Whether in-person, online or a hybrid, the British Business Awards (BBA) is always the highlight on the calendar of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ). And so it was—a year after 2020’s socially distanced awards ceremony—that more than 100 people could once again be present to witness the coveted awards being announced, with hundreds more taking part online on both sides of the planet.
The ceremony took place at the residence of Ambassador to Japan Julia Longbottom CMG on 6 November and, in a year in which the challenges to business have arguably been more testing than ever, the 38 nominees across six award categories underlined just how much the British business community in Japan has shone in the face of adversity.
British firms are innovative and inclusive. They are cutting-edge and driven by a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. UK firms are entrepreneurial, reliable and hard-working partners, who are diverse, creative and resilient. All those attributes were on display during the 14th annual BBA, along with a good slice of yet another admirable British attribute: humour.
In an action-packed yet still tongue-in-cheek video clip to get the evening under way, Ambassador Longbottom boarded a Range Rover behind a mystery wheel man. To a rising crescendo of the unmistakable music from James Bond films, our daring driver took the ambassador on a hair-raising journey aboard a vehicle emblematic of British engineering and automotive excellence.
Pursued by black-clad assassins on motorcycles, through swerves and skids, the debonair driver even managing to roll the sturdy Range Rover—while the Ambassador sat nonplussed in the back seat, sipping a cup of tea. Finally managing to shake off their pursuers, the driver safely delivered the Ambassador to the embassy in time for the awards ceremony.
The driver was revealed to have been none other than David Bickle OBE, president of the BCCJ and appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s New Year honours list.
The opening sequence was a tip of the hat to the Queen’s headline-grabbing entrance at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games—and equally visually impressive and amusing.
The smooth running of the evening was once more entrusted to MC Guy Perryman MBE, with “Transform the Norm” the theme of the awards ceremony. The motif was appropriate, given that many British firms have been on the leading edge of reinventing how business operates as a result of the restrictions imposed during the pandemic.
Bickle said companies nominated for awards have, in the past year, demonstrated “belief in purpose, belief in their business models, belief in their contributions to society and belief in their success here in Japan.
“That belief has been forged through an incredible amount of hard work and dedication, an incredible work ethic that has got them to where they are today, and I hope you find their stories inspirational”. Bickle then led members in the traditional toast with a glass of Nyetimber British sparkling wine.
Executive Director Lori Henderson MBE was subsequently invited to talk members through the highlights of the past 12 months at the chamber, which has moved almost entirely into the digital realm as a result of the pandemic.
In recent months, London and Tokyo have signed an important free trade agreement, she pointed out. The chamber was on hand to support the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines to almost 3,000 BCCJ members, their families and friends through the vaccine centre set up by TKP Corporation, one of the firms nominated for the chamber’s Company of the Year award.
Other notable events included the successful—albeit delayed—staging of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer, and the British community in Japan marking British Black History Month in October. The awards evening coincided with Glasgow hosting the critical UN Climate Change Conference.
Women in leadership roles in business remains a key campaign focus for the chamber, with Hollie Pearne-Webb MBE addressing the members via video link from the UK about the importance and positive impact of the Women Athletes Business Network (WABN), set up by accounting giant Ernst & Young Global Limited (EY).
Pearce-Webb—who captained the British women’s hockey team to win a bronze medal in Tokyo, to add to the gold she won at the Rio Games in 2016—had high praise for the organisers of Tokyo 2020. “I don’t think anyone else could have pulled off the Games in those circumstances”, she said, “and the welcome we received was second to none, making the experience so special, something I for one will never forget”.
Becoming a part of the WABN sisterhood has taken Pearce-Webb’s career in a different direction, she said, but it has allowed her to demonstrate “the transferrable skills in elite sports and the impact that they can have on the business world”.
And the winners are …
The duty of whittling the 38 nominees down to the six winners fell to the panel of judges comprising Noel Thatcher MBE, a Paralympian who competed in Tokyo for Team GB; Carolyn Davidson, British consul-general in Osaka; Miwa Seki, Kathy Matsui and Yumiko Murakami, all general partners with MPower Partners; Hideo Tomita, managing director of Refinitiv Japan KK; Liza Aono, a presenter with Cool Japan TV; and Adrian Gillespie, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise.
The seven eye-catching trophies were once again crafted by Kate Thompson, of the Ukishima Sculpture Studio, in Iwate Prefecture. In a video message, she said the void in the centre of each stone award had been made larger on purpose this year, to communicate that the “window of opportunity” brought about by the pandemic is larger today than in the past.
The task of announcing the winners in each of the six award categories fell to Ambassador Longbottom, who took up the post in February, becoming the first female British ambassador to Japan, but one of 18 female ambassadors in the 25 capital cities that are considered Britain’s top overseas diplomatic missions.
