The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Keith Henry has been a pioneer in developing government relations as a consulting practice in Japan.

But as he is quick to point out, government relations is more than simply helping a client navigate the halls of Kasumigaseki or Nagatacho—where the seats of government are to be found.

Instead, it requires a tacit understanding of the dense matrix of relationships shared among all key stakeholders in policy making, not only among bureaucrats and politicians, but also consumer groups, business and trade associations, academics, and even the media.

What’s more, the challenge does not end there. That knowledge of policy, which might be of great interest to a political scientist, must be translated so senior executives whose businesses are impacted by policy making, but who typically do not have the time consider such matters, can grasp it easily.

Henry is uniquely qualified to straddle the seeming unrelated worlds of business and policy making in Japan. In the 1980s, he was fortunate to be selected by a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to be his personnel aide.

This began a 5-year odyssey that provided Henry a unique, hands-on experience in the inner workings of politics and policy making.

On two occasions, when his political boss entered the Cabinet, Henry was taken along and served on the minster’s private staff.

As he says, seeing how his boss’s schedule was determined the evening before each business day, and then participating as an observer in each of these meetings, provide him a practitioner’s Ph.D. in Japanese politics.

This experience taught Henry the underpinnings of what he refers to as Japan’s marketplace ideas and the broad cross section of stakeholders who collaborate and compete to formulate policy.

Indeed, while working in the Diet, Henry gathered data and analysis that allowed him to finish off his master’s graduation theses on lobbying in Japan.

Soon after his stint in Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho, he was equally fortunate to study under and then work for James C. Abegglen, then dean of Sophia University’s masters degree in business program, and one of the founding partners of the Boston Consulting Group.

Abegglen established BCG’s Tokyo office in 1966.

It was here that Henry says he was able to begin to understand the fine points of strategy for the marketplace of products and services from one of the keenest thinkers who focused on Japan during its halcyon days.

Over ten years, it became clear to Henry that the marketplace of policy making rarely overlapped with the marketplace of products in the minds of foreign business community.

Although policy outcomes impacted the competitive positions of businesses in Japan, rarely did the management consultants assess policy as part of their recommendations to their foreign clients, and rarely did he see the foreign business community actively contribute to the policy debates as an accepted insider in the policy making process.

But in that gap, Henry saw a opportunity to provide consulting services where the interests of business, politics and policy intersect. Taking the plunge, Henry hung up his own shingle and established Asia Strategy over 20 years ago.

The intersection between politics and policy, and how it affects business, remains of crucial importance, Henry says.

This is regardless of which administration happens to be in charge at any time, or which way the country’s economic and political winds blow.

Over the years, Asia Strategy advises best-in-class companies from a wide range of industries including aerospace, ICT, investment banking, insurance, energy, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.

The consultancy has also advised on the public policy issues related to some of the largest mergers and acquisitions that have taken place in Japan.

“What allows us to do cover such a broad cross-section of industries,” Henry explains, “is our tacit, contextual understanding of Japan—an understanding based on real-life experience in the decision-making process—both in business and government.”