The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

The energy in the room is high. At the end of the fifth and final session of this year’s ACCJ-Kansai Women in Business (WIB) Leadership Series at the Hilton Osaka, some 60 leaders-in-the-making from 10 global companies across multiple industries are excitedly sharing with one another what they have learned. During the series, the heads of five American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) member companies openly shared their leadership journeys, as well as the highly diverse experiences and challenges they have encountered along the way. They also offered practical advice to help participants succeed in their own careers.

Those who attended all five workshop-style, interactive pre­sentations received certificates to mark their graduation from the program. But what they have gained over the past four months cannot be fully reflected by the graduation certificate nor put in one-dimensional terms.

Together, by learning from and engaging with three male and two female executives in a small group setting, participants have not only been inspired about leadership in practical terms and become more self-aware, the view they have of themselves as leaders has also been changed. Sharing experiences and connecting within the group, across companies and industries, has made a huge difference.

In short, the men and women attending the Leadership Series have come out of their shells and are ready to embrace new levels of leadership. And they are excited to be already putting some of the actionable takeaways into practice.

“I realized that leadership is a skill, and I can learn how to lead,” one participant said. “This has really changed my mindset. I want to become a good leader who can show the goal to the team and coach my colleagues how to get there together.”

The important shift in mindset from manager to leader really helped the participants think about what concrete steps they want to take to develop themselves and to better support their teams. Their ideas evolved noticeably as they shared with each other and interacted with the speakers; at the same time, they became increasingly comfortable and confident asking questions and daring to be vulnerable.

Reflecting on the five leadership journeys presented, another participant felt relief and encouragement. “I should just start with the action and learn along the way, because nobody is perfect; and we don’t have to be perfect.” It is called a leadership “journey,” after all.

AstraZeneca Japan President Stefan Woxström takes a question.

Now in its eighth year, the Leadership Series started in fall 2011 as an ACCJ program to support the global talent development of ACCJ Corporate Sustaining Members based in the Kansai region. These companies nominated their team members for this exclusive program.

Since then, support from top executives as speakers has flourished and the series has become more and more popular with participants. Over the past eight years, 426 young leaders from 19 companies in diverse industries such as pharma, hospitality, insurance, consumer goods, retail goods, banking, travel, and industrial machinery have benefited. Not only have they built their own cross-company networks, they have also grown into more confident, effective, and inclusive leaders thanks to the mutual inspiration found at these sessions.

“It was especially inspiring to hear about failures, which is very rare coming from senior leaders,” one participant said.

Another summed up her key insight, saying, “All leaders have a different style of leadership, and it is important to find my own unique way. In doing so authentically, I am now more aware than ever that communication is key—in particular listening more than speaking.”

These tributes to the Leadership Series have been echoed by alumni from previous years. One graduate of the 2016 program, Yoko Tanimura of Bayer Yakuhin, Ltd., gratefully described the sustained impact the program has had on her development. “It was such a valuable experience that we rarely come across. After the Leadership Series, I was ready to go on my journey to find my own leadership style and seek personal growth,” she said. “It was such an opportunity to hear successful—and sometimes not so successful—true leadership stories from the senior management, which you could, in fact, easily relate to yourself.”

Graduates of the 2019 Leadership Series

Eli Lilly Japan President Patrik Jonsson


None of this would be possible without the dedication and support of the speakers. Over the years, those senior leaders who have made themselves available and supported the program—some for multiple years in a row—are the key to its success.

This year’s speakers included:

  • Bob Noddin, AIG Japan Holdings KK
  • Patrik Jonsson, Eli Lilly Japan K.K.
  • Heike Prinz, Bayer Yakuhin, Ltd.
  • Stefan Woxström, AstraZeneca K.K.
  • Eriko Asai, GE Japan Inc.

Asai, who is president and CEO of GE Japan and an ACCJ governor, closed the series on April 18 with a focus on inclusive leadership. As the first female CEO at GE, she provided a welcome Japanese perspective for the participants. “I felt great energy from the participants and their willingness to learn about inclusive leadership,” she told The ACCJ Journal. “Having a peer in one’s leadership journey is essential, so I hope everyone will continue to network, learn, and grow from each other through the ACCJ.”

Thanking all five speakers on behalf of the ACCJ’s Kansai chapter, Mary Anne Jorgensen, chair of the ACCJ-Kansai WIB Committee, said: “We greatly appreciate their willingness to take time from their busy schedules to expand the perspectives of our young Kansai leaders and to contribute to the development of a stronger and more genki Kansai business community.”

But this is not where the story ends. As leadership is a journey of lifelong learning, the ACCJ-Kansai WIB Committee is looking to build a support network for its growing group of Leadership Series alumni and their future peers. Watch for details to come.

Natsuko Sato with Bayer President and CEO Heike Prinz

Nadine Slater with AIG Japan President Bob Noddin


Nadine Slater is a member of the ACCJ-Kansai Women in Business Committee and founder of executive coaching consultancy Excel with Purpose. She coaches international business leaders to raise their game in situations of challenge, change, and transition.