The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

The Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) marked 25 years of training the next generation of young executives and entrepreneurs on June 5 at Tokyo American Club. Twelve teams offered their expertise to foreign organizations entering or expanding in Japan.

Entrants from 14 countries took part in this year’s compe­tition, vying for the top honors in a competition that is widely recognized as delivering a thorough grounding in the world of business in Japan.

Launched by the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan in 1993, JMEC is a unique training program in which participants attend a series of lectures and then work in teams to draw up a business plan for a real product or service being introduced to the Japanese market. It has grown to be so successful that the organization now encompasses 18 foreign chambers of commerce in Japan and utilizes the know-how of mentors and consultants from across the business spectrum.

“All the team members gave up friends, family, and sleep, but I hope they all recognize that the learning and camaraderie were worth the sacrifice,” said Tom Whitson, chairman of JMEC and a former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ).

“I am sure that they were all extremely competent before they started, but they now have new skills and a far better understanding of business and group dynamics,” he said, adding that the commitment to the cause demonstrated by some went as far as one male participant shaving his legs and wearing a French maid’s dress for the presentation part of the judging.

“It is a wonderful thing to get people into the real world and enable them to learn new skills that they can take back to their companies and then change those companies with the things they have learned,” said Deborah Hayden, one of the judges. “I know it has been a hard journey, and that you have had plenty of nights with no sleep, but we, the judges, were very impressed.”

Before announcing the main prizes, Hayden gave an award for best market research to Team One, which had been tasked with drawing up a business plan for J Juan Brake Systems. Another special honor—the Tell It Like It Is Award, went to Team Four fortheir work with The Salvation Army.

The award for best presentation went to Team 10, who were charged with assisting DataWise with their efforts to access the Japanese market. And another accolade created by Hayden—the Technical Demystification Award—went to Team Eight, led by Tatsunori Kuniyoshi (right), for making BBT’s “jolly complicated” tech comprehensible to the judges.

The evening’s main awards were:

The winner of the 2019 competition was Team 12, which dubbed themselves Orca and drew up a business plan for heating control company Plugwise B.V. from the Netherlands. The team was made up of Mary Joy Tolentino, Keiko Muratani, Hiroyuki Kosuge, and Masaomi Tsunoda. Justin Dart, a former JMEC participant and now senior strategist for Wunderman International, acted as mentor to the winning team, while Akira Havermans, senior lead strategic planner at Aegon Sony Life Insurance Company, was their consultant.

Second-place went to Team Six, which aided jeweler Palmetto Inoue Co., Ltd., and consisted of Henriikka Saarela, Kyoko Kanuma, Sawako Kuboyama, and Hidemitsu Asai. Andrew Newman, manager of Capgemini, served as the team mentor and actuary Verna Holder acted as consultant.

Third place went to Team Three, which assisted Pearson Education Systems and was made up of Marisa Cassidy, Charlie Subramoney, Maria W. Domingo, and Yoichiro Ishikawa. Jay Johannesen of Portfolio Research KK acted as mentor, while Gareth Allen, an analyst with Bloomberg, was the team consultant.

Originally from Wisconsin, but a resident of Japan for the past 19 years, Dart said he was “delighted” that his team won the first prize, which included a round-trip to any Finnair destination in Europe, a one-year ACCJ membership, and a ticket to an upcoming ACCJ event.

“The team was motivated, and I only had to make sure that motivation did not waver—which it never did,” Dart told The ACCJ Journal. “Their strengths were the ability to break down the statement of work, understand what was needed, grasp the product, look into the market quickly, and produce a strategy early to build upon. “That strategy was set in the first weeks and just refined over time,” he said.

“Each member of the team had different skill sets and per­­spectives that really helped them to mold ideas, work together, and not have any major fights. They were harmonious, organized, focused, and just driven to not fail.”

Dart took part in JMEC22 in 2015. He said the skills that he picked up had served him well in his career in the intervening years.

“I learned how to build strategies, consider financial impli­cations, and coordinate with people with different backgrounds and skill sets to discover the best way to move forward as a team,” he said. “After JMEC, I gained confidence at the job I was in at the time and could apply the experience for global business planning and product development. Eventually, I shifted to marketing and strategy full time and haven’t looked back,” he said. “In essence, I do JMEC every day now.”

And thinking ahead to next year’s JMEC, Dart says he is torn about serving as a mentor for a third straight year because of the time commitment, particularly as the contest enters the closing stages and teams work through the Golden Week holidays.

“But at the same time, the thrill of mentoring is like a drug,” he confides. “If you win, you want more. And if the project is challenging, the client is very supporting, and the team is organized and focused—then it can be very fun. And the be­nefits of those nine months of JMEC are a lifetime of friendships, networks, and skills.”

JMEC Winners

Team 12—Project Client: Plugwise
Mary Joy Tolentino, Keiko Muratani,
Hiroyuki Kosuge, Masaomi Tsunoda
(Mentor: Justin Dart;
Consultant: Akira Havermans)

Team 6—Project Client: Palmetto Inoue
Henriikka Saarela, Kyoko Kanuma,
Sawako Kuboyama, Hidemitsu Asai
(Mentor: Andrew Neuman; Consultant: Verna Holder)

Team 3—Project Client: Pearson
Marisa Cassidy, Charlie Subramoney,
Maria W. Domingo, Yoichiro Ishikawa
(Mentor: Jay Johannesen; Consultant: Gareth Allen)

Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.
The benefits of those nine months of JMEC are a lifetime of friendships, networks, and skills.