Jeff Standard is President of Japan Club at the Kellogg School of Management. Before Kellogg he spent most of his time in a variety of technology roles for hedge funds and financial derivatives groups.
Just prior to Kellogg he spent a few months in Japan dividing his time between language studies and working with a non-profit organization, which trains Japanese software developers in business analysis and project management.
He’s currently working as a summer intern Product Manager for a small startup in Silicon Valley before returning for his second year at Kellogg.
What are your club’s main aims?
Our aim is simple: To bring Japanese business, educational, and cultural experiences to the Kellogg community. We do this through a series of events throughout the year. Great food is a big part of Japanese culture we have several food-related events such as “learn to roll your own sushi” and a fall BBQ of 秋刀魚 or “sanma” fish. We also have factory visits to local factories of Japanese companies, such as Kikkoman Soy Sauce, and big speaker events like our most recent session with the inventor of Paro, a robot being used to treat people afflicted with debilitating diseases. The year culminates in our signature event every May called Japan Night, which I’ll take a bit more about later. When things get stressful we invite everyone to let off a little steam with karaoke. Anyone, especially non-Japanese, is welcome to join us to learn, eat well, and enjoy some time away from the case studies and redbulls.
Why did you decide to do an MBA?
For three main reasons. First, since I come from primarily a software/technical background, I knew there were plenty of gaps in my business toolbox I needed to fill. I also wanted to gain access to the huge amount of resources devoted toward entrepreneurship. I’ve been bitten by the startup bug and business schools offer some great programs in this area. Finally, I wanted to expand my network since I know mainly software and investment folks. Kellogg has exceeded my expectations in these areas, particularly the last one, as I’m in awe and humbled my classmates on a daily basis. Everyone is very sharp, down to earth and friendly.
Describe your annual blockbuster event, ‘Japan Night’.
Japan Night has to be experienced to be believed, but I'll do my best to describe the highlights. Each year has a theme, and this year’s theme was “Kizuna” 絆 which translates roughly as a communal “bonding”. We had over 300 guests at our last Japan Night. As you walked in you'd first pick up a bento box filled with delicious Japanese foods, stop by our beer and sake bar, and then take a seat for 2.5 hrs of performances. We had taiko drumming, modern pop and traditional dances, a quiz to test your cultural knowledge called the JMAT, as well skits and a feature film. We also had many culture booths set up to experience the amazing technology of Japan, play some Wii games, or our very popular Japanese costume photo booth where you can fulfill your lifelong dream of becoming a samurai, geisha, or sumo wrestler. It’s a really fun celebration of all things Japanese and the amazing part is, like most things at Kellogg, it is all entirely created and run by a team of students. The only thing missing from Japan Night is sleep for the organizers and performers in the weeks leading up to it, but it’s all 100% worth it.
Did last year’s tsunami disaster provide an environment which will kick-start the Japanese economy as compared to the years of zero growth that Japan has experienced since the 90s?
The tsunami of last year took a huge toll on Japan, but there are silver linings to even the darkest clouds. The Japanese government has also long-realized the need to increase entrepreneurship and innovation in Japan. Tomodachi (meaning "friend"), the US-Japan partnership to aid in the recovery of the Tohoku disaster-affected regions, recently partnered with several organizations to create a series of programs to help cultivate entrepreneurship and solve some of the difficult problems Tohoku faces. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) has also increased support of innovation and entrepreneurship programs across Japan. This is an opinion, but I also feel the wholesale failure of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) during the nuclear crisis, may have had an impact the Japanese people’s appetite for change. Japan is already investing many more resources into developing better, more innovative alternative energy sources. Though there is still a long road to travel, but I am very hopeful and excited about Japan's future, especially after getting to know many of my Japanese friends at Kellogg who are current and future leaders of their home country.
Does the likely abandonment of Japan’s nuclear programme mean that Japan is going to create a competitive disadvantage for itself through higher energy costs?
This is still under heavy discussion within the Japanese government and business community, so things are mostly speculative at this point. On the one hand Japan is forced to import expensive fossil fuels and spend additional capital on safety, driving up operating costs. On the other hand, Japan has a very good record of devising new ways to reduce consumption and creating high efficiency systems. What starts as a disadvantage could quickly turn into a strength.