Our heroes - Issue 29 - Magazine | Monocle

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Bigger stage? That’s often a question batted around our editorial floor in London regarding personalities that ­deserve a stronger spotlight. Few are household names (although our French readers will certainly have watched our news anchor), indeed some are known to only a handful of people (such as our magazine seller who goes the extra mile) and one of them none of you have ever heard of (although we think some of our Italian followers might like to be introduced). But all of them offer something that could make the year ahead that bit better. Together they could transform your vision of the countryside, retune you to the pleasures of CDs, get your dance feet into gear (while sporting some covetable footwear), give you a fresh ­education and even renew your belief that all sorts of prejudices can be tackled. These are the people we want to be given a bigger stage in 2010 (and, if you turn to page 36, you’ll find a few characters who can get off the stage too).

01 Is it superman?

Ziad Baroud

Politician, Beirut

Ziad Baroud might very well be the antidote to Lebanon’s dysfunctional political system. Google his name and a picture pops up of him dressed as Superman. This 39-year-old lawyer was appointed Lebanon’s interior minister in July 2008 in the aftermath of the Doha accords which helped usher in a new government after months of a power vacuum.

A former civil society activist and a prominent member of the Boutros Commission charged with reforming sectarian voting laws, Baroud was tasked with overseeing last summer’s potentially explosive elections. They were the most peaceful and transparent elections yet. “The challenge is to believe reform is not illusory and politics doesn’t always go hand in hand with corruption, incompetence and private interests,” says Baroud. Lebanon needs more politicians who owe their positions to merit rather than their families. As one commentator put it, “Lebanon needs 30 Ziad Barouds”.

02Stroke of genius

Kate Rew

Founder, Outdoor Swimming Society, London

The British tend to see outdoor swimming as the preserve of eccentrics, drunken students and indomitable old ladies in floral bathing caps. “This is a uniquely British perspective,” says Kate Rew, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS). “Other nations across Europe have never questioned their right to swim in the wild. In the UK, lidos close because people want covered and sanitised swimming pools; in Holland they close because everyone swims in rivers or lakes.”

Founding the OSS in 2006, Rew’s aim was to overcome an invisible barrier that seemed to keep people out of the wild waters of Britain. “It just seemed ridiculous that they felt they didn’t have permission to swim.”

The OSS runs “swim clinics” (to perfect technique) and swim fitness sessions, and also has an online social network featuring enthusiasts, swim maps and newsletters. Along with spreading an environmental message, there are obvious health benefits for a country where one in four adults is clinically obese, although Rew emphasises that “what we do is less tangible than getting sleeker muscles and a lower heart rate. Outdoor swimming is transporting and delivers that feeling of untamed happiness, which is impossible to buy and increasingly hard to find. It’s about achieving a certain state of mind and quality of life.” With an estimated 12 million active swimmers in the UK, compared to an OSS membership of 7,000, Rew has ambitious plans for expansion in 2010 and is looking for sponsorship to create the aquatic equivalent of the Ramblers Association, with huge potential to move into Europe and beyond.

03 Glamour with grit

Laurence Ferrari

News anchor on TF1, France

It’s great having so many news sources, but sometimes you just yearn for an authoritative news anchor with some journalistic passion. That’s why there should be more people like France’s Laurence Ferrari. Appointed as the face of Le Journal de 20h on TF1 in 2008, she anchors a broadcast that regularly attracts an audience of more than eight million, is reverentially referred to as “high mass” and commands 30.7 per cent of the evening viewing public in France (making it the most-watched news broadcast in Europe). In a country where the evening news is seen as a national “rendezvous” rather than a mere broadcast, Ferrari takes her role seriously. “I put a lot of who I am into my job,” she says, “but my main priority is to stay neutral and professional.” Broadcasters need to find the singular voice that represents their brand and speaks to their nation – they then need to back this up with good, old-fashioned journalism.

04 Stand and deliver

Sergio Cifariello

Newsagent, Milan

The news kiosk is as important in Italian daily life as the café. Instead of a rolled-up newspaper left on a doorstep, Italians prefer to pick up a broadsheet from a familiar face. Among the country’s 35,000 newsagents, Sergio Cifariello stands out. Located inside Milan’s Gioia metro station, he and his wife open their stand promptly each morning at 06.00 to serve commuters and residents. Curiously, his clients mimic the media he sells. “We have the daily regulars, those that come weekly and those that pass by every so often to pick up their monthlies,” laughs Cifariello, 59. Multilingual, he’s also happy to source hard-to-find foreign titles for new arrivals to the city. But what’s most impressive about his family-run business is the neighbourly vibe it gives off. “People from the office buildings like to come down during their break just to say hello.”

