Vast Potential

Shailesh Shukla joined the CCCJ and surveyed the landscape of business between Japan and Canada. What he saw was a Chamber full of Vast Potential

When I became part of the CCCJ community, what got me participating was that the Chamber’s key objective is to enhance commerce between Canada and Japan,” says Shailesh Shukla, the founder and chair of the Market Access Advisory Committee (MAAC). “And so much more could be achieved with a focused strategic action plan and the support of the Chamber community.”

The president and general manager of Reckitt Benckiser Japan—a British multinational in the home hygiene and healthcare business selling brands such as Lysol, Clearasil and Muse—Shukla has a background in marketing and sales, innovation and business transformation, and sustainable business strategy. “This business has allowed me to travel the world, working in China, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, India and now Japan,” he notes.

He’s accustomed to devising and executing strategies across regions. While ethnically Indian, Shukla and his family are thoroughly Canadian. Those elements along with his global experience and perspective help him spot opportunities. 

“What triggered my thinking was traveling in Tokyo trains in the winter and seeing a lot of people wearing jackets with the Canada Goose logo on them,” he recalls. “Canada Goose is a famous Canadian brand. I started seeing a lot of Japanese wearing hoodies of UBC Vancouver, Calgary, Maple Leaf, Roots and the like.” 

He recognized the largely untapped well of goodwill and equity Canadian brands and Canadiana possessed, and what Canadians and Canadian business represent in Japanese minds. “There’s vast potential here, which most Canadian businesses are unaware of or are hesitant to capture,” he notes, “so very few of them are leveraging that goodwill and equity in Japan.”

Why? “Because the moment a Canadian business or any business outside Japan wants to enter this market, it appears to be a very complex and difficult territory, primarily due to language and culture,” he responds, “along with perceived complexities in regulations, trade norms, go-to-market models and the way the Japanese set up businesses.”

He knew the hunger was there, citing the many calls he’s gotten from both individuals and companies back in Canada asking about conditions in Japan, many openly voicing the desire to launch their businesses here. 

“For Canadian firms, the natural thing is to roll out into the U.S. first, and then in Europe,” Shukla says. “Then you turn towards the area with the biggest potential, which is the Indo-Pacific.”

Four to five years ago, he observes, that often meant China. “Given the geopolitics now, though, China is not proving to be the fertile ground it once was,” he explains. “So why is the third-largest economy in the world, Japan, not a massive market for Canadian business? Japan is actually not a very complex or difficult marketplace. It’s integrated into the World Trade Organization, it follows the global norms and rules for trade. If someone understands consumers, trade structures,the business culture and the regulations, it’s relatively simple.” 

It was time to make some connections and jump-start the process. 


Pitching the Idea

“We’ve got many CCCJ members working in various businesses who already know the Japanese landscape,” Shukla notes. “So I thought, with all these Canadian entrepreneurs and Canadian businesses looking to expand, and the Chamber having the experts who can open these doors, why don’t we form a committee to help them do that?”

Late last year he started talking with David Anderson, Annamarie Sasagawa and other Chamber leaders, and later made a successful pitch to the Chamber Board to start up the MAAC.

Shukla had two objectives in mind when he presented his first webinar about the MAAC to the CCCJ membership and went on the hunt for people to join the committee. 

“The first objective was to reach out to experts who know the landscape in Japan, to form the expert panel that guides and advises companies,” he says. “Many of our members are working in regulatory and legal firms, and they know how to set up a company. There are also many in outsourcing and new market entry. Add to that companies who handle logistics for transportation, storage and distribution in Japan, marketing, and recruitment and talent searching.”

According to Shukla, the second objective is to identify and reach out to interested companies in Canada. “We will be the ones who will lend them a guiding hand, connect them with the experts and help them either launch their own business or find partners or a business model.”

There are two routes planned for this, Shukla says. “One is our panel of experts within the Chamber and a list of clients and potentially interested Canadian companies like Purdy’s Chocolates, Nature’s Path, Tim Hortons, Saputo, MEC, Hudson Bay, Roots and others.

“The other is to reach out through what I call the entrepreneurial hubs,” he continues. “For example, the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. Their primary role is to help entrepreneurs take off, give them advice and funding. If they’re looking for partnerships, technology, products or markets in Japan, we can be there to guide them. Similarly, the Export Development Bank of Canada and Business Development Bank of Canada. We can approach them to be their partners, and since they are funding those exporters, they have a list of people interested in global markets. We’re here to help.”

David Anderson has also connected the MAAC to the trade commissioners at the embassy. “Now we’re going to be meeting at the embassy and presenting a case because the trade commissioners there are working on exactly this.”

Shukla also has three levels of committee activities planned. “The first level includes small events and direct contacts. The second is expositions featuring Canadian products in places like Costco or Amazon, and in partnership with them. And the third is the Canadian Fair, which is some distance away. We’re targeting the 2025 Osaka Expo.” 


Virtual Meets and Lofty Goals

The MAAC has a committee of ten, and they all have powerful connections. For the time being, Shukla and the other MAAC members have decided to meet virtually. “Till everybody’s happy to come face to face, and then we’ll do that,” he says. “Even in my own business, I’ve felt that hybrid meetings are unproductive and chaotic because people online are often not able to figure out what people in the room are saying,” he states. “At some point, though, we’ll also have a social event. That’s actually a key to building cohesive working relations in the committee.”

The Chamber’s primary objective is to grow commerce and a vibrant community, he adds. “You can gain clients if you do this. That’s how I’m pitching it to people. Let’s enhance the community, drive your business growth, and help companies back home. That’s a pretty powerful appeal.”

For a fledgling committee that’s already got a plateful of activities to get through, but Shukla says the MAAC can do even more. And that, he indicates, will involve reversing the flow of activities once the proper channels and the positive knock-on effects are established. 

“There’s this trustworthiness and goodwill that can be unlocked for greater business potential for both countries, and what we’re working on now is only half the story,” he explains. “The second phase of our overall strategy will be to help all the Japanese companies that want to expand globally. And they’ll have Canadians sitting right here that can help them launch in Canada.”