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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Catching Up: Risky Business

I had met one girl, whom I had referred to in an earlier post as a potential mistress candidate. We had occasion to travel to Tokyo together, where I stayed in a corner suite at the Grand Hyatt, Mori-san's immense commercial, residential, hotel and shopping development on Ropponggi Hills.

On another occasion I would meet Arnold, the Governator, in an elevator there, but this is not about Mr. Muscle.

I have an interesting risk profile in business. I do enter businesses with ideas that many people would find insane, or at least very risky. On the other hand, I conduct the day to day and face to face parts of business very conservatively. I understand the value of wearing a suit. I understand how to wine and dine. I make sure accounting is done very very carefully. I am careful about contracts.

But for some reason, in November 2004, I threw caution to the wind. This lady, who I will call Sanura, is an exotic, well-educated and well-read woman, with long limbs, model-like features, and a very professional demeanor. Though Caucasian, she spoke Japanese well, knew their customs, and knew several prominent businessmen in Japan. She was probably one of the most business presentable women I had met that year.

One day we decided to mix business with pleasure, and have her pose as a business associate in several meetings I had in Tokyo. Just for fun.

I had three major meetings. One was a dinner with a Fortune 500 vice chairman and former division president, Mr. Y-san. Another was dinner and drinks with a Fortune 100 current president and vice chairman, Mr. A-san. And a third was with a pair of entrepreneurs who wanted to partner with me on a project, Bob and Doug, both of whom were well-known Caucasian ex-investment bankers in Asia (in fact Bob appears in a breathless book about the heyday of Asian investment banking).

Insane to play this game? Yes, in retrospect it was totally insane. Hundreds of millions of dollars of business were potentially at stake. But I admit at that point I was under a lot of personal pressure, and some of the businesses I was working on were really kind of "what the fuck" stuff. And these guys weren't really critical anyhow (or so I thought at the time.) In any case, I fell into this idea in the following way:

Sanura and I had talked in an offhand manner about how much fun it would be to play act her being a business associate. We were both mischevious people, after all. But we had only tossed the idea around, without any particular intent to really implement.

I was with Mr. A-san at one of his favorite restaurants. When he was in NYC, he regularly went to the NYC branch of this restaurant, and the current manager had come from there. So he was treated only slightly worse than the Emperor of Japan at this place. I had brought him his favorite drink, and we were tipsy on some wine, when he decided that he wanted to invite a few of his female underlings to the dinner. Two of them arrived, pretty but smart professional women.

It became clear within the first few minutes of their arrival that Mr. A-san was definitely a Japanese executive. If he were in the United States, he would have been slapped with twenty sexual harassment lawsuits. It was all verbal, and none mean-spirited, but I admit I was shocked by how blatant it was. He confessed that he was an equal opportunity harasser, so nobody should really feel bad. Hmm. Not a strategy I've ever tried, mostly because legal paperwork gives me hives.

At some point he extracts out of me that I am not alone in Tokyo; I lamely claim I'm with a co-worker, and then finds out it is a "she" rather than a "he." He is insulted that I would leave her behind and demands that I call her and have her show up. Remember, to him a female co-worker is a different relationship than to you and me.

Well, there is no denying this man, he is insistent. So I call Sanura, brief her on the situation (that she's a co-worker), and she arrives.

Within the first few seconds it's clear that A-san is smitten. Of course, I tend to believe he is smitten with anything that is young on two legs, maybe even four legs, but he is going out of his way to show me how it's done. He is flattering, complimentary, and attentive, all the while trying to give me "tips" on appropriate behavior.

We go drinking, karaoke, and have a night out on the town. The fact that Sanura can hold her liquor, sing in Japanese and English, and manage his female underlings deeply impresses A-san. In fact, without my knowing it, he makes a pass or three at her toward the end of the night.

Sanura finds the whole thing amusing and brushes it off. I find it raises my testosterone level.

After that incident, we decide to try it again with my other meetings. We use the magic of Kinkos to produce business cards, and set up an interim email account.

Mr. Y-san is a more genteel and charming person. He takes us to a private dining room and talks business. Sanura is good at bluffing her way through these discussions. I introduce her as a protege of George Soros, in fact. I think she pulls it off.

It's exciting.

The third meeting is the toughest. We have a meeting in my suite, and the two people will be there without food to dilute the experience. One is an investor and the regional head of a large investment bank. Once again, Sanura pulls it off. One affectation we demonstrate, purely thought up on the fly, is that I refuse to drink anything with them until after Sanura first tastes it. The others clearly notice this, but refrain from saying anything.

We nearly bust a gut laughing.

There is a repeat of the third meeting later. Again in the suite, and this time I arrange a catered lunch. Sanura prepares all of my food and takes a bite out of each part before serving it to me. All the while we are talking financials as if nothing odd is happening. I swear if Bob and Doug's eyebrows could climb any higher, they'd crawl off their foreheads.

The funny thing is that I end up having enduring business with all three.

Other employees of mine have met with all of them (separately), and in fact I met with Bob last week. I will meet with A-san next month. One of my employees told me that Doug had asked him if he had ever noticed anything odd about my eating habits...

The danger of taking that business risk was immensely exciting, although entirely foolish. It was the first time I've tried that. Will it be the last? That I do not know...


Blogger Phie said...

rented or owned: are girl friends analogous to "home?" Interesting way to put it!

6/22/2005 9:06 PM  

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