This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail.
KARL MOORE AND DAN SCHECHNER
Laura Younger is the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ). The organization works to develop business relations between the United States and Japan.
I grew up in Grimsby, Ont., a small town in the Niagara Peninsula. My mom’s a nurse, my dad’s an engineer, and I went and did my undergrad at University of Toronto.
I studied anthropology with the goal of looking at medical school or graduate school, something to do with medical-focused anthropology. I was really interested in the human species and how we interact. More specifically, I've always been interested in the ways that different groups interact.
It was a childhood dream for me to come to Japan. I had been passionate about all things Japanese, especially Japanese art. When I finished undergrad and I was looking at what I would do next, I decided to take a year, go to Japan, and study Japanese suibokuga (ink painting) and shodo (calligraphy).
It was challenging to move, because I didn’t have a network established in Japan and I didn’t speak Japanese. I learned a lot about myself during those first months in Japan. Even though it took six to eight months to get my feet on the ground, it definitely turned into the best decision I have ever made and, more than 20 years later, I’m still here, living in Tokyo.
I found a community, got involved in interesting business projects, and that led me to decide to do my MBA at McGill. I’d been in Japan for a while and I’d already started working in a Japanese company, eventually heading HR for the company.
The MBA was a real benefit for me because it gave a whole other perspective on business – I’ll never ever calculate derivatives, but when I talk to people in finance I’ve got that ability to share the vocabulary.
From there, I thought it was time to reconnect with more of a global business community, and I moved to the ACCJ. I really worked my way up to the role that I’m in now.
The Chamber does three things. One is advocacy – we’ve got over 60 industry committees, they identify the issues their member firms are facing, and my team will support them by advocating to the Japanese and U.S. governments to make changes that will improve the business environment. The second is information – we’re running about 500 events a year across Japan, everything from large speaker events to focused meetings on specific industry issues. And thirdly, everything that we do is about building and enhancing the network. The membership of the ACCJ is large, and there’s a strong network that extends beyond the organization back to the U.S. and throughout China.
The most important thing I have learned about networking is that you can’t go into a networking environment with a selfish perspective. It will not work. I always talk about positive networking – when you meet someone, you need to think of what you can do for that person.
The members of the ACCJ have the opportunity to try out new skills and to exercise their leadership in a safe environment.
The reason I work at the Chamber is that I have a love for Japan and a passion for business. The most important strategic relationship for Japan is America. For someone like me, it’s really the perfect combination of being connected to Japan and making a difference.
I travel often – I go to D.C. about three times a year, I go to different American chambers in Asia about two or three times a year, and because I have offices in Osaka and in Nagoya, I try to get to those chapters as much as I can.
The environment of large corporations is so different from my own. For me, the CEOs are my colleagues – I’m surrounded by inspiring people who have real expertise, they’re real leaders, and it’s a unique perspective to have. A lot of my professional growth resulted from being exposed so intimately to these leaders.