JMEC the Mini-MBA

by Zach Johnson
jmecCelebrating 15 years of nurturing entrepreneurs and helping businesses in Japan.

It’s called a mini-MBA. JMEC (Japan Market Expansion Competition), a non-profit organization sponsored by 12 foreign Chambers of Commerce in Japan, begins its annual event around September each year with a series of information sessions conducted by JMEC staff, supporters and alumni.

After participants sign up, the real action starts in November with Saturday lectures on the basics of business and the challenges faced by start-ups and multinational companies in Japan. “Lectures and workshops, with a strong practical emphasis on Japan market entry and business planning, are conducted by lecturers who are highly respected in their fields in the Japanese and foreign business communities,” says JMEC Program Director Laura Loy. “Participants are then placed into teams and are assigned to one of the companies taking part in the program.”

jmec-lectureUnder the guidance of a mentor and a financial consultant, teams start work in January with the Project Client (company) to write a business plan addressing the specific challenges the company is facing in Japan, she explains. “Because every project client is different, each team faces a unique set of challenges and so needs a business plan tailored to their needs.”

Business plans cover strategy, marketing, distribution, finance, organization, human resources and legal issues. So who wants a mini-MBA? “JMEC participants are English-speaking, Japanese and non-Japanese individuals living and working in Japan who have a genuine interest in improving their business skills, broadening their business network and achieving higher career and personal goals,” explains the JMEC website.

Santosh Sali, a JMEC 12 participant, sums it up: “The JMEC experience was extremely enriching. The interaction I had with top decision-makers and veteran consultants, multinational and diverse teammates and motivating inputs from my team’s mentor changed me inside and out. I’ve gained a new confidence which is taking me towards a general management role. As a bonus, I participated in fun-filled social events, networking opportunities and came away with a better understanding of Japanese business culture.”

And what about Project Clients?

“Project Clients are those companies or organizations, based inside or outside Japan, requiring a business plan for the Japanese market. They get a high-quality, professional business plan that addresses their needs at a fraction of the cost of hiring professional consultants. Indeed, says Loy, JMEC business plans are as varied as the companies they are written for.

SKW East Asia participated in JMEC 13 (2006-2007). This German company asked its JMEC team to develop a market entry strategy for its parasols and umbrellas in Japan. The result was a custom media plan that immediately led to an increase in demand for the product.

Georg Loeer, consultant of Project Client SKW East Asia, said “The participation in JMEC was a very valuable experience and exceeded our expectations by far. Not only did our team win the first place of the competition, we also got a very exciting business plan that we have already started to implement. We can recommend JMEC to any project client who wishes to make use of an excellent tool for market entry or expansion in Japan.”

One of the earliest JMEC successes involved Lloyds Bank (now Lloyds TSB Bank) and the overseas remittance market. Lloyds, a well-established British financial institution dating back to 1765, had opened its first Tokyo branch in 1974. By 1995, it was poised to take advantage of the gap in the remittance market but was unsure how to go about it. The challenge that Lloyds put to the JMEC team was how to exploit the opportunities in the remittance market dominated for years by the post office and local banks, even though Lloyds had only one branch in Japan.

The JMEC team conducted extensive market research and competitive analysis to devise a solution to this challenge. The team distributed close to 13,000 questionnaires to subjects in the target market. The team developed a plan whereby customers could use their own banks’ ATMs to send the yen to Lloyds in Tokyo, who would then convert it to foreign currency and remit it overseas. The Lloyds service (called GoLloyds) could be accessed by customers using over 25,000 ATM machines throughout Japan. Customers would be able to telephone the dedicated GoLloyds number, listen to a recording of exchange rates and decide whether or not to make the remittance that day. Customers would gladly pay a ¥2,000 handling fee for the service and convenience of GoLloyds. As predicted in the plan, both the cost to Lloyds of implementing the project and the JMEC participation fee, were easily recovered through their handling fees and forex income in a short time.

In 2005, the Japanese office of Enterprise Ireland, the government agency responsible for the development and promotion of indigenous Irish industry, needed to formulate a business plan for the development of the Japanese market for indigenous Irish fashion products. The JMEC team was to identify the sub-sectors offering opportunity in Japan, put together a strong, convincing business case for Irish products in these sectors, and develop a plan to exploit these opportunities. Quickly discovering that the Irish fashion sector could not compete with low cost imports from China, and should focus instead on exporting high-quality modern products, the team conducted online surveys to identify core market segments—single working women in their twenties to forties, and active seniors, men and women aged over 55. It was also deemed critical to have a centralized system for showcasing and promoting the products, proposing a main showroom, a website and various promotional activities. A Japanese agent was identified as a strong partner and has guided the Irish companies through the Japanese market. To date 14 Irish companies have used this showroom as a vehicle for promoting and selling their products in Japan.

While some JMEC graduates go on to start their own businesses, that is not always the case. Jun had been working in supply chain management for nearly 10 years. He was enticed by JMEC. He learned that it covered all the core MBA topics in a short time and then provided the opportunity to apply what he learned to the writing of a business plan for a real company. “JMEC was a perfect match for me,” says Jun, “in terms of duration as well as the courses and experience it offered.” One year later, he was recruited by a fellow JMEC alumni. Jun’s JMEC experience set him apart from the other candidates. “I suppose if I would never have done JMEC, my current career would not exist. So thank you to JMEC!” ❖

The JMEC15 winning team (from left): Yoshiko Sugita, Deborah Murao, Daisuke Fujisawa, Dan Herbert, Ru Sun (not pictured: Jun Tezuka)

The JMEC15 winning team (from left): Yoshiko Sugita, Deborah Murao, Daisuke Fujisawa, Dan Herbert, Ru Sun (not pictured: Jun Tezuka)

JMEC 16 will start with information sessions in September and October 2009.
The deadline to apply for participants is October 23 and November 27 for project clients.

To find out more about the JMEC program, please visit or contact program director Laura Loy at

Average number each year:
Participants: 49
Age: 31
Age Range: 23-48
Percentage of male-female: 45%, 55%
Countries Represented so far: 45