This year is shaping up to be a big year for Britain and also for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. With Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics ahead, as well as the UK government’s newly launched “Great” campaign underway, the BCCJ has a lot of opportunities to seize in 2012.
With a membership of over 700 (approximately 200 businesses), the BCCJ offers high-quality events, productive networking and promotional opportunities, valuable information services, and access to influential individuals and institutions – all from its modest offices in Iidabashi.
Overseeing the general management of the chamber is Executive Director Lori Henderson. Born in Dundee, Scotland, Henderson first came to Japan in 2003 to teach English for a year in Kita-Kyushu. Soon after, she moved to Tokyo and into a communications and PR role for the same company, later taking on a global development post, opening sites across four continents. In 2008, she began working for “the father of Japanese management consulting” Kenichi Ohmae, producing video content on globalization and global management, for Japan’s first fully online graduate school of business and university.
Henderson took over as BCCJ executive director in February 2011.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Henderson at the BCCJ office to hear more.
How was the transition when you started last year?
For the first six weeks, everything seemed to be going smoothly and then disaster struck our shores on March 11. From March 13, we had a direct line into Tohoku and could tailor aid deliveries to meet the needs of survivors. We subsequently mobilized teams of volunteers to help with relief and recovery activities, working in close association with Peace Boat, and in June, developed our Back to Business Initiative which focuses on funding recovery projects that have the potential to demonstrate measurable results, generate economic returns or produce outcomes with long-term benefits.
As executive director, what are you focusing on in 2012?
A key focus is repackaging the BCCJ brand, and communicating this effectively. The British brand in Japan is quite strong, and often focuses on “cool” people and products. BCCJ, however, as with many other chambers of commerce, has had an image of being rather stuffy and conservative. A huge part of my job is to communicate the BCCJ as an open, progressive, socially responsible and connected organisation – particularly through our use of social media. We have just this week revamped our website – only the second time in the history of the BCCJ – to set new standards for visual impact, ease of use, and to allow for value-added communication between member companies.
Does the BCCJ publish a magazine?
Yes – BCCJ ACUMEN is a very important part of our communications armory. Even in these days of online everything, members like to receive something in the post that they can see and feel, and remind themselves that they are part of an organization. ACUMEN is a great vehicle for sharing success stories about members, leveraging connections, and demonstrating our commitment to UK-Japan relations.
How many members do you have?
Around 700 members, including 200 companies. We have a strong set of corporate giants as well as SMEs, entrepreneurs, and individual members – who we can always count on to be vocal and active. One good thing about the BCCJ is that we don’t have a committee structure; we have taskforces that are set up to work on specific, time-sensitive projects. It makes for a very open and collaborative culture.
What sort of people are the Japanese members?
Japanese members of the BCCJ – whether corporate or individual – tend to have a very specific image of what the UK is, regardless of whether they have been there or not. They often perceive it as a refined and royalist country, where scones and afternoon tea are the order of the day, though many more have lived there, and understand that the UK’s attractions are wide and varied. Some Japanese members regale me with stories of why they are attracted—for example, monster-watching at Loch Ness or tasting Devonshire cream.
Being from Scotland, I often enjoy hearing what Japanese know about my home country—golf, whisky and Scottish salmon are some of the more common things. A taxi driver told me recently, however, that he loved the old film “Mary Queen of Scots” and was inspired to go to Scotland because of Katherine Hepburn’s performance. He said he fell in love…
What is the image of UK companies in Japan?
Companies with high profiles like British Airways, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, Virgin Atlantic, and designer labels like Burberry, Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood and Wedgewood are well-known among the Japanese public. I believe that’s because they have taken the essence of what it means to be British and adapted that quite successfully for the modern market here in Japan.
A core function of the BCCJ is helping the not-so-famous companies to raise their profiles. That might be through promotional opportunities – sponsoring a BCCJ event, advertising on the BCCJ website or sponsoring advertorial content in ACUMEN. And also through networking opportunities – members can enjoy access to British policymakers when they visit Japan, and also to other key institutions and individuals.
Do you think the London Olympics will be a boon to British companies?
I think the Olympics will provide an excellent opportunity for the UK and UK businesses. All eyes will be on London, after all. We have looked to the British Embassy for guidance and support on how best to tell the story of the Olympics. The “Great” campaign is currently under way, promoting, among other things British culture, heritage, innovation and business. Companies can be inspired by these pillars to support their business profiles—hopefully, the real rewards will be reaped after the Games.
You mentioned visits to Japan by high-profile politicians.
Yes – there is never a dull moment. Last year, the main season for political visits seemed to be from September to November. This year we have already welcomed the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) George Osborne, and are looking forward to a Very Very Important Person visiting in the second quarter of 2012.
When are we going to see Kate and William?
It’s a good question! Everyone wants to see Kate. She is definitely a key symbol for the UK right now. She has, as her mother-in-law before her, redefined what it means to be a British royal. However, a visit to Japan is unlikely for at least 2-3 years or more.
Tell us about the British Business Awards.
The BBA is an annual event held in November at which British companies can showcase and celebrate their achievements in the Japanese market. Last year, we had five categories: Design & Innovation; Environmental Contribution; Person of the Year; Company of the Year; and Social Responsibility. As you can likely imagine, following the year we had in Japan, the latter was the most popular category, with 11 nominations in total. The Company of the Year award was presented to recruitment firm Robert Walters, while Second Harvest won the Social Responsibility category. At last year’s event, we also had a charity auction for Tohoku and raised approximately 3.2 million yen.
What other social events do you hold?
We have a series of events called 51 Nights which take place every two months at member venues in Tokyo – the ANA Intercontinental, the Conrad, the Shangri-La, Biervana. There are also joint events arranged in association with other chambers which are great ways for members to cross-pollinate their networks over a drink or two.
When you are not working, how do you like to relax?
I jog, eat oysters with the Japan Oyster Association, and often indulge in a bit of Scottish dancing – run by the St Andrew’s Society.