On December 16, the 19th U.S.-Japan Council Business Advisory Board (BAB) Meeting was held at the Tokyo American Club, featuring Ren Ito, Vice President of Global Strategy at Mercari, Inc., as the keynote speaker. Over 40 industry leaders from diverse fields gathered to listen to Mr. Ito speak.
The event began with opening remarks by USJC Board Member Scott Sato, followed by remarks from USJC Business Advisory Board Chairman Masaaki Tanaka and Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors Paul Yonamine. Representative Director of the USJC (Japan) Board of Directors Royanne Doi touched on recent USJC activities, including the Kansai Business Forum, 2019 USJC Annual Conference, and sixth Asian American Leadership Delegation.
Two BAB members also introduced themselves, showcasing the diversity of USJC and BAB membership. Koichiro Kimura, Group Chairman and Territory Senior Partner for PwC Japan Group, explained the importance of a global business environment in Japanese companies today, discussing his own global foundations and how he uses them in his current position. Miho Aoki, Associate Professor at Showa Women’s University, talked about her experience in various corporate industries, and her decision to move to the field of education and develop the next generation of Japanese women leaders.
Mr. Ito, who spent 15 years working in the Japanese foreign service, began by briefly introducing Mercari Inc., a C2C marketplace which allows its users to buy and sell goods. Founded in 2013, almost 10% of the Japanese population are monthly users of Mercari. Mr. Ito explained the company’s goal of improving the negative perception of selling second-hand goods. A recent study by Mercari found that in just the past year, there was an increase in people who would consider reselling their items.
Mr. Ito went on to describe current global tech trends and business methods of adapting to these trends. With a shift in the youngest generation’s preference for experiences over consumption, Mercari’s market has moved away from luxury goods and towards meaningful experiences and handmade objects. Mr. Ito stressed the importance of creating a platform on par with social media and in line with the thought patterns of the new demographic of consumers.
Following his speech, Mr. Ito received questions from TOMODACHI alumni. In response to questions about the challenges of business expansion abroad, Mr. Ito explained that companies in Japan must begin thinking globally from their inception in order to expand abroad, but that even with the necessary resources there can be limits to expansion. Mr. Ito was also asked about his decision to move from the foreign service to the tech field. He replied that his time as a diplomat exposed him to many different people, and he began to consider switching fields upon seeing a large movement to the private sector following the 2016 U.S. election.
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