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Japan Fund Advisory Alumni to Start Business Engagement Fund

Former managers at Japanese fund-advisory firm Asuka Corporate Advisory Co. will start a new offering that invests in companies with the aim of improving their governance and profitability.

Yasunori Nakagami, a former co-founder of Asuka, and four other alumni who founded Misaki Capital Inc. in October 2013 plan to start Misaki Engagement Fund as early as May, Masaki Gotoh and Takayuki Nitta, partners at the Tokyo-based company, said in an interview in yesterday. The fund will invest in 10 to 15 publicly traded companies in Japan, they said, declining to elaborate on the initial size of the fund.

Misaki Capital is seeking to profit from a changing landscape in Japan in which shareholders are encouraged to seek a dialogue with companies they invest in. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to boost corporate governance, including introducing a stewardship code to encourage institutional investors to engage more with companies they own. In the past, funds including Christopher Cooper-Hohn’s Children’s Investment Fund Management UK LLP and Warren Lichtenstein’s Steel Partners failed to gain representation on Japanese company boards.

“We don’t want to become a US-style activist fund,” said Nakagami in a separate interview yesterday. “We want to develop discussions between investors and companies, which the Japanese government encourages.” The two sides “have been very distant and separated,” he said.

Long-Term Support

Nakagami, 50, advised the Asuka Value Up Fund, which employed a similar strategy of improving companies with long-term management support. Prior to that, he worked as a consultant at Andersen Consulting, now known as Accenture Plc, and Corporate Directions Inc. for about 20 years, according to Nitta.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is planning a governance code for Japanese companies to boost their competitiveness and enhance investor protection, Masahiko Shibayama, an LDP lawmaker who heads a financial markets and governance reform group, said in February. Encouraging more outside directors or making them mandatory will probably be a “major theme,” along with doing more to discourage a culture where companies buy passive stakes in firms with which they have business relationships, he said then.

“An environment where institutional investors can take a greater role in the invested companies is being formed,” Nitta, 43, said. “We have the expertise to analyze business strategies and lead management to set them in the right direction.”

Misaki Capital hired two former executives from pension funds and the chairman of Shoei Co., a motorcycle helmet maker in Tokyo, as outside board members. It also hired six experts and academics, including Akio Okuyama, former chairman of The Japanese Institute of Certified Public Accountants, for its management advisory committee, Gotoh said.

“Our company should be strictly monitored from outside to pass the business onto the new generation,” Gotoh, 41, said. “We don’t want to end up being a buddy-buddy venture.”

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