How to Revive Japan’s Economy

ESG in Japan: Talk is Cheap, and it Makes Money!

To Those Who Agree with BDTI’s Mission to Improve Governance In Japan

The Board Director Training Institute of Japan (BDTI) is the most influential provider of director training and data on corporate governance in Japan. I am pleased to share this report on the growth of our activities during FY2021 (please click). Notably, more than 32% of our participants in non-corporate programs were women. While our training activity has increased, we are still dependent on donations from foreign investors for our survival so that we may continue to make an outsized impact in improving corporate governance in Japan. For the past few years, I have reduced my own salary to a minimal level to make this possible. (In fact, over the past 12 years, after subtracting my own donations to BDTI, I have literally worked for zero compensation.)

BDTI is regulated by the Japanese government. I intentionally created BDTI in 2009 as a non-profit and later obtained special government certification that its director training activities serve the “public interest”, in order to create the most eminently “supportable” platform for spreading governance best practices and the custom of director training in Japan at a reasonable cost. Especially after I successfully proposed the Corporate Governance Code to the government in 2013 (which requires director training), I believed that this format would make it easy for Japanese institutional investors to support our activities, in view of their responsibilities under the Stewardship Code and their proclaimed dedication to ESG and sustainability. After all, the quality of “G” (the board) is the pillar that ensures whether “E” and “S” will create value for shareholders, stakeholders, and society over the long term, rather than simply as reactive PR.

However, during the past 12 years, not a single large Japanese investing institution has supported BDTI’s director training activities in any way, despite many meetings. Instead, 99% of BDTI’s donations have come from foreign asset managers and institutions, including some of the most respected investing organizations in the world.

This is quite strange. Japan is now in its third “lost decade”. It should be obvious to anyone — Japanese investors most of all —that it takes more than just a governance code and the passage of time to meaningfully change practices and behavior in order to make governance more effective. It takes new knowledge spread throughout the senior levels of company organizations, open mindsets, and ongoing internal discussion, all of which are accelerated by director and pre-director training.

Until such time as major Japanese institutions “walk the talk” about ESG and sustainability, we would greatly appreciate it if others could consider making a donation to BDTI. I believe that the training activities BDTI has conducted for many years, as well as my own personal advocacy efforts, have had a positive impact on Japan’s equity market and economy, and hope to be able to continue and grow our activities.

Nicholas Benes
Representative Director
The Board Director Training Institute of Japan (BDTI)

P.S. — You may be interested in these articles published during the last year. These articles, and the podcasts, were written or created on personal basis, and do not necessarily express the opinions of BDTI as an organization:

Nicholas Benes: Corporate Governance Trailblazer for Japan Inc. (Podcast and Transcript, by Ken Shibusawa)

Japan’s stewardship framework for investors needs urgent reform (Nikkei Asia)

A crucial change is needed to improve corporate governance in Japan (FT) (same topic as the article above)

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