There was no red carpet. No chandeliers twinkled in the ballroom lights. The Champagne and banter could not be shared around the table, the music could not be delivered live and winners of the British Business Awards (BBA) 2020 were not able to shake hands and slap each other on the back before crowding the stage to hoist their trophy.
Yet, in a year of unprecedented turmoil for individuals, organisations and firms, the BBA gala went ahead on 5 November, further cementing its tradition of being one of the brightest and best nights of the year for the British business community in Japan.
Adversity famously brings out the very best in Britons, and so it proved again at an event which—due to the coronavirus pandemic—moved into the online world for the first time in its 13-year history. But that unlucky number was no impediment. Selected by a panel of objective judges, the winners of the six categories were chosen from among an impressive 37 nominees, compared with 32 nominees last year and 33 in 2018. Five categories were up for grabs in both years.
As has been traditional for people arriving at BBA ceremonies, members who logged on to the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) website for the Zoom event were welcomed with music, this year provided by the London Symphony Orchestra, who were obliged to postpone a four-city Japan tour that had been planned for September and October.
Master of ceremonies Guy Perryman MBE—another familiar fixture on awards night—got the online ball rolling by greeting well over 100 online participants from Japan and Britain.
Resilience and transformation
The themes of this year’s awards were, appropriately, resilience and transformation, with BCCJ President David Bickle using his address to welcome members and a number of well-known guests, including British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden CMG and former BCCJ President Phil Gibb, who took part from the UK.
Bickle conceded that 2020 has been an extremely challenging time for everyone, both personally and professionally, but expressed optimism that positives can still be drawn from the shared experience of the coronavirus crisis. “I genuinely believe this is a fantastic time to be involved in the UK–Japan business ecosystem,” Bickle said, adding that everyone with a stake in bilateral trade would have been “delighted” at the recent signing of the UK–Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
The agreement is not the first of its kind between the two nations, he said, pointing to the 1613 pact that was championed by William Adams, the sailor who was the first Briton to arrive in Japan when his ship was wrecked off Kyushu in 1600.
Emphasising the celebratory mood of the occasion, Bickle added: “We should try to look forward positively, even when things are very difficult; and we are celebrating with all of our nominees tonight”.
In an address from the British Embassy Tokyo, Ambassador Madden, who will be stepping down in the early part of next year, applauded the work of the BCCJ and all the nominees over the course of 2020. He also expressed his personal sorrow at the “tragic loss of life” caused by the pandemic, and commended his staff at the embassy for the way in which they have risen to the tasks presented to them as a result of the health crisis. This includes the successful evacuation of British nationals from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked in Yokohama, in the early stages of the outbreak.
The ambassador added that he hoped the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be able to go ahead as scheduled next summer, along with the planned visit to the UK by Emperor Naruhito.
He also expressed high hopes for CEPA, which goes further than a similar trade pact with the European Union in a number of notable areas—including financial services—and is expected to help smooth the way for the UK to join the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“We have all experienced many emotions this year, including frustration, sadness and disappointment. But when the pandemic is over, and we look back, I think the thing that we will remember most will be the huge outpouring of kindness during this time, and I hope that will be the lasting memory of this year,” the ambassador concluded.
The chamber also managed to obtain a video message to the ambassador from former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt, who communicated his gratitude “for doing so much to foster the great relations between Britain and Japan”. He wished Ambassador Madden “all the best” after he leaves the Embassy in 2021.
This year’s BBA was sponsored by some of the biggest names in the British business community in Japan, including Robert Walters, Jaguar Land Rover Japan, GlaxoSmithKline K.K. and Refinitiv, while photo and video studio LIFE.14 inc. provided audio-visual support for the event. Vranken Pommery Japan Co., Ltd. donated a bottle of their Louis Pommery sparkling British wine to each of the nominees, and Kate Thomson of the Ukishima Sculpture Studio donated the seven trophies.
Jeremy Sampson, managing director of Japan & Korea at recruitment firm Robert Walters, told ACUMEN that his firm was a proud sponsor, as it shares the awards’ “purpose of recognising excellence and promoting success and innovation across all industries”.
