How to Revive Japan’s Economy

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”, to create the most eminently “supportable” platform for spreading governance best practices and the custom of director training in Japan. Especially after I 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 or cooperated with our 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.

“How We Saved Our Planet”, by Nicholas Benes

In this article and video published in Ethical Boardroom, I urge a much deeper discourse about #ESG and the structure of profit-seeking corporations – one that considers ways to install the right incentive drivers. As summarized in the video, in my article aliens from another planet (the Vilcans) visit Earth and advise us to think much harder about key questions that we are not fully grappling with – such as: 1) who is best able to assess ESG factors that affect sustainability? 2) does our system provide enough incentives for them to think 20 years ahead, but act now? Does it do that throughout the entire investment chain? 3) why does ownership need to be non-transparent much of the time? Is that healthy?  5) what are the implications of giving FULL limited liability to corporations? 6) does it make sense that those who bought no stock, bear a large part of externalized risk? etc. etc.

The article then describes exactly how the Vilcans reconfigured their equity markets to address these and a host of other issues that (in my view) current #ESG initiatives and debates are not effectively coping with.