05 Share the wealth

Jack Ma

Chairman of Alibaba Group, China

Despite an explosion in the number of ultra-wealthy entrepreneurs in China, billionaires are generally better known for their flashy cars and gambling holidays than for assisting those still struggling around them. Which is why Jack Ma, lead founder of the wildly successful alibaba.com B2B marketplace, stands out.

The 45-year-old chairman of Alibaba Group put eBay out of business in China with his taobao.com auction site and his alibaba.com network alone has a market value of €7.8bn.

Ma has donated $5m (€3.3m) in seed money to Grameen China, an initiative of the microfinance Grameen Bank, which has helped nearly eight million Bangladeshis out of poverty with small, no-collateral loans.

The Chinese version is to begin its work in Sichuan province, where villagers are still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2008, and in poverty-stricken parts of Inner Mongolia, with plans to expand from there.

“Ten years of sweat and tears in building the business has helped me get a rough idea of the meaning of money versus wealth. If you have a few million, then you can say you have money. If you have a hundred million, then you can say you have capital. But when you have several hundred million or even several billion, then that money is no longer your money. Rather, it’s a resource that belongs to society. You have the power but even more importantly, you have the responsibility to put that resource to good use on behalf of society,” Ma wrote in a note to his employees recently. “If you have money, but have not turned this money into an experience to elevate your own or other people’s level of happiness, then you may very well possess a lot of symbols and a mountain of very colourful paper.”

06 Chronicler of the crisis

Alex Preston

Novelist, London

Whatever is the opposite of a love-letter to a city and a way of life, Alex Preston’s stark, poetic debut novel is it; reading This Bleeding City makes you yearn for an exclamation mark at the end of the title. Charlie Wales is an awkward narrator who chronicles his life as a London-based hedge fund manager on a collision course as a result of his own literary sensibility and unrequited love, and a cruel avaricious streak. Piqued by being in the centre of the world banking shit storm, Preston’s tale is both cautionary and caustic; the words are good and the arc of action believable – Preston himself is in the business. It’s a timely book from a young writer; putting a conscience – albeit an often objectionable one – to the bull-market bullshitters, showing the pill-popping, soft-pink underbelly of a legion of red braces.

07 Ode to Nowhere

Michiyo Yoshimura

Nowhere Resort, Japan

Step one, build an elegant house. Step two, fill it with beautiful items. Step three, rent it out and let strangers pretend it’s their own for a week – and upon leaving, allow them to buy anything they’d like to take with them. Nowhere Resort is the novel concept from trained architect and property developer Michiyo Yoshimura. These holiday homes are changing the face of holidays in Japan. It’s a welcome concept in a country where most accommodation options have long been confined to anonymous business hotels, western-style chains or tiptoe-quiet traditional ryokan inns. Yoshimura has opened three coastal properties and more are in the pipeline.

She works closely with her architect husband, Yasutaka Yoshimura, who has sensitively built or renovated all of the properties. trees. The first is a modern one-bedroom apartment in Zushi. The second to open was a traditional house in Hayama, complete with sloping tiled roof, tatami floors and manicured And the most recent is a white new-build that juts into the Pacific in Sajima.

For Yoshimura – mother of a three-year-old boy – the concept arose out of a desire to find a comfortable retreat from modern life. “When I think of taking a vacation with my son, I don’t want a busy sightseeing holiday, but an easy and relaxing vacation with our own base.”

Hotel-standard concierge services are also on offer: from hearty breakfasts and full-scale party catering to tea delivery and ayurvedic body treatments. Activities such as food tours, hiking trips and bonfire parties can also be arranged. In addition, Yoshimura is venturing into her own merchandise range – all of the beds have super-soft mattresses draped with Nowhere’s high quality linens.

It’s this mix of stand-out design and attention to detail that is putting Nowhere on the map. We want to see more of this novel and bold thinking in the hospitality industry.

08 Start the presses

Trevor Ncube

Newspaper owner, Zimbabwe

Trevor Ncube, who already owns two weekly Zimbabwean papers as well as South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, is set to launch Zimbabwe’s first independent daily paper since the Daily News was shut down in 2003. NewsDay is a risky venture for Ncube whose commitment to press freedom saw him arrested, jailed and even have his citizenship temporarily revoked by Robert Mugabe.

The agreement between Mugabe and his erstwhile rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, which gave birth to a coalition government in February 2009, contained a pledge to allow independent media. But the real test will come when Mugabe – or indeed Tsvangirai – is criticised by NewsDay’s reporters.

