Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) is looking to increase constructive dialogues with foreign investors to promote understanding of ongoing governance reform efforts at major Japanese companies.

Speaking with IJ, Miko Oyama, Senior Manager of the Social Communication Bureau at Keidanren, said several actions are in the works, following the Keidanren's mission to the US in April.

Investment
Japan (IJ):

During April 8-12, the Keidanren's Mission to the US for Constructive Dialogue with Investors visited the US east coast and met with executives from major asset owners, asset managers and heads of related organizations. We understand this was the first mission to focus on speaking directly with foreign investors. What prompted the mission?

Oyama:

Keidanren has recently assumed a leading role in governance reform among Japanese major companies. Some people may be a little surprised to hear this, given Keidanren's stance not so long ago against stronger governance legislation. The turning point was spring 2018, when Hiroaki Nakanishi became Chairman of Keidanren. Mr. Nakanishi, having spearheaded governance reform at Hitachi, Ltd., advised Keidanren's executives that we should instead play a leading role in Japan's governance reform for sustainable growth. The executives discussed the idea intensely and ultimately agreed to take on the new role.

Keidanren has since implemented measures to promote reform among member companies, including dialogues with investors who value long-term company growth, such as foreign asset owners and asset managers operating in Japan.

The US mission was one such measure. The intent was to hear from major US investors and their related organizations about Japan's governance reform, and in turn, to update them on reforms undertaken by Japanese major corporations. A group of top executives from Japan, led by Keidanren's Vice Chair Takeshi Kunibe (Chairman of the Board, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group) and Vice Chair of the Board of Councillors Takashi Hibino (Chairman of the Board, Daiwa Security Group), met with investors including Citigroup (President, James Forese), Blackstone (Chairman & CEO, Stephen Schwarzman), TIAA, ESG-related bodies, TCFD (Chair, Michael Bloomberg), S&P Global (President & CEO, Douglas Peterson), and the SEC (Commissioner, Hester Peirce). I myself participated in the mission as delegation director.

IJ:

What did the mission delegates think of the outcome?

Oyama:

Participants were pleasantly surprised that a large number of the US investors were interested in what Japanese businesses and Keidanren were doing. Our seminar conducted in conjunction with the Consulate General of Japan in New York attracted an audience of more than 100.  

After hearing our report on current reform efforts, most US investors placed a high value on ongoing corporate governance reform in Japanese companies.

We also identified several areas in which Japanese businesses and Keidanren need to do more, such as adding more independent outside directors, increasing diversity promotions in corporate culture, and limiting cross-shareholdings. We need to improve our mechanisms for disclosure and dialogue. One top US asset manager said to us that they want clearer explanations about how and why Japanese companies might think and act differently from American and European ones.

Ultimately, we realized that Japanese and US business people share some common issues. Likewise, they and financial authorities in both countries, are increasingly concerned about the appropriate role and responsibility of proxy advisory firms.

IJ:

Could you share with us the Keidanren's next plans for engaging with investors?

Oyama:

One of the major activities following the US mission to the US was just completed. In late June, Keidanren held a symposium on corporate governance that attracted an audience of nearly 300, including many top executives at big Japanese businesses. That symposium's success demonstrated that member companies are keenly interested in governance reform and that Keidanren should continue to support their efforts.

As a next step, we are working toward publishing various reports that would present best practices for promoting constructive dialogue with investors. 

We are also looking to send the next mission with top executives to engage with foreign investors, probably to Europe, the US west coast or Asia.

Meanwhile, we will of course avail ourselves of every opportunity to promote dialogues between Japanese companies and long-term investors through the daily activities of Keidanren.

IJ:

Thank you very much.

Miko Oyama
Miko Oyama

Senior Manager, Social Communication Bureau, KEIDANREN

Miko Oyama joined the KEIDANREN as a policymaker in 1999, mainly designing economic policy proposals negotiated with top government officials as a representative of Japan’s business community. She then served for the KEIDANREN Chairman Fujio Mitarai (CEO of Canon) and Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura (CEO of Sumitomo Chemical)’s special advisor from 2009 to 2012.

After that, Miko was appointed as U.S. Representative of KEIDANREN and Visiting Fellow of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC from 2012 to 2015, facilitated more engagement by the Japanese business sector with the U.S. policy making community. Returning to Japan, she served as Senior Manager of Social Communication Bureau at KEIDANREN, designing policy relating to Japan’s politics, promoting engagement with institutional investors and diversity issues.

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Miko holds B.A. and M.A. in Economics from Keio University in 1999 and M.P.A. from Columbia University in 2009. Her academic experience also includes Research Fellow at Harvard University.