President and CEO Gregory Willis and Board Chair Sandy Sakamoto in front of the JACCC.

The Board of Directors of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center announced Friday the appointment of Gregory Willis as its new president and CEO.

Willis brings multi-sector professional experience in Japanese, American and international business settings.

“Greg’s leadership and unique experience are especially critical at this pivotal time for the JACCC,” said Board Chair Sandy Sakamoto. “He is passionate about the arts and has worked in the non-profit sector providing leadership to numerous organizations on a variety of boards.”

Opened in 1980, the JACCC has a rich legacy as the largest Asian American cultural center of its kind in the U.S., is a pre-eminent presenter of Japanese and Japanese American performing and visual arts, and is a key anchor institution in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo community.

Today, however, the delivery of arts and culture, the makeup of the community and the demographic composition of the next generation audience are vastly different from 30 years ago. Over one-third of the Japanese American community is now multiracial, geographically dispersed, and long-time core supporters are aging. The future promises more change, along with opportunities to connect with new audiences of downtown residents, a multiethnic and younger audience, while maintaining connection to JACCC’s traditional audience.

The JACCC Board sees tremendous opportunity to transform the organization and provide innovative programs to the next generation of audiences. The organization’s mission to present Japanese art and culture remains relevant today and has been informed by a renewed vision to establish its place as a national portal for Japanese art and culture and a destination venue for Southern California, with long-term financial sustainability.

“Under Greg’s leadership the organization will successfully rebuild, leveraging the skills and talents of our dedicated staff and the creative artistry of Hirokazu Kosaka, artistic director,” said Calvin Abe, board and Search Committee member. “We will focus on promoting programs and activities to reach new audiences and sustained success.”

“I am excited about this opportunity to build on the rich history and lead the development of programs to extend JACCC’s outreach to a growing, diverse, multicultural audience.” said Willis.

Willis dedicated over 20 years with Toyota Motor Sales Inc. as a senior executive beginning at a time when Toyota was new to the U.S.  He was responsible for leading the effort to establish Toyota in Mexico and helped to launch the Lexus brand.

Over the last 12 years, Willis founded and managed a firm that acquired small international companies and transformed them into profitable business ventures through new business development and cost efficiencies. He is known for his team-building success, collaborative leadership style, and cultural sensitivities, having worked in many international settings.

“Greg brings a unique mix of vision, business and management acumen and proven leadership success. That experience, blended with his passion for the arts and culture, his Southern California roots and network, creates a dynamic blend to lead the JACCC on a new path forward,” said Sakamoto.

A nine-member Search Committee of the board and a professional search firm conducted an extensive national search to identify a candidate to lead the organization.

“We are pleased that our search found someone with Greg’s credentials to lead the organization toward fulfillment of our future vision,” said Tom Iino, immediate past chair of the board and Search Committee member.

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