“We are aware of the impediments which lie ahead,” Ncube says. If NewsDay still exists at the end of 2010 then perhaps things will be looking up.

09 Out and proud

Nikolai Alexeyev

Gay rights campaigner, Moscow

Nikolai Alexeyev is the face of the Russian gay rights movement, best known for organising the yearly pride demonstrations since 2006, where he can usually be seen being heavy-handedly bundled into the back of a police van. In a country where homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 and both political and social rhetoric is stridently homophobic, Alexeyev’s campaigning often seems a thankless – and dangerous – task. But he is adamant that proactive campaigning is the only way to change things and must be admired for his doggedness and courage.

“Just look at history – you can only win rights if you fight for them,” he says. “It’s not surprising that people don’t want to demonstrate – there are major risks. If you’re seen on television at a march, you can lose your job or university place. Most people prefer not to come out at all. But we do see that, as time goes by, there are more people who are ready to come out into the open."

A main part of the problem, according to Alexeyev, is that there are no role models for gay Russians. “There are no openly gay politicians or cultural figures,” he says. “For that to happen there has to be a change in the political climate. In this situation it’s impossible for a politician to say he’s gay.”

Alexeyev laments a missed opportunity for real progress in the days before Vladimir Putin’s rule. “During the 1990s, the political system was freer but nothing was done to raise awareness and change attitudes. The main thing to change since we started pride marches is that the topic is no longer marginalised. It’s now part of the mainstream debate in the media and society.”

And how does he see the situation changing? “It will take a radically different political context. While you have regional leaders making homophobic comments with impunity, attitudes in society are unlikely to change. We are working hard, we are challenging the authorities.” And as gay people continue to be kicked around for their sexuality, we need more people willing to take a stand.

10 Ice cool

Federico Grom and Guido Martinetti

Grom ice cream, Turin

Inspired by Italy’s Slow Food movement, Federico Grom and Guido Martinetti have made a name for themselves by applying that philosophy to one of the country’s most sought after sweets: gelato. “In the last 20 years, there’s been a tendency to make food preparation easier, and that includes ice cream,” says Martinetti.

“But to make something that tastes good requires time and above all hard work.” In 2003, the pair opened their first ice cream shop in their native Turin under the Grom label. They quickly earned rave reviews for their dense and creamy gelato that’s made from freshly drawn milk, high-grade South American chocolate and in-season fruit. Since then, Grom gelaterias have grown steadily to 32, including overseas shops in New York and Tokyo.

Setting them apart is the company’s obsessive search for the highest-quality ingredients – they recently planted eight varieties of peach to determine which was best for sorbet.

11 Mr Music

Muneaki Masuda

CEO of Culture Convenience Club, Japan

If you want inspiration, look to Muneaki Masuda. Having ditched a promising career at a women’s clothing chain, he opened a tiny bookshop called Tsutaya in his native city of Hirakata (Osaka) and that’s where his success story began. Some 26 years later, he has 1,300 shops in Japan selling books, cds and DVDs. The Ebisu branch, is so huge it feels like a library that can please even the most fanatical film and music fans. And at Roppongi Hills, the gift-wrapping has been specially designed by designer Kashiwa Sato. Despite the economic downturn, Masuda’s holding company, Culture Convenience Club (CCC), posted a pre-tax profit of ¥16bn (€120m) in the year ending March 2009. And the 58-year-old is only just getting started. He says his plans is “to become the world’s No 1 lifestyle contents provider”.

12 Thinking in ink

Walter Hussman

Newspaper publisher, Arkansas

At the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a bad, slow website that contains hardly anything to read is a matter of principle. “Not many years ago if someone wanted to find out what was in the newspaper they had to buy one,” publisher Walter E Hussman Jr wrote in a 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed. He criticised his peers back then for having turned their valuable content into “free news”. Instead, Hussman has focused on selling the print edition of his family-owned Little Rock daily, a stubborn commitment to an old-fashioned business model that has made him an unlikely provocateur. “You can view Walter as either extremely radical or as extremely conservative,” says Joshua Benton, director of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “You can say he’s going against the norm online or that he’s going for the norm in print.”

Hussman, a third-generation publisher, inherited the family business in 1974 as a 27-year-old, and has grown parent company WEHCO Media by acquiring new papers in neighbouring Texas, Tennessee and Missouri. At each, he has focused online investments towards generating content that can “complement, not cannibalise” the print product, where rates for a Sunday ad buy can fetch 100 times more per reader than an online banner ad.

