Notes from Suzanne: Transitions

This is a series in which USJC President & CEO Suzanne Basalla shares her thoughts directly with the USJC community.  

This has been a time of important transitions, for our country and also for USJC.

In Washington DC, President Joe Biden called for unity, Kamala Harris became our first woman, first Black and first Asian American Vice President, and poet Amanda Gorman captivated the world. I remember with pride the thrill of then-Vice President Joe Biden speaking at USJC’s Inaugural Annual Conference in 2010.

He emphasized that U.S.-Japan unity is essential to address global issues and meet regional challenges, especially from China. On his first full day in office, President Biden tweeted, “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.” Given our mission to strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship, USJC welcomes the opportunity to work alongside the new administration towards that worthy goal. 

On a more personal level, I remember when then-Vice President Biden visited Japan in the wake of the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake to encourage the people of Tohoku and to reinforce the strategic relationship on display through Operation Tomodachi and the TOMODACHI Initiative.

Warm, kind and engaging, he encouraged all of us at the Embassy who had been working day and night for months. He stayed long past his scheduled time to ensure we each had a chance for a photo and an encouraging word. (He even penned a message for my mother-in-law when he heard that she had voted for him in every election since he first ran in her home state of Delaware.)

Closer to home, the new year also brought transition to USJC. 

We officially welcomed Paul Yonamine as our new Board Chairman, with deep appreciation for his taking on this leadership role at such an important time. At the same time, we said good-bye with immense gratitude and respect to Phyllis Campbell, whose three-year tenure as Chair provided the right leadership at the right time. Her strong, steady, and empathetic approach to leadership ensured that USJC came through the cascading crises of 2020 with increased strategic resilience. I have benefited more than words can say from her mentorship, guidance, and example. On behalf of the board, I thank her for her service and wish her luck. Fortunately, she remains on the board for 2021.

We also thanked Donna Cole for her six-year service on the board, and shared many special memories of Donna’s generous contributions as Texas regional lead, Chair of the Japan-Texas Economic Summit, organizer of the Texas Job Fair and Japan Food Festival, and much more. Donna now joins the Legacy Council so we know we’ll still benefit from her leadership and energy.

In 2021, we welcome three new members of the U.S. Board of Directors: Andy Ogawa, Curtiss Rooks and Ann Teranishi. You can read more about each of them in this news release. I am impressed by all that each has done for the Council prior to joining the board. Andy has served on the Investment Committee; spoken on a panel; and, along with his brother, Marcus, sponsored USJC programs. Curtiss is a charter member of USJC having been in one of the early JALD classes. He has developed and led TOMODACHI student exchange programs, has moderated and spoken at panels, and has provided wise counsel to me as I have strived to be a more inclusive leader. Ann has led our large Hawaii regional contingent, putting on excellent programs and ensuring thoughtful succession planning. She and I worked together to launch the “O40” pilots in 2018, where I first saw her leadership and wisdom close up. 

Please join me in thanking Phyllis and Donna for their service, recognizing Paul in his new role, and welcoming Andy, Curtiss and Ann to the Board.

-Suzanne Basalla
President and CEO