Down to Business

Down to Business

How do you get ahead in the business world? For committed Club staff, it takes some help from Members and a unique, local program.

The presentation hinged on a strong opening from Masae Nakamura. The client was desperately looking for ways to partner with more expat businesses in Tokyo, so it looked to its staff for ideas.

But a lack of defined roles within the organization, Nakamura summarized to the panel of judges, meant there was no accountability.

“Everybody’s doing everything, so nothing gets done,” she told them. 

After seven months of Saturday marketing and strategy workshops, after-work business plan meetings and weekends preparing for the official presentation, Nakamura and her group had finally completed their journey through the Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC).

“In the beginning, I felt like, ‘You know, maybe I can’t do it,’” says Nakamura, a six-year veteran of the Club’s Guest Relations team. “But I was also thinking of the next step in my career.”

Launched in 1993, the JMEC program leverages Tokyo’s standing as a hub for international business to provide real-world experience for young professionals eager to try their hands at what has been dubbed a “mini-MBA.” Though the timeline may be truncated, the work certainly isn’t. Organizers solicit projects for groups from international chambers of commerce and blue-chip companies.

Participants come from a dizzying array of backgrounds. Nakamura’s group alone was comprised of a marketing specialist, a creative industry professional and an English teacher. Nakamura herself studied dental hygienics in college. 

Whether they cover the fees themselves or are sponsored by their employers like Nakamura, all participants leave with enough experience to eclipse any freshman marketing major, says Member and longtime JMEC consultant Terry White.

“It’s more than an MBA,” says White. “It’s more than one of those extension courses.”

A large part of the program’s value comes from volunteers like White, who offer their professional expertise in the form of guided workshops during the early months and direct counsel to each of the dozens of groups competing.

“I felt like this was a chance to work with younger people to help them get…a leg up and hopefully be successful in various companies and organizations,” says White.

From January until the presentation in late May, Nakamura’s group worked hand in hand with their assigned mentor, Member Risa Dimacali—even after they were forced to switch to virtual meetups in March.

“Before [the coronavirus disruption], we had constant meetings, you know, whiteboard sessions and discussions that we had to continue on video calls,” explains Dimacali. “The team had to make sure they used everything in their toolkit to come up with data gathering, analysis, recommendations and a solid presentation.”

Competition in the program is fierce, and that’s due in no small part to how participants must meld their diverse backgrounds into a synergized working group. Applications aren’t limited to any particular prior field of study, but White notes that those Club staff who have taken part have historically possessed a perspective often lacking in others.

“What they bring is a service attitude,” he explains. “While a lot of people have experience in marketing or sales or whatever it is, suddenly you’ve got somebody who actually knows what it’s like to deliver services to a group of very demanding people. Most of us, unfortunately, don’t get the opportunity to acquire that sort of knowledge.”

It was exactly that sort of experience that helped Spa manager Joy Tolentino and her JMEC team take the top spot last year.

“When I presented our product line, I had to do it like a mini-commercial, which I never thought I could,” says Tolentino. “I had to practice a gazillion times in front of the mirror and with my teammates to perfect my pitch.”

This year, winners were gifted roundtrip airfare to Europe and a one-year membership of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. But to call those rewards might be missing the point of the whole exercise, says Nakamura.

“I’ve started to see things from the whole picture.”

Words: Owen Ziegler
Top image of (l–r) Joy Tolentino, Risa Dimacali and Masae Nakamura: Yuuki Ide

Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) ⎢