer cut-rate calls
30 Aug 04 |  Business


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