The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



Training Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

Pilot program targets new and existing members 35 and under

By Brandi Goode

It’s no secret that Japan is getting older. Large corporations and private clubs alike are trying to recruit new, younger members to ensure the sustainability and vitality of their organizations, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) is no exception.

The chamber’s summer membership campaign was successful this year, particularly in attracting women. And now leaders have their eye on another diversity target: young professionals.

The Young Professionals Forum (YPF) was spearheaded by ACCJ President Jay Ponazecki, in cooperation with Rebecca Green, ACCJ Governor–Tokyo; Laura Younger, ACCJ deputy executive director; and Aki Watanuki, ACCJ membership manager. Sarah Tapp, director, public relations and CSR at Toys“R”Us Japan, is chair.

The forum was launched on October 29, at an evening reception sponsored by Robert Walters Japan K.K. With a turnout of some 60 people, there was certainly a sense of excitement in the room.

“Although the program has just been launched, it has already attracted a talented pool of globally minded professionals who are eager to build their networks, develop their skill sets, and contribute to their organizations,” Tapp said.

Many of the young people present at the kick-off were attending an ACCJ event for the first time, and though they were still uncertain about how the organization works, they expressed gratitude for the chance to network with peers and business leaders. In particular, they were impressed by having the chance to speak with company presidents and CEOs in such an intimate setting. This opportunity arose right away, at the YPF launch.

“By helping young professionals expand their specialist networks and develop their global skills through training and mentoring programs, we will be developing the next generation of ACCJ leaders. For a member-driven organization, the YPF is an important part of the chamber’s succession planning,” Ponazecki said.

“With the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to have women in 30 percent of Japan’s private and public sector leadership positions by 2020, the ACCJ needs to play a more active role in helping to develop those who will play important roles in the US–Japan business community and in the ACCJ in five to 10 years. Developing tomorrow’s global talent and leaders has to start today,” she added.

Mentoring is a primary element of the program, which only persons 35 and younger are eligible to join.

Successful mentorships are considered driving forces in developing leadership skills, and five companies have signed up as sponsors of monthly mentor forums for the pilot program: Delta Air Lines, Inc., Dow Chemical Japan Ltd., en world Japan, Mondelēz Japan Ltd., and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Still more firms have expressed interest in future mentor forums, assuming the program endures beyond the pilot stage. Though the YPF is now a Kanto-only initiative, discussions will be held on expanding it to other regions after the six-month trial.

For each mentor forum, up to 10 YPF members will have a rare opportunity to interact with senior executives during an off-the-record luncheon. The cost to members will be minimal, often just ¥1,000. The first mentor forum on November 6 at Mondelēz Japan’s office sold out nearly a month ahead.

Leanne Cutts, president and representative director, hosted the event at the company headquarters. The 11 attendees took an active part in the discussion, each asking a question related to Cutts’s experience or advice, or based on their own challenges at work.

Cutts gave detailed accounts of her own career trajectory and the key lessons she has picked up on her way to the top. The women in the room also appreciated her accounts of juggling family and work obligations during her various globetrotting roles as a business leader.

The next event, hosted by Dow Chemical Japan President Peter Jennings, is scheduled for December 16, from 12:00 to 1:00pm.

One of the primary features of the six-month pilot program is low-cost events. Recognizing that junior employees may not be able to leave the office for extended periods during the workday, there will also be evening events and other new formats to better accommodate young employees.

All this is new for the ACCJ, stemming from its twin desires to recruit more young members and better engage those already among the ranks.

In 2013, nearly 40 percent of members aged 35 or under did not attend any events. The reasons for this could be varied, but the cost factor has come up in discussions with the Young Professionals Group Subcommittee.

This group also organizes regular events, and strives to keep costs low by using member venues or subsidizing food and beverage charges. The YPF and the Young Professionals Group differ in that the YPF is only open to those 35 and under, whereas any member can join functions hosted by the Young Professionals Group.


Scope of program
In addition to mentoring, the YPF is founded on:

1. Networking
The YPF plans to host two or three mixers each year, open to YPF members. The first of these was the program’s kick-off party, and a shinnenkai is scheduled for January.

