The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


May 2014
2013 Volunteers & Leaders of the Year
Custom Media

Members demonstrating leadership and volunteering their time and effort are attributes that make the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) tick.

And while they may not want the spotlight shone on their work, it is important that the chamber recognizes the contributions that are made by its members. This year, singled out to receive special thanks for their achievements are eight people, six of whom have spoken with the ACCJ Journal.

Awardees who were not able to be included in this piece are Yuji Suzuki, Leader of the Year for Chubu, and Junko Tsuda, Volunteer of the Year for Tokyo.

Volunteer of the Year (Chubu Region)
Andy Boone
Vice-chair of the Chubu Business Programs Committee

The certificate recognizing Andy Boone’s work expresses the chamber’s appreciation for his efforts. It states, in part, “continuous participation in events, willingness to provide the chapter with your professional skills, and dedication to the promotion of the Chubu chapter is always appreciated.” But he prefers to play down his role.

“I don’t believe what I have done to be that noteworthy,” Boone told the Journal. “I think there is still a lot to be said, and we can do more to communicate our message.”

Founder of a small design office called International Visual Communications, Illinois-born Boone arrived in Japan in 1982 and has been a member of the chamber since 2009. Vice-chair of the Business Programs Committee since 2012, he has also helped with the planning of the Champagne Ball and Awards Evening since 2010.

On top of these duties, Boone has photographed the chapter’s events—including the Charity Walkathon and the ball—and provided the images to local publications to promote future events.

Volunteer of the Year (Kansai Region)
Stephen A. Zurcher
Chair of the Kansai Business Programs Committee

Redrafting the latest version of the ACCJ’s One Kansai position paper was a “labor of love” for Stephen Zurcher, a professor of management at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka. But the final outcome made it all worthwhile.

“I think our paper serves as a very important symbol of the commitment that we have as foreigners—not just Americans—to Japan,” said Zurcher. “Many of us have lived and thrived in Japan for many years and we want to be able to invest back into the country.

“I think many ACCJ members see our paper as a contribution back to Japan,” he added. “It is a part of our service to the community that we have grown to enjoy so much.”

After gathering information from members, Zurcher began the first draft of the paper during his summer break from university. It took six months for final approval to come through from the chamber, in time for the paper to be presented at the ACCJ–Union of Kansai Governments event in the fall of 2013.

“The various government officials at that event heavily leaned on our paper for their own presentations about how global business prospects in Kansai can be improved,” he added. “That was really gratifying.”

Leader of the Year (Tokyo)
Nicholas Benes
Chair of the Growth Strategy Task Force and vice chair of the Labor Force Diversification Task Force

Founder of The Board Director Training Institute of Japan in 2009, Nicholas Benes has served on the ACCJ’s board twice in the past 10 years, chaired the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Committee from 2001 to 2011, and proposed and chaired the Growth Strategy Task Force (GSTF).

“On average I probably spend about 20 percent of my time on ACCJ work and I work on weekends,” Benes said. “But during 2010, when I was brainstorming with Professor Fukao and drafting the GSTF white paper with the rest of the team, I spent well over one-third of my time on chamber projects.

“It was extremely painful, especially since I was receiving no salary at BDTI—only making donations!” he added. “It feels great to be recognized now, because I do think the [GSTF] continues to have a significant positive impact on policy in Japan.

“I am proud to have had the support of so many others, and to have been able to contribute to Japan’s future,” he added.

A resident of Japan for around 30 years, Benes says the FDI Committee and the GSTF are “focused primarily on encouraging Japan to promulgate a ‘corporate governance code,’ an idea that the Liberal Democratic Party is already working on.”

In addition, the GSTF will be launching an advocacy drive related to increasing labor mobility, which Benes says is “essential in general, but also in order to keep more women in the work force.”

Leader of the Year (Tokyo)
Ruth Jarman Shiraishi
Co-chair of the Special Events Committee

Ruth Jarman Shiraishi says she is not the “stand in front, speak out loud, and take-the-lead type,” so the chamber’s recognition of her contributions over the past year made her feel “very honored and humbled.”

Founder and CEO of Jarman International K.K. in April 2012, she has been instrumental in arranging last year’s very successful walkathon, as well as encouraging non-members to attend chamber events because “I believe this organization is the ultimate vehicle for the United States and Japan—and other member countries—for corporate networking, information exchanges, and business-building.

“Everyone at the chamber is working as a volunteer and everyone is a super professional who is beyond busy,” she said. “So the challenge is to make participation in events, planning, and so on create value for the participant.

“I try my best to find business opportunities for the people who help and contribute, and I think that makes giving time and effort a lot more meaningful,” she added.

Early preparations are under way for this year’s walkathon, while Jarman wants to be more involved in the charity ball.

“I also want to plan an event for members’ spouses because I believe the supportive spouse is the reason behind any success of the member,” she said, suggesting that the Enoshima Island Spa might be the ideal venue.

Leader of the Year (Kansai)
Mie Kitano
Chair of the Women in Business Committee (Kansai)

Mie Kitano says the reasons for her commitment to the chamber and its efforts are simple: “I have an opportunity to work with a great, fun committee, and we receive strong support from our executive committee. In this type of environment and with meaningful tasks, what else could I ask for?”

Born in Osaka, Kitano is now Director of Communications and CSR at Eli Lilly Japan, and is as committed as her company to “unleashing the potential of women in business” so that everyone—men and women—can contribute to their full potential, she said.

“I would like to think this award was recognition for the efforts that our committee has made, such as our leadership series, which has had five sessions with about 50 young leaders across Kansai companies.”

The sessions have helped to empower women and men, and enabled them to develop leadership skills by hearing directly from key leaders and discussing various themes—including the importance of diversity—as they have broadened their networks.

The committee also launched a popular female networking opportunity that is designed to “reach out to women in business among members and Japanese companies,” said Kitano.

The Bella Nova Night—named after a star that glows extremely brightly as a result of material coming from a companion star—is “the perfect opportunity for us to strengthen our networks as well as an opportunity to hear each other’s stories, including the challenges and the successes,” she added.

Volunteer of the Year (Tokyo)
Darren McKellin
Co-chair of the Information, Communications and Technology Committee

Darren McKellin played a key role in bringing about the smooth transfer of the ACCJ Journal from its previous publisher to Custom Media in mid-2013, ensuring that members had a “seamless” transition of the title.

“LINC Media, Inc. was the previous publisher and they informed the chamber that they would not continue past their contract date,” said McKellin, who is joint chair of the Information, Communications and Technology Committee and works for Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

“Luckily LINC gave us a good heads up and was cooperative,” added McKellin, who has been in Japan for 23 years and is originally from Chicago. “We put together a working group of very experienced ACCJ folks—such as Tom Whitson and Deborah Hayden—and took a look at how we should move forward, and even if we should just do an online version.

“While an online-only version is probably inevitable sometime down the road, we felt that a paper version was still needed and we put out an RFP for a new vendor,” he explained. “Custom Media understood the ACCJ’s requirements very well and has seamlessly taken over the publishing of the Journal.”

In the first half of 2013, meetings took up at least 15 hours every month, but now that the handover has been achieved, McKellin is focusing his attention on the ICT committee and has joined the Banking, Finance and Capital Markets Counsel in order to make networking events more affordable and enjoyable for members.