The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Friend. Mentor. Leader. This is how many remember Thomas F. Jordan, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) from 1994 to 1995. Jordan sadly left us on August 7, suddenly and unexpectedly, at the age of 88. His wife, Karen Wenk-Jordan, informed the ACCJ and friends in Tokyo with a heartfelt letter that began, “My sweetie Tom has passed away.”

The news of his death shocked those who recall the energy he brought to the ACCJ and his dedication to building a strong community for US businesses in Japan. In addition to his two terms as president, Jordan served on the Board of Governors for more than 20 years.

“Tom’s years of dedicated service played a major role in making the ACCJ the vibrant organization it is today,” recalled former ACCJ Executive Director Samuel Kidder, who led the chamber from 2006 to 2014. “I was sad to hear of Tom Jordan’s passing. When I first came to Japan as an embassy officer in 1988, Tom was already an established chamber leader. His friendship to so many of us will be long remembered, and his contributions to our organization will be appreciated by all who come after.”

Nicholas Benes, who served as chair of the ACCJ Growth Strategy Task Force (2010–18) and two terms as Governor (2011–12), credits Jordan with helping him succeed. “Tom was a wonderful, warm person who gave his all to the ACCJ. He provided fatherly, kind advice to me in all sorts of ways. Because of his long leadership in advocacy at the ACCJ, he could recall things like the Foreign Direct Investment White Paper that the ACCJ published some 30 years ago, and therefore was an eager supporter of similar initiatives the ACCJ later undertook in that area, as well as many others. His institutional memory was invaluable, and his passing is a loss to us all.”

That institutional memory was cited by others, including current ACCJ Vice President Eric W. Sedlak, who said, “Tom’s substantial experience in Japan enabled him to provide guidance and insights to the Board of Governors on many matters, great and small.”

Other former presidents told The ACCJ Journal how important Jordan was to them when they stepped into the role. Bill Beagles (1996–98), who immediately followed Jordan in the position, said that he has lost a close personal friend and mentor. “One of the first tasks he helped me with was the reorganization of the management structure, which set the course for three vice presidents to facilitate better functional coverage of our diverse organization,” he said. “Tom and I both shared a love for Maui, where both our families owned properties in South Maui. We played a lot of golf together and, sometimes, who won the hole was a little precise. Tom loved to win, but he was a gracious loser, too. We enjoyed many dinners together on that lovely island and shared a couple of Christmas parties—hosted by him and his lovely wife—at their Maui home. He enjoyed the mornings and the beautiful sunsets, which could be seen from his deck. I will remember Tom as I see those Maui sunsets and always think of him as a dear friend and mentor.”

Jordan and his wife, Karen, at the ACCJ Crystal Ball on December 3, 1994.

Debbie Howard (2004–05) said: “Tom was a wonderful source of encouragement and advice to me. I always felt that he had my back. I feel honored to have known and worked with this fine gentleman, and to remember his great contributions over the years.”

Howard also shared a personal moment. “In my first year as a board member in 1997, Tom brought our board an opportunity to tour the USS Stennis, which was then at sea near Japan. The original Japanese invitees had declined, so the offer had come to our board. Several of us were flown out on a military aircraft. We made a tailhook landing, watched fighter jet maneuvers all day, spent the night on the Stennis, and were then flown back the next day. It was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives.”

Charles D. Lake II (2006–07) said: “He was gracious to me in his counsel and he never shied from sharing his opinion or providing the historical context. His perspective—shaped by deep business experience—helped bring balance to debate and enabled the ACCJ to more effectively engage with stakeholders, including the Government of Japan.”

The years in which Jordan served as president were a time of significant change and challenges for Japan, recalls William R. Farrell, ACCJ executive director from 1990 to 1995. The Liberal Democratic Party fell, a socialist Prime Minister was elected, and the economy experienced significant turbulence. Jordan’s leadership, acumen, and language skills, Farrell said, were essential to the chamber’s success during those difficult times.

“In February 1994, Tom and several leaders of the ACCJ were in Washington for a meeting of the U.S.–Japan Business Council and Doorknock meetings with US Administration officials. Prime Minister Hosokawa, at the same time, led a large delegation of Japanese leaders to Washington. The talks did not go well between the governments. There was real concern by members of the ACCJ that the organization had to take some independent action,” Farrell recalls.

“This led to the replication of the Washington Doorknock in Tokyo. For the first time, the ACCJ, as an organization, would replicate the lobbying effort and meet with politicians and government officials in Tokyo. The effort, after much internal debate, turned out to be an excellent opportunity to educate and inform key members of the Japanese government.”

The efforts undertaken during Jordan’s time as president conti­nue today in the form of the annual DC and Diet Doorknocks.

Thomas W. Whitson, former ACCJ treasurer (1994–95) and president (2009–10) shared a more lighthearted memory of Jordan. “As part of the ACCJ’s efforts to cultivate Japanese government relationships, we paid a courtesy visit to Diet Member Takako Doi shortly after she was elected the first woman speaker of Japan’s Lower House. It turned out that Madame Doi and Tom grew up in the same Kobe neighbor­hood and snacked at the same noodle shop when they were kids. Tom was a great human being and we will truly miss him.”

At the 6th Annual Professor’s Evening at Tokyo American Club on May 18, 1994.

Jordan was also a mentor to those trying to find their footing as business leaders. Chairman Emeritus Kumi Sato remembers: “In 1987, when I joined the ACCJ, Tom became one of my first mentors. I learned a lot from him. Since I was always running my company and didn’t have a boss—nor much corporate experience—he was the best teacher for me to learn how to manage a whole lot of things, including managing meetings and resolving conflicts.”

She also cites his devotion to helping others as a catalyst for the ACCJ’s vibrant efforts to support charities.

“Tom chaired the Community Service Fund for many years. Again, I learned from him through how he vetted the proposals. His decisions always remained consistent and in alignment with the fund’s golden rules: the recipients had to be supporting local causes, had to be organizations with little overhead, and our funds had to really be contributed to their existence and activities. I think, even today, the fundamental goals of our giving principle lies in the decisions that were made during these times.”

Lake also told The ACCJ Journal about Jordan’s devotion to helping the community. “Tom was, for decades, a key leader of the ACCJ. He was respected throughout the community for his broad perspective and commitment to the organization. His tenure as president was marked by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of January 1995. Under his leadership, the ACCJ’s charitable response was swift and set the foundation for the establishment of CSAC—the Community Service Advisory Council—and an enduring service mindset, which continues today,” he said. “It was clear that Tom believed that companies should serve and support the communities in which they do business, and this sentiment—which Tom embodied—was ultimately enshrined in the ACCJ’s Core Advocacy Principles.”

Jordan’s unexpected passing has moved us all at the ACCJ, and we feel the same sentiment Lake shared in his comments. “Tom always did the right thing, and I am grateful for all he has contributed to the US business community in Japan.”

You will forever be a part of our organization. Thank you, Tom.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
Jordan’s leadership, acumen, and language skills . . . were essential to the chamber’s success during those difficult times.