The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

President | Olympics

October 2013
Tokyo’s selection for the 2020 Olympics puts focus on nurturing future leaders, structural reforms

Larry Bates @ACCJPresident

Larry Bates

As this goes to press, I still feel the excitement of the selection of Tokyo as the host city for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, announced on September 8 in Buenos Aires.

Rare for me, I was up at 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday to watch the announcement ceremony, and I was thrilled for Tokyo, home to so many of us, and for all those who worked so diligently to achieve the successful result, including the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee and the many members of the ACCJ and our sister chambers in Japan, as well as the Tokyo American Club.

I would especially like to thank Jonathan Kushner, Ed Cole, Toshiko Saito, and David Wouters for their leadership of the ACCJ’s 2020 Task Force, and for several high-profile and fun events. Also deserving gratitude is the office, for its magnificent support, and for having got out a press release almost immediately—in two languages, on a Sunday morning.

This outstanding news triggers a number of observations, in line with many of the ACCJ’s Achieving Growth Together initiatives. I was very moved by the Paralympian long jumper Mami Sato’s impassioned plea in the Tokyo presentation, and also most impressed by the quality of the speeches, in English, of the entire Tokyo delegation.

Thinking back to the 50 percent of the ACCJ’s membership that is Japanese, and the recommendations of the Japanese Member Engagement Working Group of the Special Presidential Task Force, which reported to the Board of Governors in July, the takeaway for me is that we must do more to live up to the promise of the ACCJ as a home for Japanese global talent development—much as the Women in Business Committee is holding regular skills development training for this key segment.

These are the future leaders of the US–Japan relationship, and we must cultivate them. The Executive Committee is finalizing some very specific recommendations in this regard for Board approval, or immediate implementation by the office.

While the Olympics will be an excellent shot in the arm for accelerated growth, none of us can be complacent about what is still required to flesh out the third arrow, to create a truly sustainable long-term growth strategy based on genuine structural reform.

In this context, the ACCJ continues to strongly engage with stakeholders both in the United States and Japan on the benefits of Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In addition, we have further refined our advocacy message delivered to these same stakeholders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and conveyed through the recently completed Diet Doorknock. We point out the three key market-wide reforms that should be undertaken to have the greatest positive impact on shifting resources to inward-bound foreign direct investment, innovation, and entrepreneurship, as well as to other, more productive sectors of the economy.

First, labor law reform is needed, including more flexible termination rights, which would have a huge impact on enabling more women to engage meaningfully in the workforce. Second, there should be corporate governance reform, including mandatory multiple outside independent directors on corporate boards that could create a mindset shift facilitating M&A, and a market for corporate control. And third, tax reform should be undertaken, extending the net operating loss carry-forward period, in which area Japan is currently an outlier, having a relatively short period by OECD standards and, thus, inhibiting the will of foreign and domestic business interests to make significant new investments.

The Olympics should also have a direct beneficial impact on our members, and increase our membership in two key ways: energizing and engaging our membership base; and providing real business opportunities for our member companies, which we will seek to encourage on a level playing field basis in line with our core advocacy principles.

I wish to remind everyone of the upcoming Ordinary General Meeting to be held on October 30. This is one of the most important meetings on the ACCJ calendar, and I encourage all to attend.

Many of you may have heard that I will be retiring at the end of this year, after 22 years with GE, to focus on other career endeavors and on my family. I greatly look forward to meeting the challenges that may come my way during the three months left of my presidency, and to remaining strongly engaged with Japan and the ACCJ thereafter. Yet, I also look forward to handing over responsibility for leading an even stronger ACCJ to a capable successor in 2014, at this most critical time in the US–Japan economic relationship.