Leadership Innovation in the 3.11 Crisis

The following is the summary of a breakout session that was part of the 2016 Annual Conference.



  • Moderator: Suzanne Basalla, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, U.S.-Japan Council
  • Koichiro Bansho, Fmr. Vice Chief of Staff, Japan Ground Self Defense Force; Advisor, the Marubeni Corporation
  • James R. Kendall, Fellow for the Common Challenges Program/Program Director, Japan-U.S. Military Program (JUMP), Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA
  • Susan H. Roos, Chief Administrative Officer, Geodesic Capital


The session started with a video evoking memories of the unprecedented disaster in 2011, affecting 13 prefectures in eastern Japan with earthquakes of unforeseen magnitude, tsunami, and the accident of Fukushima nuclear power plant.

General Bansho, who was the chief of the U.S.-Japan operation, shared how challenging it was to start disaster relief without preparation. However, immediately 20,000 U.S. army personnel, 20 warships and 140 aircrafts were dispatched. The first focus of their relief operation, Sendai Airport, was reopened two weeks after the disaster. It became the hub of aid supply distribution and a symbol of recovery. The operation in Kesennuma Oshima cleaned the school before the new school year began, and held a concert to cheer up local residents. This created a strong friendship between the U.S. army and local students and adults.

Mrs. Roos recalls the daily meeting in the Embassy with all the departments concerned, and how she tried to empower people. Mr. Kendall stressed the importance of a “culture of initiatives,” where people can act without being told and change plans to pursue their objectives.

Both top leaders of the operation between the U.S. and Japan had daily calls, and understood the needs in the field. General Bansho stressed the importance of the two leaders sharing the same vision, and appreciated the opportunity for the two countries’ cooperation even though it was a tragic occasion.

Once the TOMODACHI initiative, an innovative public-private partnership, was created, a number of corporations became sponsors, showing what companies could do to help Tohoku’s recovery.

The panel concluded the discussion by sharing the important lessons of “prepare for the worst, and hope for the best” in crises. They recalled that it was vision and passion that supported the people involved in the Tohoku restoration.