Jul 14

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” Series: Patricia Bader-Johnston (Yokohama)

Each month, current and former JET participants are featured in the “JET Plaza” section of the CLAIR Forum magazine. The June 2014 edition includes an article by JET alumnus Patricia Bader-Johnston. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.


Patricia Bader-Johnston (Yokohama-shi, 1989-91) was one of the first CIRs on the JET Programme. She currently is the Representative Director and CEO of Silverbirch Associates K.K; and is a retained Advisor to Tokyo Business Development Center, as well as a Partner in Thurlestone Capital (a leading clean energy investment firm in the UK). Before founding Silverbirch Associates in 2008, Ms. Bader-Johnston held senior roles in leading companies including Goldman Sachs, BAT and IBM, over a span of 25 years in Japan. She is an active speaker, writer, panel moderator and university lecturer on topics related to CSR and sustainability, globalization trends, and doing business in Japan.


Patricia Bader-Johnston emceeing the Entreprepreneur Business Awards Ceremony 2013 (courtesy of Ms. Bader-Johnston)

Patricia Bader-Johnston emceeing the Entreprepreneur Business Awards Ceremony 2013 (courtesy of Ms. Bader-Johnston)

I was a CIR in Yokohama City government between 1989 and 1991. It was the year of YES 89, an international expo involving over 60 countries that ran throughout that first year, and set the tone for many of the experiences I had in my early days in Yokohama. It also no doubt helped set a path for my future career in Communications. Working as a member of Yokohama City Hall – City pin in my lapel and all – I not only received the gift of a Key to the City when I left, but also a host of memories and formative experiences that remain with me to this day.

I had already been in Japan for two years before becoming one of four of Canada’s first CIR’s on the (then) brand new and completely unknown JET programme. Because the program was so new, we no doubt benefited from a fair amount of attention and special care in that first year. I had a chance to personally interview Prime Minister Nakasone a few years after I left the programme, and he told me how JET had been meant to emulate the US Peace Corps. He had wanted to bring young foreigners into Japan to “cause positive friction” to force Japanese to internationalize more quickly. He called this programme “Kokusaika.”

In order to have the foreigners live in the country long enough to create this “friction”, they needed to be given something to do over a longer term, so they came up with two types of jobs descriptions: the AET to influence educators and young people, and the CIR to influence local governments.

As a CIR I was exposed to many various experiences that ranged from working in the International Press Center for YES 89 to assisting at UN conferences. I mc’ed an ASEAN conference, interpreted for the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Kaifu when they met the International Director of the Red Cross, helped play host to numerous foreign delegations that ranged from the Vice President of the United States to the Mayor of Vancouver Canada and the Vancouver City Police Pipe Band among others! It was an amazing collection of experiences for a young foreigner in Japan. As the resident Canadian CIR in the Yokohama International Communications and Exchanges Division, I introduced the name that stuck to the Maritime Museum in Yokohama, raised a flag with Mayor Takahide and actress Agnes Chan when the Pacifico International Conference Center opened, and even had the great honor of being named celebrity “Postmaster for the Day” (complete with carrying out his duties for one full day). It was also a great honor to be asked to judge the Horseback Archery competition in Kamakura one year! Through these combined experiences I met many influential people who continue to be a help to me in my career today.
Had I not met officials from the Canadian Embassy in Yokohama through YES 89, I would not have been invited to apply for my next role in Communications and Culture at the Embassy in Tokyo. I was the first non-Japanese to take on a local senior program officer role for them. My network gained through the JET programme made me an asset to the embassy that allowed me to participate in a far greater range of projects, and my Japanese ability, honed through countless formal meetings with Japanese government colleagues, was polite enough for me to represent the embassy at official events. I planned and hosted every Canadian JET welcome event that took place in the eight years I was with the embassy, so have met many Canadian JETs over the years and have even hired some of them since then!

Through my work with the embassy, I developed an interest in economic issues and pursued an MBA in International Buisness at McGill University which eventually lead me toward financial services and an offer from Goldman Sachs. I was hired in Tokyo as a Vice President in Operations, Finance and Resources, taking on a global role after 12 months sending me to London, New York, Hong Kong among other offices to lead People Development initiatives for the firm. My communications and government relations background came in handy in my next role as Head of Corporate and Government Affairs for BAT which focused on ethical marketing of harmful products and introduced me to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This role moved me to the ranks of direct report to the CEO, which was an important career milestone and allowed me to participate on the senior leadership team of a Fortune 100 company. I went on to co-found the CSR Committee at the American and Canadian Chambers of Commerce, after which I was also elected as the first female CCCJ President. Many of the people I knew through the chamber communities I had first met in my CIR days through Yokohama City. Those friendships allowed me to be introduced into a growing network of colleagues and new friends in the business community and they remain among my own unique “old boy” network to today.

After BAT I returned to financial services briefly, reporting to the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, helping them launch a new retail business in Japan, along with leading a number of CSR-related initiatives as their Head of Communications. I was recruited from there into IBM where I became a Board member and Director of Communications in Japan (which is IBM’s second largest market in the world). After 25 years in Japan and on the Communications track, I decided that it was time I shifted tracked and started my own company, which I did in 2009 and continue to run today.

Silverbirch Associates kk is a small boutique consulting firm through which I currently serve as a retained advisor for the Tokyo Business Development Center in addition to consulting for Fortune 100 clients, supporting start-ups in Japan. I am also a Partner with Thurlestone Capital Ltd., the UK’s largest clean energy investor. Mega-solar development is a major focus for Silverbirch these days but all areas of sustainability and clean energy remain of interest. I have also recently founded a small healthcare company called inn|Health kk and a not-for-profit organization focused on innovation and entrepreneurship for sustainability called 5ive-Planets ISH, which has run several programs to assist the recovery in Tohoku working with young entrepreneurs and business owners.

It is difficult to say, whether or not I would have pursued a career in Japan had I not participated in the JET programme. I had as mentioned, already come to Japan before that experience and was a Japanese speaker before I became a CIR. However, I feel quite certain that my network would have been quite radically different than it is today had I not had those early intense introductions to influencers, government officials and communication experts that I did through my YES 89 experience. I still live in Yokohama and consider it my “home town” in Japan. Thanks to my JET days, I am a fountain of historic trivia about the area. I have a deep and enduring love for the people who have supported and helped me grow throughout my own personal journey of “Kokusaika.” The JET program certainly played an important part in that journey.


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