The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

ACCJ President Christopher LaFleur

ACCJ President Christopher LaFleur

With a diplomatic career spanning nearly 35 years—16 of them in Japan—broad private-sector experience, as well as board positions at nonprofits and in academia, American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) President Christopher LaFleur undoubtedly has much insight to share.

Of his multiple advisory and professional roles, however, the ACCJ will be his primary focus in 2016.

“I’ve dealt with various chambers in Asia, but have not seen one as active and influential as the one here. We have standing with the government, and there is a real role for the American chamber in Japan. The ACCJ has a high standard for engagement,” he says.

LaFleur’s dealings with the ACCJ began during his stint as deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, in 1997. His first posting to Japan, where he spent several “lovely years,” was far from the capital, however.

“After joining the State Department in 1973, I was sent to Sapporo. In those days there was no Internet or much infrastructure to support expats outside of Tokyo. We had to write letters. You really were living more like any Japanese would, which was undoubtedly a good thing if your goal was to be closer to the culture and language.”

LaFleur’s command of the Japanese language is excellent, a skill he began honing those first years in Hokkaido and later refined at the State Department’s language training facility in Yokohama.

Other than Japan, LaFleur has resided in his native New York, Washington, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, and Paris, but Japan drew him back. His wife, who hails from Tokyo, was certainly a strong reason.

“When we met, it was fate,” he recalls. The pair met after being seated next to one another at a party hosted by a Swedish diplomat.

Mrs. LaFleur runs her own travel jewelry business, a venture she started some 20 years ago. They have two daughters, one of whom is also a business owner in the United States. As such, LaFleur is very much in touch with the issues facing women and entrepreneurs in general.

“I can’t begin to describe the challenges women face here,” he says.

In comparing his wife’s entrepreneurial journey in Japan with that of his daughter abroad, he says, “I’m sure the risks and rewards are stacked somewhat differently between the US and Japan.

“In my daughter’s case, as for a lot of young folks in her generation, they see the opportunity to establish their own business and go for it. That would never have occurred to me after graduation. Certainly the ability to establish a company and the system for taking on debt to finance those early years is much better in the States.

“In Japan people often have to bet all their personal assets on a new business idea. One thing I think the Japanese government should look at is how they can better support start-ups and foster entrepreneurship,” LaFleur says.

Furthermore, he adds, adjusting as the economy changes around you is a vital skill for every entrepreneur. “A military expression comes to mind: ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy.’ ”

Before founding his consultancy, LM Associates, in 2011, LaFleur served as vice chairman and head of government relations and corporate social responsibility at J.P. Morgan Japan. He still feels strongly about big companies’ obligation to give back to their communities.

The transition from the public to private sector was easy. LaFleur joined the financial services firm just when the Lehman shock kicked off, making government relations a crucial part of all banks’ activities.

“There was a huge policy component [to the job] that suited my background, particularly as I was in Tokyo as DCM [deputy chief of mission] during the Japanese financial crisis,” he says.

When he’s not advising on start-up or financial issues, LaFleur can be found with his camera in the great outdoors. He is an avid hiker and accomplished landscape photographer, and exhibits annually at a gallery in Karuizawa.

Fern Spring, shot by LaFleur at Yosemite, in 2010

Fern Spring, shot by LaFleur at Yosemite, in 2010

LaFleur‘s photography can be seen at www.kurochromes.com

THIS MONTH’S FEATURED VIDEO:

Frank Packard’s ACCJ Experience

Frank Packard, president of TAP Japan, joined the ACCJ three years ago to learn. As a finance professional turned small-business owner, he discovered he had much to contribute—and that being a member was also good fun.

Don’t miss the recently updated playlist with 22 videos from the ACCJ Kansai Women in Business Summit.

Visit https://www.youtube.com/user/AmChamJapan and subscribe today!