The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

With each new year comes change, and 2020 brings a new leader to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ). Google Japan President Peter Fitzgerald, a 20-year veteran of the tech industry whose career includes stops in Seattle and London, has been chosen by the member­ship to guide the chamber during this momentous year that will see Tokyo host the Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as the United States and Japan enter the next phase of negotiations to build on the recently signed US–Japan trade agreement.
The ACCJ Journal sat down with the New Mexico native in Google Japan’s relaxing and inspiring, soon-to-be-opened Partner Plex space at the company’s new headquarters in the Shibuya Stream building. With a perfect view of the Olympic Stadium through the 35th-floor window as the backdrop, we discussed Fitzgerald’s thoughts on the chamber and plans for the year.

Photo: Antony Tran/LIFE.14

How did you become involved in the ACCJ?
I’d heard about this great network that had been around for almost 70 years representing the business community, and what I quickly learned was that there were some amazing people in the ACCJ. They not only helped me better understand how to operate effectively in this country from a business standpoint, but also how to adapt as an expat. So, it felt like a natural way to get more engaged in supporting a healthy and strong business environment. That’s how it started, and now it’s been about four years that I’ve been involved.

What brought you to Japan?
I have been in the role of president for Google Japan for about four and a half years. I was very excited by the opportunity Japan has for digitization, and I think there’s so much momentum and potential. That was what attracted me to come here, as well as the fact that it’s a beautiful country with an amazing culture. We thought it would be an exciting adventure for our family.

Photo: Antony Tran/LIFE.14

How has the ACCJ impacted your career?
I think it’s been very helpful in terms of better understanding how to work with the government, both in Japan and the United States, and also how to share important viewpoints in context for how to create a strong operating environment from a business standpoint. That’s been very educational and interesting. I also think it has helped from a networking standpoint. There are a lot of great entrepreneurs and leaders heading up small businesses as well as larger companies. It’s a really nice variety and mix. I think it’s given me a better understanding of how to seek out partnerships between Japanese and global multinational companies. So it’s a combi­nation of that variety and the insight that you can get in committees that has had an impact.

How can the ACCJ support bilateral trade?
It was, first of all, an amazing experience going on our most recent DC Doorknock trip to Washington. I think the access and the openness to engage with our delegation on the part of the US Congress and administration was truly amazing. And I think it was a great win that the first phase of the US–Japan trade agreement included the digital economy. I think we were all very pleased by that, because of how important it is from the standpoint of future economic growth—both for Japanese companies and for US companies here in Japan. Going into the next round of negotiations, it will clearly be an area of focus, and in the next trip we make to DC—and when we’re engaging the Japanese government officials here, too—we’re going to be advocating strongly for continuation of the sort of gold standard templates that we can use between the United States and Japan. We think these will have an influence in other countries as well.

Why did you decide to run for ACCJ president?
Part of the reason is that it’s a very important year for Japan. It’s a new era, Reiwa, and we have the Olympics and Paralympics coming up. I think there is an openness to really drive innovation and to create a robust ecosystem to allow this to occur, and that will help tackle some of the largest challenges Japan is facing. The country has the oldest population in the history of humanity. If that is approached with an entrepreneurial mindset, great services and products can come out of it, and I think a lot of it will be done in partnership between the United States and Japan. And that can really be helpful to the rest of the world, because Japan is facing a lot of these issues decades ahead of other countries. That’s very exciting to me, because I think it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
I also think there’s an opportunity for the chamber to continue to level up on advocacy. We can certainly get a lot done together as we increase engagement across the membership. That’s another area where I want to make sure that all the voices of the members are being heard—from the entrepreneurs to the small businesses to the large companies—and having the right conversations with the right people. I think we’re going to be doing a lot of work to ensure that there’s a sustainable way to keep things such as tourism going.
The Olympics and Paralympics are a great opportunity to shine the light on Japan and all it has to offer. It’s such an advanced nation in so many ways. There’s so much on offer from an arts and culture standpoint, and that’s going to be really important for future economic growth and getting businesses ready from a digitization standpoint. And all the growth that can come from hospitality and tourism is truly amazing. I want to make sure that happens.
There’s also an opportunity with reform and innovation in areas such as healthcare and retirement. There’s a window right now where a lot can be done to face some of these longer-term challenges. I think technology and partnerships can really pave the way for that.
Codifying and implementing a lot around phase one of the US–Japan trade agreement will also be an important focus. But phase-two discussions will be starting soon and can create an envi­ronment where innovation can occur with the right kind of frameworks in place. That’s obviously going to be a big focus of the year.