One of the country’s last statewide papers, the Democrat-Gazette is selling nearly as many copies of its daily paper as it did a decade ago. (Average weekday circulation is now 178,273, according to audited figures.) “Our business model has changed only to the extent that we charge more for subscriptions to generate more revenue,” says Hussman. Other papers are slowly coming round to Hussman’s way of thinking. The Boston Globe raised its newsstand price by one-third while The Dallas Morning News recently increased its subscription rates by more than 40 per cent. At the same time, media entrepreneur Steven Brill’s Journalism Online is designing a web payment platform for newspapers, while The New York Times may sell access to premium tiers.

“You’re going to see a large number of newspapers charging for content over the next 12 months,” predicts Hussman. For his part, Hussman says he sees this as a good time for growth, and is actively hunting potential acquisitions. “We think newspapers are going to be around for a long time.”

13 A lot of bottle

Vernon Henn

Winemaker, Western Cape, South Africa

Vernon Henn is an inspiring example of what is possible in South Africa these days. From a poor family and a first job as an office cleaner, Henn has broken into an almost entirely white world – the winemaking industry. And his winery is rapidly proving itself a top quality label. The 40-year-old is general manager of Thandi, which will soon become the first in the world to be entirely owned by a black collective (250 families own 55 per cent already and expect to buy the rest over the next five years).

Henn has helped turn the Thandi brand into an international success. His simple goal has been to disprove, by expertise and hard work, the old prejudices that say black-owned companies are unreliable and low quality. Already, Thandi is a big seller in the UK. And in 2010 Henn is expecting a 25 per cent increase in exports to Canada and Asia.

14 The lady is a champ

Giovanna Vercelli

Politician, Italy

Fast forward to 2011 and a political earthquake hits Italy: Silvio Berlusconi loses a vote of no confidence. Fed up with an ageing political class, fresh-faced Giovanna Vercelli, 41, is named prime minister. Born in Trieste, Vercelli spent her youth doing stints in her mother’s atelier, a fifth-generation leather goods purveyor where she saw first-hand the fundamental role family business plays in Italy’s economy. After finishing school in Geneva and an Ivy League education, she moved to London to work in finance. Following a two-year stint at a Beirut bank, where she picked up some basic Arabic, her fourth language, she settled in Turin and launched a B2B site for car suppliers. Despite the stifling bureaucracy, she was determined not to rejoin the brain drain that leaves Italy each year. Bought by a leading car-maker, she cashed in and began teaching. Appalled at the lack of meritocracy in higher education, at age 38, she started her own private university. Two years later she was elected mayor of Turin. While such a meteoric rise is not uncommon elsewhere, the story of Giovanna Vercelli remains an Italian fairy tale. But that’s not to say there won’t be one in the near future. And Italy’s reputation could do with her arrival.

15 Dreamy Swedes


Pop powerhouse, Sweden

When Monocle featured this Stockholm five-piece on our Summer Series music show, shoe leather suffered from collective toe-tapping along to the nigglingly addictive catchiness of “Time”, “Enemy” and “Ten Strikes”. Turning up fresh from a shift checking tickets in the local cinema, Julia Spada and her band proceeded to rock, roll, sting with their synths and turn time signatures on a sixpence – despite being unsigned and their future unsealed, they absolutely delivered. Now on Despotz Records and with an album showcasing their 1980s-centric sound that channels the electro-jazz-pop highs of Prince and Shalamar (they do exist) due to drop in the spring, these young Swedes’ must-see, must-dance tour will be keeping cobblers busy throughout Europe in the summer. Also look out for their appearance on our forthcoming Monocle CD.

16 In with the old

Catarina Portas

Retailer, Portugal

While multinational chains pour into Portugal every year to promote new products, independent retailer Catarina Portas plays the contrarian. In 2006, the 40-year-old journalist turned shopkeeper opened A Vida Portuguesa, a Lisbon store that sells forgotten brands from the country’s past. The idea came to her while she was doing research for a book on 20th-century daily life in Portugal. “When I started to look at the historic brands, I noticed how quickly they were vanishing,” she says. Part social anthropologist, part businesswoman, she scours factories and workshops to stock up on ceramics, foodstuffs and toiletries once commonplace on store shelves.

Keen to revive local crafts, she displays items in their original packaging. “These used to be found in pharmacies and grocery stores. Now they’re valued as people want to try and help Portuguese manufacturers.”

Her interest in the old also extends to urban planning – she’s restored kiosks in central Lisbon that serve traditional beverages and sweets. Some might label her a sentimentalist but Portas argues otherwise. “What I’m doing is tied to identity, not nostalgia, which is very different.” Sales suggest she’s on the right track as she’s opening a second shop, in Porto, and launching an e-commerce site. If we ran Portugal, we’d call on her to help brand the nation.