2. Speaking engagements
The YPF will organize three or four speaker events annually, with at least one event to include a panel discussion led by YPF members or other young leaders. This type of format ensures widespread participation rather than speaker–to–audience, one-way communication. The first panel discussion, “The Future of Innovation,” was hosted by Dow Chemical Japan on November 26, from 7:00 to 9:00pm. Three company representatives at different stages of their careers discussed emerging issues in science and technology and the skills needed for success.

3. Training
Partnering with member companies such as Dale Carnegie Training Japan, the YPF will schedule quarterly training sessions to develop leadership abilities. During the pilot period, two training events will take place, in February and March.

Questions for sponsors of monthly mentor forums

Jeff Bernier
Managing director, Asia Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Inc.

1. Why did you become involved with this initiative?
Delta has been supporting young professionals through various activities for quite some time. I serve as chair of the Membership Relations Advisory Council, and we decided young professionals represent a key segment for our membership growth and engagement strategy.

2. What can young staff offer a company?
High energy, new ideas, motivation, challenge to the status quo, diversity

Leanne Cutts
President and representative director, Mondelēz Japan Ltd.

1. Why did you become involved with this initiative?
I believe young professionals will benefit by connecting with, and learning from, their peers and senior leaders from different industries and backgrounds. The YPF not only gives me the opportunity to contribute to developing young talent by sharing my own experience and coaching participants, but I also will be able to learn from them and their fresh ideas.

2. What can young staff offer a company?
Mondelēz Japan hired new graduates this April for the first time. I have been amazed by how they are committed to learning and trying different things by asking questions and bringing new ideas, even in fields where they are not experts. They are also close to our target consumers, and can contribute a different perspective. Young employees are part of a diverse culture.

Peter Jennings
President, Dow Chemical Japan Ltd.

1. Why did you become involved with this initiative?
We have an outstanding group of young professionals at Dow Japan. They are extraordinarily bright, well educated, ambitious, and dedicated. All they need are opportunities. Professional development and mentorship are critical to them reaching their potential and to fulfilling their career aspirations. We are enthusiastic about this program providing both.

2. What can young staff offer a company?
Our chairman and CEO has said that the qualities needed to be successful as a young professional are energy, enthusiasm, passion, a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, and common sense. I agree.

Itzhak Krinsky
Chairman, Teva Japan and South Korea

1. Why did you become involved with this initiative?
The young employees of today are the business leaders of tomorrow. As leaders, we have an obligation to help our future by training and mentoring them.

2. What can young staff offer a company?
Young employees help re-energize veterans and counteract negative stereotypes of youth when they are successfully engaged in leadership.

Craig Saphin
President and representative director, en world Japan

1. Why did you become involved with this initiative?
Ours is a young company with an average employee age of 34. Identifying and developing young leaders is a business-critical initiative for en world’s growth and development.

2. What can young staff offer a company?
Conviction, new ideas, strong opinions


How you can get involved
Chair Sarah Tapp firmly believes the YPF is an excellent way for ACCJ member companies to increase their visibility among the next generation of leaders.

“By hosting or sponsoring an event, companies can raise their profile as an attractive place to work that supports young talent and provides opportunities to learn and advance. I hope member companies will also look to the YPF as a source of new ideas and fresh approaches to issues they are currently facing,” Tapp explained.

1. Host a monthly mentor program luncheon
This can be held at the ACCJ boardroom or at your company’s offices.

2. Sponsor or host a networking event
The chamber welcomes assistance with covering food costs for an event. Companies are also invited to host networking events on-site, and will have the opportunity to speak at the start of hosted events as well as receive recognition in all mailings about the function.

3. Host a speaker event
The ACCJ will bring the speaker to your office, with refreshments organized by either the chamber or your host company. As with the previous opportunity, hosting companies can make a brief announcement at the start of the event and will be featured in all event-related promotions and mailings.

4. Nominate people for the YPF pilot program
Corporate Sustaining Members can do this, while all other members are encouraged to promote the program with their contacts aged 35 or under.



Brandi Goode