The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Chubu chapter. While it represents a broad cross section of businesses in the region, the chapter’s character and leadership have traditionally come from the world of entrepreneurs as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It’s this spirit of entrepreneurship that led to the ACCJ-Chubu’s creation.

To appreciate the history of the Chubu chapter, it is necessary to go back 30 years to the establishment of the American Business Community of Nagoya (ABCN). This loose-knit group of US com­panies in the region’s largest city was fully supported by the US Consulate Nagoya.

ABCN was founded on two principles:

  • Support US businesses in a city that, at the time, was not particularly welcoming to the idea of global business
  • Raise the international community’s presence in the city through charitable events

The result was a group of about 50 members who met after work once a month at the consulate for beer, pizza, and a presentation. But, more importantly, it was a group that—in its second year of existence—threw its heart into creating a charity festival that lives on today as the annual ACCJ/NIS Walkathon, co-hosted with Nagoya International School.

While the original ABCN leaders came primarily from the US aero­space companies that were establishing their presence in Nagoya at that time—Henry Gomez of Lockheed Martin Corporation and Frank Joyner of The Raytheon Company were founding leaders—the mantle was gradually passed to the group’s entrepreneurs.

At the time the ABCN became the ACCJ-Chubu chapter, Robert Roche, the president of then-startup Oak Lawn Marketing and I, with my own fledgling architectural design practice, were leading the group. Our tight-knit cadre of small-business leaders had grown and prospered by working with each other and breaking down the doors of partners in the region. But the desire to take the next step—to continue to grow and expand our businesses in Tokyo and beyond—was strong.

If nothing else, entrepreneurs have a keen sense of timing. And despite several previous failed attempts at matchmaking, when the US Consulate’s principal officer volunteered to host a meeting between the ABCN and the ACCJ in mid-1999, we jumped at the opportunity.

The ACCJ, represented by then-President Robert Grondine and Executive Director Don Westmore, could not have been more welcoming. The ACCJ was keen to expand beyond Tokyo and Osaka to better represent US businesses across Japan. They also made it clear that a potential new chapter would not only have access to the benefits of ACCJ membership but also the autonomy to shape how Chubu members are supported.

For the ABCN’s SME members, this was the next step for which we had been looking. For the larger corporations, it was a chance to consolidate their allegiances, as many already had ACCJ memberships for their operations in Tokyo and ABCN memberships for their teams in Nagoya. With the consent of both ACCJ and ABCN memberships—and a bit of seed money from globally minded local companies such as Toyota Motor Corporation—the ACCJ-Chubu was launched in 2000.

Twenty years later, the chapter continues to represent businesses in Japan’s second-largest regional economy and strengthens the ACCJ’s value to members through the chapter’s legacy of entrepreneurship and spirit of giving back to the communities in which we work and live.

Michel Weenick is ACCJ-Chubu governor and was the chapter's first vice president. He is also vice president of architecture & construction at Hilton Grand Vacations.