“The BBA also celebrates important social contributions made in areas such as social and environmental responsibility, as well as diversity and inclusion—in all of which Robert Walters Japan places great value,” he added. “We believe it is a great way for companies to be recognised within the global business community in Japan, and for accomplishments that—in most cases—may not be visible or recognised in day-to-day business activities”.
And that, Sampson said, is even more important this year.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, pushing us to continuously adapt and grow. But more than focusing on the difficulties the pandemic presents, I prefer to view the crisis as an opportunity for companies to truly showcase their strengths and potential,” he added.
“There is more to be said for organisations that are able to thrive during challenging times than when conditions are optimal. In a world of online meetings and events, and reduced human interaction, it is even more challenging for companies to demonstrate this. But the BBA are a great way to help shine a light on the achievements for many companies”.
Turning to the main event, the first award of the evening was for Responsible Business, with no fewer than nine firms nominated.
The award went to Barclays Securities Japan Ltd. for its Covid-19 Charity Aid Programme to support vulnerable communities that have been affected by the pandemic.
Accepting the award virtually, President Kentaro Kiso said he was “overwhelmed” at the chamber’s recognition of his team’s work and efforts to alleviate the stress that so many people are feeling.
Diversity and inclusion
Three firms were shortlisted for the Diversity and Inclusion Award, which went to EY Japan’s Women Athletes Business Network, which has expanded globally to enable EY business mentors to “help unlock the leadership potential of women athletes and support the transition from sports to careers in business and entrepreneurship”.
Janelle Sasaki, who heads the initiative, said she was honoured to accept the award, adding that the research now supports the claim that if a firm wants to be successful in business, it should focus on employing athletes.
Eleven firms vied for the Digi-Tech Innovation Award, with start-up Bisu, Inc. emerging victorious. The firm has developed a health-tracking device that provides personalised diet and lifestyle advice. Co-founder and Chief Executive Daniel Maggs said: “We are a small company with big dreams, and we believe very much that Japan is the place to run start-ups. We are very excited to bring the product to market next year”.
The award for Entrepreneur of the Year was contested by five nominees, with Catherine O’Connell, founder of Catherine O’Connell Law, winning the trophy for her creation of a unique, boutique law firm.
Accepting the award, O’Connell encouraged others who might be thinking of starting a business, saying: “It was a risk for me to set up the firm, but I would encourage anyone with a twinkle of entrepreneurship in their eyes to just do it. Japan is a paradise for entrepreneurs”.
The UK–Japan Partnership of the Year award was shared by The Alan Turing Institute and the Toyota Mobility Foundation for their collaboration on some of the world’s most pressing mobility needs.
Representing the institute, Research Project Manager Will Taylor said he was “delighted to be recognised” for the alliance with Toyota and vowed to continue to work to “improve mobility outcomes for everyone”.
As is the tradition, the final award of the night was for the much-coveted Company of the Year, with the field narrowed to six similarly impressive nominees.
This year’s award went to AstraZeneca K.K. for showing “extraordinary business resilience in a year of unprecedented challenges,” as well as its impressive response to the coronavirus pandemic, the donation of 300,000 masks to the Japanese government to pass on to healthcare professionals and a commitment to provide 120mn doses of coronavirus vaccines in a UK–Japan non-profit collaboration. It was their third straight win in the category.
Surrounded by jubilant colleagues, AstraZeneca Japan President Stefan Woxström expressed his gratitude for the judges’ decision, but was quick to congratulate the other nominees for their achievements in this very testing year.
After the announcement of the awards, Heather McLeish of the BCCJ Executive Committee conducted a draw for numerous prizes, which included stays at many of Tokyo’s top hotels, bottles of Champagne and gift vouchers for life coaching classes and food outlets. The ¥342,000 raised through the raffle at #BBA2020 are being shared between Refugee Empowerment International (formerly Refugees International Japan) and Shine On! Kids. Thank you to everyone who bought a raffle ticket or made a separate charitable contribution.
The awards segment of the evening concluded with the world premiere of the music video for “Christmas Hummingbird,” by Tokyo-based band The Watanabes. Guests then were invited to partake in an after-party using an innovative virtual platform called SpatialChat that simulates the experience of being in a the ballroom—a fitting reflection of 2020.