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How Fascination With Asia Will Influence Forbes’ Next 100 Years – Forbes

Forbes is celebrating 100 years of its business-empowering magazine. To commemorate the milestone in Asia, Christopher Forbes gives his personal take on the fascinating journey that began in 1917 with his grandfather. 

“BARON ITO REASSURES U.S.,” ran a headline in the March 16, 1918 issue of FORBES. Ito, the former private secretary of Japanese Premier Prince Katsura, wrote an article detailing how Japan’s foreign trade had made a “complete somersault” during the Great War, with its exports surging in excess of its imports: “At the head of our ‘flower customers’ stands the United States.” He assured readers that America’s fears of Japan monopolizing Asian trade were unfounded, and added that German propagandists were creating “utterly silly twaddle about a possible wanton war forced upon America by Japan.”

While subsequent events would render the Baron’s reassurances hollow, it is fascinating to note in the article that America’s imports of $114 million of silk were the equivalent of 23% of Japan’s exports in 1916!

Another war and several decades later, Bruce Forbes and his younger brother Malcolm assumed control of the business after the death of founder B.C. Forbes in 1954. After losing a race for the Governorship of New Jersey in 1957, Malcolm began to travel regularly to Asia. During these years he wrote extensively on the U.S. military services and their presence in the region. He toured the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. On these long visits, in addition to assessing U.S. defense capabilities in the region, he became fascinated by the rapid development of the electronics and automotive industries in Japan. This infatuation resulted in my brothers and I “serenading” — on the bagpipes — the founders of Sony, Matsushita [later Panasonic] and Honda at dinners in their honor at Timberfield, our family home in New Jersey.

Bruce Forbes speaks at the 40th anniversary celebration dinner.

Asia Friendship Tours

In the 1970s, brother Steve and I began making regular trips to Asia — Steve in search of editorial ideas, and I to help fill the advertising pages “opposite.” Articles on the region increased in frequency and ad revenues grew. Having become an aficionado of motorcycles and ballooning, my dad, Malcolm Stevenson Forbes (also known as MSF) decided that “hot air and two wheels” could be put to use to promote FORBES in Asia and beyond. And so in 1982, with eight Harley Davidsons and a balloon emblazoned with the flags of the U.S. and China, he launched the first of his “friendship tours,” cycling from Xi’an to Beijing. Things momentarily became less friendly when he accidentally landed his balloon at a military base, almost causing an international incident.

Read More: 5 Historic Moments That Transformed Asia

While in the Chinese capital, the legendary tycoon Armand Hammer introduced MSF to President Zia of Pakistan, who invited him to visit his country the following spring — which he did, with a balloon in the shape of Pakistan’s Independence Monument. In 1985, he commissioned the Great Elephant Balloon for a tour of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. It was my first trip to Southeast Asia and I arrived in Singapore in the back of an ambulance — by then I had given up motorcycling and it was the only air-conditioned vehicle in the convoy.

Forbes

How Forbes promoted itself in China in the 1980s …

The last of the Asia friendship tours was to Japan in 1986 with a balloon shaped like the Kinkaku — the Golden Temple in Kyoto. Fujio Mitarai, nephew of Canon’s founder (and the eventual CEO), persuaded Dentsu, the Japanese advertising colossus, to help organize and promote the trip, which generated a lot of press and a bump in Asian ad revenues. Just one of many acts of kindness Mitarai-san has extended to FORBES during a friendship spanning almost five decades.

Highlander

Pop’s next assault on the region was amphibious. In 1988 The Highlander V, a 151-foot yacht launched two years earlier, sailed through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific, making stops at Laucala (Forbes’ island in Fiji); Darwin; Bangkok; Kuala Lumpur; Singapore; Hong Kong; Shanghai; Inchon and Tokyo. Guests on various legs of the trip ranged from Roger Smith, then chairman of General Motors, to Elizabeth Taylor!

Malcolm Forbes with Elizabeth Taylor during the celebrations to mark Forbes’ 70th anniversary.

Sailing on the Huangpu River, under the watchful eye of then Mayor of Shanghai, Jiang Zemin — who would later become president — I was photographed with three others “SOBs” (sons of bosses): Jack Ford, Mark Thatcher and Deng Pu Fang. A week later, while on Tokyo Bay, I was seated at dinner on the fantail of The Highlander between the grandson of the founder of Panasonic, Konosuke Matsushita, and soy sauce scion Ken Mogi of Kikkoman. The electronics heir and I were proudly noting that our respective companies were about to celebrate their 70th birthdays — the latter humbled us both when he dryly observed that his company had celebrated its 350th anniversary a few years earlier.

Read More: 5 Companies That Have Shaped Asia, And The World

While Pop’s colorful exploits were creating an image for FORBES in Asia, writers like Laury Minard were acquainting the American business and financial communities with the emerging economies of Southeast Asia. Laury’s pioneering interviews with the founders of Samsung, Hyundai and LG (aka Lucky Goldstar) were the first exposure many in the U.S. had to these now iconic global brands.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (R) is presented with a copy of Forbes Magazine by Steve Forbes (C) in March 2005, as Canon CEO Fujio Mitarai looks on. (SHIZUO KAMBAYASHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Malcolm’s Passing

My father’s untimely death at the age of 70 in 1990 confronted my brothers and I — especially Steve — with the dual challenges of how to grow internationally and the emergence of digital. Fortuitously for us in the late fall of 1998, the gentleman who had shepherded the growth of the Asian Wall Street Journal through the 1990s, arrived in my office to discuss his plans for a new publication. We were able to persuade Will Adamopoulos to instead sign up with FORBES and in early 1999, he opened our Asia headquarters in Singapore, before spearheading the launch of Forbes Asia in 2005, taking FORBES from no place to first place in the region.

The first issue of Forbes Global — the precursor to Forbes Asia — to print in Asia rolled off the presses in Singapore in October, 2000. At the dinner to celebrate this milestone with Cap Weinberger — who succeeded Pop as chairman — and then-Deputy Prime Minister (now PM) Lee Hsien Loong, the idea of a conference to mark Forbes’ growing presence was discussed. Eleven months later — a week after 9/11 — the first Forbes Global CEO Conference took place. Against the odds, not only was it a resounding success but a profitable one as well. An annual Asia tradition was born.

Inspired by the U.S. tally of the 400 richest Americans, we launched our own series of Asia Rich Lists in 2004. This was followed by the launch of numerous editions of the magazine across Asia, from China to India. Other significant events launched in Asia include “Best Under A Billion,” highlighting the region’s best emerging companies, “the Fab 50,” recognizing the success of Asia’s major enterprises, “Power Women,” “Next Tycoons” and “30 Under 30.”

A copy of the Vietnamese version of Forbes Magazine on sale at a roadside newsstand in Hanoi in 2013. (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

For Sale

In 2013, my family came to the difficult conclusion that if FORBES was to continue to compete it would be necessary to bring in a major infusion of outside capital. Given our ages, as well as the interests of our offspring, we decided that it was time to put the future of the business in other hands. Not surprisingly, of the five serious bidders who emerged, the final two contenders were from Asia. Each appreciated that Forbes was not only a media company but a brand. The deal was concluded the following year.

B.C. Forbes, a Scottish immigrant to the U.S. — the land of opportunity — would find it apt that the control of the company he founded has migrated across yet another ocean to the fastest-growing region of the 21st century.

A happy centenary indeed!

How Fascination With Asia Will Influence Forbes’ Next 100 Years – Forbes}

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