The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

January 1 marks a change in leadership for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) as a new president, Sachin N. Shah, takes office. Shah, a six-year resident of Japan, is Chairman, President & CEO of MetLife Japan. He has served on the ACCJ Board of Governors for the past three years and is looking forward to guiding the chamber in 2018. The ACCJ Journal sat down with the new president to learn more about his plans.

How did you become involved with the ACCJ?
Larry Greenwood, our former head of government relations at MetLife Japan, introduced me to the ACCJ. He was on the board of governors, and had a long history with both the chamber and Japan.

At the time, MetLife was a new company in Japan following the acquisition of Alico in 2010. We may have been a big global brand, or certainly a big US company, but we hadn’t really been in Japan.

Larry showed me the importance of the chamber and of starting there with establishing the MetLife brand.

How has the ACCJ impacted your career and life in Japan?
The ACCJ has three key pillars: networking, information sharing, and advocacy. For me, the first two have been probably the most powerful, because I personally benefited early on in terms of who I met, what I learned from them, and the multiplying factor it provided on the network.

When you get access to a network of people who have been there and done it, that’s an accelerator to what you are doing in your day job. I’ve developed a lot of great friend­ships through the chamber as well.

Why did you decide to run for president?
The ACCJ has provided indispensable support for me during my years in Japan. I felt that there was more I could do to give back to the organization and help further its mission—promoting the interests of US companies and improving the international business environment in Japan.

I was humbled and flattered to be considered for the position. It energized me to think there may be some value I could provide.

One of the things I do as CEO of a large company is lead and manage through change. I do believe the chamber, and the context in which it operates, is changing. It’s coming more into focus that this is going to be a big job—when I’ve already got a big job. But I’m excited about it, too. I think I can really contribute and hopefully make a difference when we look back a year or two from now.

What are your most important goals?
The chamber has been around for 70 years. I think success would be to put in place things to ensure the chamber’s brand is just as relevant and strong in the coming decades.

From my perspective, there’s a lot of change underway both within the chamber and also in the context in which the chamber operates. There are some inflection points that we are dealing with right now in Japan, in the US–Japan relationship, and in the chamber membership.

These are all challenges and they are also opportunities. How we shift gears over the next few years is, I think, going to really set a platform for the brand and relevance of the chamber going forward.

What changes do you think need to be made in 2018 and beyond?
The chamber has a record-high membership, and that’s great news. The challenge, however, is that the membership is more diverse than ever.

Historically, the chamber has been about large companies operating in Japan. Over time, we also have developed a very strong membership among smaller companies.

We have a very large and growing Japanese membership, and there’s so much potential with that part of our membership that we have yet to really tap. We have a significant proportion of young professionals joining us now who have a very different view of the world, of careers, and how they want to contribute.

We also have a much larger female representation than we’ve ever had in the history of the chamber—and I think that shows through to our board. Almost half of our board of governors are women. It reflects not only the leading position we want to take on these important issues, but also our membership base.

So, if we think about networking, information sharing, and advocacy, how do you do that when you have a growing and more diverse member­ship base? It’s probably one of the most important areas to focus on, and there’s been a lot of energy and good ideas put into it already.

How do you see the chamber’s role evolving as Japanese society changes?
The chamber has already established itself as a key contributor in these types of debates. The Japanese economy today—and growth drivers going forward—are very different compared with what we have seen in the past. The US–Japan relationship is also going through some change given the current US administration’s evolving policy on Asia. Our new US ambassador, William F. Hagerty, is very engaged with the chamber, and is looking to us to really help drive some of that agenda. And, as I mentioned earlier, the chamber itself now has a growing and diverse membership base.

So, from my perspective, there’s nothing new about what the chamber is expected to do, but it needs to be done under a different external environ­ment and framework.

How does the chamber adapt?
Getting sharper and clearer on our advocacy positions is critical to our ability to take advantage of opportunities and ensure that we remain relevant.

We should start thinking hori­zontally, because there may be opportunities across industries to solve problems.

In most cases, US companies are well positioned, whether it’s around health­care or how we provide supple­mental financial services so the government can, perhaps more quickly, deal with some of the fiscal challenges. Or, if it’s around cyber­security or the internet economy or defense, there are a lot of areas where US businesses are either leaders or at the forefront.

US companies are well-positioned to solve those problems and create a win–win—not just for US companies, but for Japan as a whole.

Anything else you want to share?
I would like to thank the membership for electing me. I am honored to represent US companies in Japan. I would also urge the membership to seize the opportunity that’s in front of us. We should build on the chamber’s history and go forward together to ensure another 70 years of success.

About Sachin N. Shah
Shah moved with his family to the United States from India when he was four years old. He grew up in New Jersey and graduated with a master’s degree in technology and business management from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He joined MetLife in 1999. Prior to moving to Japan in 2011, he was responsible for strategy and planning for MetLife’s interna­tional business. Shah is married with three children, two of whom attend the American School in Japan, and he and his family live in Tokyo.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.