Watanabe Named Interim JACCC CEO

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The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

The board of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo has announced the appointment of Bill Watanabe as interim chief executive Officer and Deborah Ching as interim chief operations officer effective Aug. 28.

The announcement follows the resignation of Greg Willis as president and CEO on Aug. 22. The board said it will conduct an executive search to replace him.

Watanabe

“Mr. Watanabe and Ms. Ching will serve the JACCC on a short-term basis while the board conducts a search for a permanent president and CEO,” the board said in a statement. “Bill and Debbie bring strong leadership skills with decades of experience successfully leading nonprofit organizations.

“Prior to joining the JACCC, Bill Watanabe was a co-founder and executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), serving the community for over 32 years. Bill’s leadership and deep commitment to the community helped to establish LTSC as a highly respected social services and community development organization helping thousands of people in our community and developing properties to serve communities in need. It is Bill’s passion for the community that brings him to the JACCC after recently retiring from LTSC.”

“The JACCC is a valued community institution and plays an important role in presenting Japanese art and culture to broad audiences and the next generation. I hope my community experience will help JACCC’s transition and vision for the future,” said Watanabe.

Ching

For over a decade, Ching has provided executive leadership consulting to nonprofit organizations. For over 20 years she was affiliated with the Chinatown Service Center, where she served as executive director, providing a wide range of social and community services. She also served as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Women’s Foundation during a critical period of transition.

Ching stated that “broad support, community support and strong leadership are central during any transition, and Bill and I feel a great responsibility to be part of the team.”

Willis, a former Toyota executive, left the JACCC after it was learned that a French court had convicted and sentenced him in absentia in 2009 for “possession of stolen property, misuse of corporate funds and bankruptcy by diversion,” according to the newspaper Le Monde.

As CEO of Catalina Capital Advisors LLC, Willis, along with Chief Financial Officer Catherine Zickfeld, are accused of acquiring auto-parts plants in France and suddenly shutting them down and liquidating their assets, leaving hundreds of employees without jobs or benefits.

According to the newspaper L’Union, the French government requested extradition of Willis and Zickfeld in 2010, but the U.S. government has yet to respond.

The JACCC hired Willis in January on the recommendation of an executive search firm, Johnston and Company of Culver City. Willis, the JACCC and the search firm have not commented on the circumstances surrounding his sudden departure.

On Aug. 23, the JACCC board named Keith Shiozaki, formerly of Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Yoshinoya America, as interim deputy director.

Mike Murase, director of service programs for the LTSC Community Development Corporation, told The Rafu Shimpo, “I think the decision-makers at JACCC made a wise choice in asking Bill to lead the transition period. Having worked closely with him for many years, I believe not only his experience and knowledge of the community, but his sense of fairness and his inclusive style of leadership will no doubt help to set a positive tone.

“But it will be up to the board, staff and supporters of JACCC to all come together as a community to begin to undo the damage that has been done.”

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