With anticipation building, the first award was for Digi-Tech Innovation and was open to any eligible company that has driven transformation through the delivery of effective digital or technological innovation, services or solutions in Japan over the preceding 12 months.
Exscientia emerged from the four-strong field to win the award, recognised for its successful application of artificial intelligence to the design of two of the world’s first three AI-designed drug molecules to go into clinical trials, in collaboration with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma Co., Ltd and the successful 2021 series D fund-raiser led by Softbank Vision 2 that preceded Exscientia’s IPO.
Speaking from the company’s laboratories in Oxford, Chief Experience Officer Mark Swindells said it was “truly an honour” to receive the award on behalf of the company’s staff there, in Dundee and Osaka.
No fewer than seven firms were in the running for the hotly contested Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Unilever was the winning nominee, thanks to a range of initiatives that have included gender and nationality balance in management, inclusion and support for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, and the combatting of stereotypes and social norms. All the gambits have been introduced with the aim of creating a more inclusive society
Unilever Japan General Manager Sanjay Sachdeva was on hand at the Embassy to accept the award. He said that the lack of diversity and inclusion is “entrenched in our society, and companies need to come together to solve this problem”.
Seven businesses were shortlisted for Responsible Business award, with pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca—a serial winner at the BBA—lifting the trophy. The biopharmaceutical enterprise has declared that it will achieve zero carbon emissions from its operations and ensure that its entire value chain is carbon negative by 2030, bringing forward decarbonisation plans by more than a decade.
AstraZenaca’s non-profit coronavirus vaccine, jointly developed with the University of Oxford and produced in Japan, is contributing to local and international communities. Accepting the award remotely, AstraZeneca Japan President Stefan Woxstrom said he was “proud of the team and what they have done with the vaccine in Japan”.
Six organisations contested Entrepreneur of the Year, which went to Fei-Fei Hu and Ayahi Suda, the husband-and-wife co-founders of the education management company Clarence Education Asia. The organisation has launched a series of new British international schools, with the opening of Phoenix House International School in September. Expressing his gratitude to the chamber for its recognition, Hu said he hoped that, as individuals from a multicultural background, they will “become a platform for cultural exchanges” in the years to come.
The award for Japan–UK Partnership was a fiercely contested race among seven firms, with the Ocado Group and Japan’s AEON Group recognised for advances that are set to transform the nature of online grocery retailing in Japan.
David Hardiman-Evans, senior vice president for Ocado, said in a video link that he was “delighted” to accept the award for a “vital service” that is based on “the best of British technology and engineering and the heritage of Asia’s largest retailer”.
The remit for the final and most prestigious award of the evening, Company of the Year, spelled out that nominees needed to show resilience, excellence and innovation across all aspects of their organisation in Japan, focusing on outstanding achievements over the past eighteen months.
Seven enterprises from across the professional spectrum were put forward for the title. They are involved in a variety of areas, ranging from education to energy, travel, recruitment and healthcare. The judges concluded that the 2021 winner would be Klyne Dytham architecture, for a year that has been nothing short of trailblazing.
The company was in 2021 nominated for both the World’s Best Hospitality Building and the World’s Best Short Stay Hotel, as well as having been recognised around the world for its PechaKucha show-and-tell format, which has pivoted online during the pandemic and seen more than 500 hybrid events held globally.
As a result, PechaKucha was invited to take part in the COP26 meetings in Glasgow as a partner of the global #GetOnWithIt workshop initiative for children.
Joint-founder Mark Dytham accepted the award online from Glasgow, expressing his gratitude to the judges and the chamber, and congratulating the other nominees.
“It is a real honour to receive this award,” he said. “It has been a tough few years for all of us and it is just great to know that there is an organisation like the chamber that has your back. It is also something of a surprise to get this award because there are a lot of other very deserving companies”.
Until next time
The BCCJ was keen to express its thanks to headline sponsor and recruitment experts Robert Walters, as well as gold sponsor IHG Hotels & Resorts, silver sponsors Jaguar-Land Rover and Nyetimber, and bronze sponsor Argentum Wealth.
A dozen world-renowned firms also kindly donated prizes to the evening’s raffle, including stunning hotel packages by Andaz Tokyo, the Conrad, the Hilton, IHG properties, the Palace Hotel Tokyo, the Park Hyatt, the Shangri-La, the Edition in Toranomon, as well as Zentis Tokyo. Other prizes were given by The Kyoto Distillery, the Swan and Lion delicatessen and Titanic Whiskey.
The tradition of the after party returned to the event this year, with guests meeting up at the Lobby Bar at The Tokyo EDITION hotel in Toranomon after departing the Embassy—and expressing high hopes that the 2022 edition of the most eagerly anticipated night of the British business community’s year will next be held in-person and without restrictions. All being well, it already promises to be quite a night to remember.