The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

INTERVIEW | EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

FEBRUARY 2015

Leadership and Loss of Ego

By Brandi Goode

Photos by L. MacKinnon

Stepping into the office of ACCJ Executive Director Laura Younger, the attention to detail is unmistakable; the zen room design is warm and welcoming, with healthy greenery decorating the space.

In fact, Younger has been drawn to the Japanese aesthetic from an early age. She still recalls her parents’ reaction when she tried to create a tatami room in her 150-year-old house by gluing beach mats to the floor.

InterviewHer connection with this country is rooted in the arts, though the lessons she has learned in her pursuit of shodo (calligraphy) and sumi-e (black ink painting) have, over time, provided valuable career insights.

Shodo training changed my life,” Younger said. “In the West, we look to the end result or product; in Japan, the process is everything. Most important is the white canvas you face before executing the work.”

She goes on to explain how shodo teaches personal insight, focus, and a renouncement of ego, all of which contribute to understanding Japanese business culture and team harmony. Younger learned first-hand about local business practices while working for a Japanese company, an experience she recommends for all newcomers to learn nemawashi (consensus building), patience, and respect.

A desire to more deeply study sumi-e brought her to this country 18 years ago. She still trains under her first sensei Ilan Yanizky, who is one of the many people who have had a huge impact on her life.

Many of those she calls mentors are long-term ACCJ members, some from her initial days with the organization 10 years ago. “I cannot stress how much I value the people I have met here at the ACCJ and how much they have all added to my life.”

Younger also values her role as a mentor to others, and has a strong desire to give back, displaying genuine interest in her mentees’ success.

“Everyone has a strength, which leaders have an obligation to find and elicit,” she said. Her leadership philosophy centers on inspiring others to stretch their comfort zones through continuous development.

“I want people to make an impact, and to help them set and achieve their professional goals. If everyone is doing this, the organization will grow as well.”

Younger speaks with conviction about her vision for the ACCJ, of which a core component is growth through innovation. She sees a need for the organization to evolve in line with the rapidly changing external environment, which could entail trying new programs and benefits. “The key is adaptability,” she said.

In addition, she recognizes the ACCJ’s increasingly important role in and beyond the business community in Japan, particularly the chamber’s influence in the Asia–Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce.

Her energy and enthusiasm extend beyond her role at the chamber. Younger has been involved with the Association for Women in Finance (AWF) for nearly a decade, having served on the board and as the group’s president for five years.

She is proud of her achievements in bringing like-minded people together to enact positive change, and encouraging the development of leadership skills in every member.

“Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and I emphasize how everyone should be looking for ways to lead. Every speaker we invited to the AWF had to incorporate something about their leadership journey in their talk, as I think we are all looking for greater things outside our work environments,” she said.

Younger is also a graduate of the McGill MBA program and serves on the school’s advisory board. Her passion for diversity led her to create an alumni group for women, which has proven a valuable forum.

The ACCJ’s new leader has boundless ideas, and it will be exciting to see how she approaches the white canvas spread before her in Tokyo’s most influential foreign business organization.

I cannot stress how much I value the people I have met here at the ACCJ and how much they have all added to my life.