Strengthening Your Network

JMEC 17 Awards Ceremony Featured in EURObiZ Magazine

JMEC Awards Ceremony 2011 - 10 June 2011, Tokyo American Club

Text: Tony McNicol

The ecstatic reaction from the winners of this year’s Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) was clear evidence of the energy, commitment and sheer hard work they had invested. The team of five had spent some 2,000 hours among them on their business plan.

“They have given up family life, social life and – most of all – a lot of sleep,” said Verena Urbschat, chair of the JMEC executive committee. “Every JMEC participant is a winner.”

JMEC is a non-profit programme to foster the development of foreign business in Japan and strengthen the skills of young business executives. It is supported by 16 chambers of commerce in Japan, including 12 from Europe.

Now in its 18th year, JMEC has produced 159 business plans by 848 participants. Often described as a mini-MBA, the programme runs from November to May, with an awards ceremony each June.

JMEC always demands a lot of its participants, but this year was arguably the toughest ever. The 11 March disaster happened mid-way through the project. Yet, after taking a little time off to deal with personal matters, 51 of 53 participants went on to complete the scheme.

“We are very proud of everyone who successfully completed the programme this year,” said Laura Loy, programme director. And as one of the judges Rike Wootten remarked, “March 11th was possibly the greatest excuse anyone could have used, but none of the groups even brought it up.”

The business plans produced by this year’s teams were for 10 clients, included an NPO, small- and medium-sized companies, and global corporations. In return for their support and cooperation they received high-quality, professional business plans that address their needs at a fraction of the cost of hiring professional business consultants.

As usual, participants signed confidentiality agreements and all plans were the property of the clients. Over the years, many JMEC plans have been put into profitable action.

Mark Bogner works for TÜV SÜD Japan, one of this year’s JMEC client companies. “We’ve been looking at expanding our market,” he said, “so we greatly appreciated the fresh and cost-effective approach brought by our JMEC team for possible expansion of our services into a new business area.”

This year’s competition was exceptionally close, with just a fraction of a percent difference between the marks awarded the top teams. The lightest plan weighed 168g, and the heaviest, 1,389g, Wootten told attendees.

There was more than just analysis to the plans. “We had a presentation that involved the smell of pine trees,” he said. “We had a group that told us that Murphy’s Law applies more in Japan than in other countries.”

Marc Nyhan, an English instructor for Berlitz, was part of the winning team. He took part in JMEC for a challenge and a chance to take his career in a new direction, he said. “I like what I do, but for teaching, the opportunities are minimal.”

The team was tasked with creating a marketing plan for Sumitomo 3M to dramatically increase sales of a particular product. “The brand’s visibility in the category was minimal,” said Nyhan. “It is a quality product, but Japanese people didn’t know about it. We came up with a bold marketing plan.”

Looking forward

This year’s event was in the recently rebuilt, lavish Tokyo American Club, and attended by some of the Tokyo foreign business community’s best-known names. The proceeds from raffles went to the Sendai-based Tohoku New Business Conference, which helps SMEs in north-east Japan; ¥575,000 was raised.

This year is one of considerable change for JMEC. Thomas Whitson will take over from Verena Urbschat as chair of the JMEC Executive Committee, while Pierre Couret will replace the outgoing programme director, Laura Loy.

Meanwhile, preparations for JMEC 18 are already underway. Prospective participants should apply by 21 October, and interested clients by 18 November.

This article was first published in EURObiZ, the magazine of the European Business Council in Japan (EBC) in August 2011.