If You Ask Me

How the BBA began

In the early 2000s, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) launched a number of initiatives, designed to celebrate membership, which were components of a largely successful drive to increase and diversify the firms and individuals who were part of the chamber. One element was the very popular Brits Bash, an often black-tie party held at a popular venue in the centre of Tokyo.

Then came 2008 and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the BCCJ. Thinking caps on: what would be a suitable way of marking such an important event? Various ideas were discussed at the Executive Committee level. The breakthrough came when we received a copy of the magazine of the British Chamber of Commerce Singapore, which at the time was running a “business competition”. That gave us the beginnings of what would become the British Business Awards (BBA).

But there is a long way to go and much to be done between an idea and its realisation. We knew we wanted to launch a competition of sorts, but just what should be the criteria? What about the categories? And who would the judges be? Further, how would the winners be recognised?

Getting it right
A small organising committee was formed to address these issues, among others, and—if memory serves—the first to be addressed was just what categories should be selected.

These days, the categories are broader and, arguably, more challenging—and therefore more exciting. But, in year one, things were kept a lot simpler, with Best Entrepreneur, Best CSR Initiative, Innovation and Corporate Excellence being the four categories.

There was much debate over what the awards would actually be. Would a printed certificate of some sort suffice, or was there a need for something of more substance? In the end, it was decided to buy and engrave Waterford Wedgwood vases.

Finding sponsors for those was another issue, of course, as indeed was the question of sponsorship overall. This has become somewhat easier over the years as the BBA has become increasingly successful and popular.

Moreover, these days the awards are specially commissioned, this year designed by the highly regarded Sebastian Conran and sculpted by artisans from Gifu Prefecture.

I believe the committee found it hard at first to identify appropriate judges, but we were exceptionally fortunate in having Lord Digby Jones—at the time a sort of roving trade promoter—to walk into the spotlight and present the awards. These days I suspect there is no shortage of volunteers for what is far from an easy task.

No longer a gamble
The venue for such a significant event is, of course, extremely important. Thus, from the beginning, the BCCJ has been fortunate in having outstanding support and service from some of the finest hotels it counts among its membership.

As for entertainment, it has ranged from the Tokyo Sinfonia to a children’s group of hip-hop dancers.

The BBA programme goes from strength to strength, while the number of those attending increases year on year, as do nominations for awards. What started off as a gamble for the 60th anniversary of the BCCJ has turned into a real success story for the chamber. We look forward to more of these competitions now we have reached the 10th anniversary of the awards, and next year the BBA will play an important role in the BCCJ’s 70th anniversary celebrations.