For the first time since the 2008 global financial crisis, total membership in the Tokyo American Club (TAC) now exceeds 3,600 active dues-paying members. It is also a much more diverse membership than it used to be, with about 50% Japanese and 50% non-Japanese (of the non-Japanese, 30% are American).
John Durkin, the club’s representative governor and president, says the club is pleased to welcome so many new members from many diverse backgrounds and countries, but adds the club will always maintain its American flavor.
Durkin divides his time between Tokyo and Osaka where he is CFO of Akindo Sushiro Co, which operates the largest chain of sushi shops in the world. Japan Today catches up with him at the club in Tokyo’s Azabudai area.
It has been a difficult last few years for the club, hasn’t it?
Yes. The Lehman shock in 2008 hit the club hard. We had shrinkage in Tokyo of international businesses, particularly financial services that never came back. We had around 40 members from Lehman – gone; Citi had over 100 members at one time, plus businesses that serviced them like lawyers, accountants and so on. All that shrank to less than a fifth of its size. Those were the club’s core members. In total, the club lost about 700 members due to the financial crisis.
What about the 2011 disaster?
That was different. After the quake, people left temporarily and either came back or someone came to replace them. The businesses didn’t leave Japan. What did suffer was the banqueting business. We lost six months of bookings as everybody cancelled.
What are your plans going forward?
Every 10 years we do a members’ survey and we found three things we want to do this year. One is that members want the club to be more American. Second is they want to have more value for what they are paying. Third is they want us to focus on recreation because that is the No. 1 reason why most people join the club. We are in the process of putting together a long-term operating plan that will deliver enhanced benefits to members, while ensuring a solid foundation for the club for long in the future.
We are also going to be celebrating the diversity of the membership as well. We will have a big Fourth of July weekend and November will be military appreciation month in which we will honor servicemen and veterans. The club will celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving and we invited Singapore to have Singapore Day here. We recently had or will have Greek, Indonesia, Spain, Hawaii and Thai events.
With Japanese festivals, we used to always have Bon odori and we are trying to find a way to start again and mark other Japanese holidays like Setsubun, Tanabata, Adults’ Day and so on.
What would you say the appeal of the club is to Japanese who make up about 50% of your members?
The Japanese want to have the American experience. We offer a different type of culture here. You can’t go to a hotel and experience what we offer and I think some Japanese find that appealing. Everything here is done in English. Many Japanese are long-term members – their average is 20 years. A lot come back to Japan after a long period overseas and they want to join the club.
What is the club doing to support Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid?
We are strongly supporting the bid. We are asking members to sign their name at one of the petition points around the club. We issue press releases and take part in support activities. Masato Mizuno (CEO of Tokyo’s bid committee) is a member of the club and he briefs members on what they can to help such as writing letters.
What is the best part of your job as club president?
I get to meet lots of interesting people, interact with lots of senior diplomats, politicians and visitors to the club.
How do you divide your time between club president and CFO of Akindo Sushiro?
Being club president requires as much time as you put into it. I usually allocate Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays to club business. Then we have board meetings once a month. If I am around and not so busy, I will attend other meetings. We have very responsible people on committees who know what they are doing.
What facilities do you use the most?
I like to use the fitness center and we also have a fantastic pool. I am a marathon runner, so I often come back after a run and use the Jacuzzi.© Japan Today