17 Obama’s conscience

Harold Hongju Koh

Legal adviser to State Department, US

Barack Obama has said he is taking “a surgical approach” to altering his predecessor’s strategy towards terrorism, and he has left the scalpel largely in the hands of Harold Hongju Koh. In his last job, as dean of Yale Law School, Koh was an eloquent critic of George W Bush’s use of detention and torture on suspected terrorists. Now as US State Department legal adviser, Koh – in addition to humdrum work like negotiating embassy leases – has to formulate a new policy to deal with terrorist suspects.

When he was swore in, Koh said he wanted to be the “conscience to the United States government with respect to international law”. He will have to persuade a client who has so far prized caution over conscience. Obama is behind on his self-imposed, one-year deadline to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and has announced an end to torture but a sequel to Bush’s regime of endless detentions and secret trials.

Koh, 55, comes from an accomplished Korean-American family in New England; his father was the first ambassador to the US from a democratic South Korea, and an oncologist brother serves as Obama’s chief public health officer. A decade ago, Koh was Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for human rights; after leaving government, he focused his scholarship on strengthening cross-border legal frameworks. “The rule of law is like the skeleton of a healthy political system,” says Koh. “If you don’t have a healthy system, you’re not going to have healthy outcomes.” Now that may mean stiffening Obama’s spine.

18 Natural at nurturing

Jenni Lähde

Teacher, Finland

Forget mobile phones and paper. Education might – or at least should – be Finland’s next big export.The country has constantly outperformed rival nations in international education surveys, such as the PISA survey carried out by the oecd. Its children rank top, or among the best, in all areas: reading, science and mathematics. Finnish students are not known for spending hours on their homework, nor do they attend elite private schools. So what’s the secret?

“In Finland, we try to take care of everyone,” says Jenni Lähde, 33, a teacher of German and Swedish at Puolalanmäki school in Turku. “All countries have the top students, but we support even the weakest ones so they become the best they can be.”

The system was created in the 1970s, and offers a nine-year comprehensive school education for all. One reason behind its success is the training of teachers – a qualified teacher must have a masters degree. If the students are really lucky, they get someone like Lähde – who is not only qualified, but has a calling. “It’s wonderful to be able to teach others something useful, to give them knowledge and skills that last,” she says.

Add to this some outstanding architecture at many new institutions and a balanced meal programme and you have all the basics of a model system.

19 Money where his mouth is

Curt Engelhorn

Pharmaceutical magnate, Switzerland

As the great-grandson of chemical firm BASF founder Friedrich Engelhorn, German national and Swiss resident Curt Engelhorn is the steward of one of Europe’s great industrial fortunes. Selling part of his pharmaceutical portfolio in 1997 for $11bn (€7bn), the money is now being invested to change the face of cleantech, IT and digital media industries across the world. He is also a major force in philanthropy, giving a large annual donation to the Heidelberg Centre for American Studies and supports traditional industries in areas such as the Engadine around St Moritz.

He focuses on “good works” that also make good business. “I do invest from a sense of obligation, from an instinct that an area is important and will change the landscape. It’s not done with short-term profit margins in mind, but with a confidence that we are backing something that truly matters,” he says.

20 Stepping forward

Hiroshi Tsubouchi

Shoe designer, Japan

For much of his 32-year career, Japanese shoe designer Hiroshi Tsubouchi has plied his trade behind the scenes. Since landing his first job in 1977, he has been one of the driving forces in introducing European shoe brands to the Japanese market. He also co-founded a company, Magnum, in 1991. But his name was nowhere to be found, and the designer was barely known outside of fashion circles in Japan. However, the grey-haired Tsubouchi, now 56, put himself in the limelight last year by launching a shoe collection branded with his name. Why now? The reason is simple; he just wanted to make the kind of shoes he’d love to wear without thinking too much about the commercial side of the business for once.

From the start, Tsubouchi’s new venture has proved successful (and we are not surprised, they look great and are a joy to wear). His designs are based on classic Italian leather shoes, updated with bright colours and rubber soles. “I like classic design, but I also like putting a new, casual spin on it wherever I can,” he says. This year, Tsubouchi added a new line to his stable called Turn Turn Turn by Hiroshi Tsubouchi. So far his shoes are available only in Japan and at Dover Street Market in London. That is going to change in 2010, “we’re planning on bringing our products to overseas markets. I’d like to see my brand grow globally in the years to come,” says Tsubouchi.

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