Aussie entrepreneur has full plate
Life around Australian entrepreneur Melanie Brock is never dull. Always on the go, Brock has just finished an assignment as regional manager, Japan, for Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), though she remains actively involved as a consultant. She is already diving into new challenges, drawing on her 20 years of business experience in Japan as head of her own consulting company Agenda.
Brock holds a Masters of Literary Studies in Japanese, Conference Interpreting and Translation from The University of Queensland and a Bachelor of Arts from The University of Western Australia. Fully bilingual, she is a qualified conference (simultaneous) interpreter. In between her consulting activities, Brock is Chair of the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan, a board member of the Australia Japan Foundation and an Executive Committee Member of the Australia Japan Business Co-operation Committee.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros catches up with Brock to see what she’s up to.
Tell us about your company Agenda.
Agenda provides consulting services in areas where I believe I can add value, especially related to Japan market entry, government relations or advocacy.
Are you still involved in Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA)?
Yes, about 60-70% of my time is involved with the beef industry. I’m concentrating on government relations for the MLA. That means I am involved in any engagement that the Aussie beef industry has with the Japanese government. As you know, the main issues now are negotiations for a free trade agreement between Japan and Australia, and the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
Is Aussie beef well placed in the Japanese market?
Australia has a terrific beef product and its image is seen as strong and safe. We are in hotels, steakhouses like Outback, and McDonald’s, whose product is 95% Australian. Aussie beef has had the dominant share of the Japanese market because of restrictions placed on other countries over BSE concerns. Those restrictions were lifted last February. So there has been a flow of beef from the U.S., gaining greater access. However, I think Australia will continue to have the biggest share, especially when the FTA is signed, because tariffs will be reduced and beef will become cheaper. The tariff is 38.5%, so any reduction means traders, wholesalers and consumers all get a benefit.
Are Japanese people eating more beef?
The pie is probably expanding. Yaki-niku restaurants and steakhouses seem to be doing well. There are a lot more TV variety programs about beef-eating, and especially the nutritional value of beef. It is seen as a great provider of protein and iron, so women and the elderly are looking at it more. It is an interesting time for the beef market from Australia’s point of view. And not just in Japan, but China, too, which is a great destination for Aussie beef.
I am proud of the shift that we took in my time at MLA in terms of appealing more to the female market. We asked women how they wanted the product to look, how they wanted it packaged, did they want more recipes, more nutritional information and so on. Recently, I saw in a supermarket a big promotion on iron in beef and I was proud because I knew that was my team’s idea and work.
I heard that MLA was quite involved in helping Tohoku after the disaster.
We launched a number of initiatives to support Tohoku beef farmers. MLA provided five deliveries of hay donated by Australian farmers to assist their colleagues in Tohoku. Another project we organized was to send 16 students and representatives from Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture to Western Australia for a 10-day cross-cultural program, designed to positively impact the lives of Japanese youth affected by the disaster. We developed industry-to-industry initiatives for farmers in Tohoku and Australia to learn more about how they might collaborate.
Since you stepped down as regional manager, where do you focus your advocacy work?
With bureaucrats in the Ministry of Agriculture, METI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also with the agriculture cooperative, Japan Agriculture (JA). I work very closely with politicians in looking at economic partnerships, sometimes with prefectural governments and the Tokyo metropolitan government on opportunities for foreign companies in the lead-up to the Olympics.
How do you think next year’s sales tax hike will affect the restaurant industry?
I am an eternal optimist and hope Japan’s economy will improve and salaries will increase, so the self-imposed austerity measures among consumers will release a little bit of enthusiasm. I think people will still want to eat out.
What do you think about “Abenomics?”
Anything that raises the visibility of Japan overseas and gives confidence to the Japanese people, and gets people sitting up again is important. The reform measures that are part of his third arrow are being closely watched and I hope the Japanese people get some flow-through from “Abenomics.”
Besides the beef industry, what other areas are you working in?
I’ve worked in so many different sectors and I am keen to broaden my base and work for a greater number of industries. I’ve spent the first half of my business life representing Australia here in Japan and I’d like to spend the other half helping Japan represent itself better to the world, especially in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics. Tourism is a big part of that. It is a growth industry that Japan probably doesn’t understand the value yet.
The mood has changed since Tokyo was awarded the Olympics. I think Japan would do best by engaging with a few outward-focused groups in terms of how it pitches its tourism product. I’m looking at business opportunities and how the foreign business community might become involved over and above what sponsors do. My philosophy has been that things will come your way if you think in the long term regarding business relationships with Japan.
Does the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce keep you pretty busy?
Yes, wee have a very active chamber. We have tried to take it from general networking and social events to make it more business oriented. We now have a lot of Japanese members, so we focus a lot on giving our Australian and NZ members greater access to their Japanese colleagues.
When you are not working, how do you like to relax?
I have started cooking more, and I enjoy having friends over. I travel within Japan a fair bit, too.