The 2019 DC Doorknock was filled with important dialogue about the digital economy and changes to tax taws.

Where else do you see opportunities for the chamber?
Domestically, clearly there’s opportunity to address some of the gaps in skilled labor. There are too many shortages here. One stat suggests that, by 2030, there will be a job–worker gap of six million because of a lack of digital skills. That’s going to be a big area of focus, and it’s going to be very necessary. Some of it must be addressed through workstyle reform. A Goldman Sachs report [Womenomics 5.0: 20 Years On] that we looked at in depth at our Fortune 500 CEO Advisory Council meeting back in December showed how Japan’s gross domestic product could be increased by 10 percent—maybe even 15 percent—by closing the gender-employment gap. So there’s more to be done just to make sure that work participation is going up—not just in part-time or lower paying jobs, but more full-time, higher-paying jobs. That’s a great opportunity for Japan to increase its productivity and also its contribution from an innovation standpoint.
There are also some issues to address more urgently in healthcare, autos, and energy, so we’ll certainly do that working with the United States Trade Representative and Congress. We’re going to make sure we speak to those issues very cogently, both here and in the United States. I’ve already talked a little bit about the digital opportunity domestically, but I really think it’s horizontal. If we look across the sectors and all the growth that can come over the next decade, I think it’s really important that we make sure we’re driving that agenda. On healthcare, reti­rement, and social security, there’s a lot that can be done through partnership, using the best technologies from some US businesses combined with a lot of the know-how, talent, expertise, and innovation of Japanese companies. I feel we can find great win–win solutions from a business standpoint.

How can digitization benefit the chamber internally?
Some of it is going back to the point about workstyle reform in Japan itself. It’s similar in that you want young people from all these organizations to really feel engaged and that they are contributing. As a chamber, if we are embracing that, and it’s easy to communicate and connect, that’s going to help us. Obviously, we have strong female participation, but we can do more there as well. The networking aspect of the chamber can be very powerful and my sense is that, by ensuring there’s great communication, there’s great awareness of what the various committees are doing. By streamlining communication, we can constantly improve, and that will help us be more effective. We will become stronger by combining our efforts. That’s one of the great things about the chamber; there’s so much active participation and passion. Many people work very long hours every week of every month to further our goals. If digital is at the heart of what we do and how we communicate within the chamber, I think, over time, that will manifest itself in our external presence and help us level up.

Photo: Antony Tran/LIFE.14

Is there a recent ACCJ experience that really stands out to you?
I had quite a great experience going to Osaka and participating in the ACCJ Kansai Women in Business Summit last September. It was an event focused on diversity and inclusion, more equal representation. That’s an example of where the chamber has shown leadership, and it’s vital to Japan’s success. It’s important for the future. You could say it’s absolutely critical. I hope that we can humbly and appropriately share what we’re learning, as well as where we’re seeing better ways to increase representation to make better, faster progress. I think that will allow us to forge even stronger partnerships with Japanese companies, small and large.
How do you see the chamber’s role in nurturing young talent?
I think it’s a really important part of our mission, because a lot of those from the younger generations have great ideas about how to drive change. What you know is really good, you want to keep, but fresh, innovative ideas—sometimes more radical and disruptive ideas—can really drive sustainable long-term growth. Fresh eyes are good because—like in any chamber, any country, any business—you constantly need to find ways to reinvent and to keep growing, adapting, and staying relevant. We need to allow younger people in the chamber to contribute by being invited into committees, taking part in events, or taking part in working groups. That’s where a lot of the real action can take place, because they bring their energy and passion. That can be mutually beneficial for some of our very established members who have been working a long time and have a lot of expertise in business. They can share insight with the younger members. That’s something that I love about my job at Google. Every day, when I come in, I’m generally working with people much younger than me and I’m learning so much. I feel so inspired by those interactions.

What else would you like to say to members?
I’d like to say thank you for electing me president. I’m very honored, privileged, and humbled to be in this position, and I’m extremely enthusiastic about 2020. I think we have a lot of momentum from last year and there is a lot we can get done together. I’m very excited about all the work that we can do to really make a difference for the business environment, for trade relations, and to help create dynamics that can really drive innovation for the longer term. So, I invite you to get involved and share your ideas. Whenever you start a new year, you’re always trying to figure out what’s working, what you should do more of, what you should deprioritize. And it’s also a chance to create the space to try new things, experiment, and learn. For those who are feeling like they want to do more, want to get more involved, please speak up. We need to get all our members engaged, because that really is what the chamber is all about.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
I’m generally working with people much younger than me and I’m learning so much. I feel so inspired by those interactions.