JMEC is aiming to create future business leaders in Tokyo, with the added spice of a little bit of competition.

“Friendly but ruthless,” jokes Jason Danielson, a 2012 winner, about the rivalries between the teams that made up the Japan Marketing Expansion Competition.

JMEC comprises eight teams, made up of participants from 12 countries and a range of business or educational backgrounds who, Program Director Pierre Couret explains, “cooperate in small teams to analyze market opportunities for JMEC project clients.”

The teams receive a brief from a real company and work, in real time, to provide a solution to the problems outlined therein. They then, Couret continues, “develop realistic business plans to crack the Japanese market.” The best plan is judged – after a process of presentations and deliberation, all of the work undertaken under strict confidentiality agreements – and winners are awarded prizes, including HP computers, return flights to the UK from British Airways and a stay in any luxurious resort belonging to SLH worldwide.

Past clients include Bang & Olufsen, Electrolux, Lloyds Bank, Sumitomo 3M, the Financial Times and Heineken, all of which had some desire to revitalize, enter new market segments, enter Japan or perhaps revise distribution networks. Real business decisions needed to be made, and these companies called JMEC.

There were wise words for the teams.

There were wise words for the teams.

On June 8th, at the Tokyo American Club, around two hundred guests – including leaders of a number of foreign chambers of commerce and embassies in Japan, who take JMEC very seriously – came together to witness the award ceremony which was the culmination of half a year’s hard work and, of course, do a little networking.

Now in its 18th year, JMEC’s aim is to identify, train, mentor and challenge the “next generation of innovative business leaders,” and give them the skills to provide business plans worth using, for a fraction of the cost of those from outside consultants.

From November to January, participants go to lectures and workshops, using Temple University Japan facilities – most of them alongside their Monday to Friday jobs, with some even sent by employers hoping the experience would mould young employees into future managers. Then, between January and April the teams work independently to come up with a plan.

Originally founded in 1993 by the Australian and New Zealand chamber of Commerce, JMEC is a non-profit training program which, up until 2012, has produced 892 graduates from 54 countries.

JMEC participants have so far written 167 business plans. JMEC 18 (2012) winners, Team 1, were praised by their Project Client for the way they approached his dilemma, after an “agonizing” five years searching for answers. Brian Norton said “I read the plan and was very impressed with the way the team laid out the contrast between the potential for failure and the potential for success … Now I have some objective analysis and extensive information to move towards some decisions.”

Working on a “real life plan for a real business is unique,” says JMEC lecturer and former mentor Dermot Killoran. “it’s not an academic case study like submitting a paper to your college professor.”

Killoran says, “JMEC plans can have real impact for businesses. That impact can result in large investments being made, new staff being hired, new businesses entering the market and in some cases restructuring and refocusing of existing business operations.”

It is not only the participants who benefit, Killoran adds, “The project clients see real value in the plans they receive from the JMEC teams. For the participants on the teams there is nothing like the kind of practical experience they get from participating in JMEC. They pick up a lot of technical knowledge and very importantly the self-confidence in their own skills and abilities.”

Project client Georg Löer, from NRW Invest, says he is drawn to JMEC not only for the chance to network but for the opportunity to “give something back. It’s like a mission.” Löer, who has spent 23 years in Japan, adds that “it gives me a chance to bring younger people into a new circle of friends.”

Having commissioned projects three years in a row, through JMEC 13, 14 and 15, Löer speaks positively about his experiences. In all three cases, including work with a client seeking to introduce a German lifestyle and advertising product to the Japanese market, Löer says, “we benefitted greatly from the work of the JMEC team, its ideas, its analytical skills, and its dedication to the projects. Each project and the results presented were different but each JMEC team was special and delivered very good quality business plans.”

Throughout the awards night, it seems that most people I talk with are positive about the networking aspect of JMEC. Was it fair to assume this was a major draw for participants? Team 1 member, Jason Danielson, thinks so. “Yes, I think that is fair. It’s a major plus point of JMEC. The most valuable thing, personally, was making good friends and being able to make introductions to many people in business in Tokyo.”

Job prospects may increase, too. “A lot of people,” adds Danielson, speaking two weeks after the JMEC awards, “have taken their experience and made a more aggressive approach. It definitely impacts people’s thinking about what they want to get out of their careers.”

Danielson’s career took a turn when he switched jobs during, not after, his JMEC experience and though he says it “wasn’t directly involved, for me, JMEC definitely influenced skills that I have taken to my new role.”

Now at Terra Sky, who are a software integration company which develops cloud services, Danielson tells me he gained not only research skills and introductions: “we are taking a product suite to the US market – in one sense exactly the same as the localization project we were doing in the project, only vice-versa.”

Josh Temperman, a JMEC 17 participant, now an associate consultant at Icon Partners in Tokyo, told me that he got his job, essentially, through what he calls “an audience with CEOs” during the research stage of his project. And, at this stage in his career, he wondered, “how many times do you get that?”

Main Image (top): Winners, Team 1, who worked for project client, Brian Norton. (from left) Mutsuhiro Honda (GM, Corporate Comms, HP), Andrew Silberman (President, AMT Group), Karen Mattison, Stephen Parker, Jason Danielson, Masaki Sato, Kei Miyake, Hiromasa Yasuo