ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, U.S. — Kazunori “Rick” Nakano has joined the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) as associate country director for Japan. He will begin his new April 1, and will be based in Tokyo.

Nakano brings more than 27 years of grain trading and management experience with Japan’s Marubeni Corp. He will work closely with USW country director Wataru “Charlie” Utsunomiya, who intends to retire from his position in late September.

“Rick’s work with Marubeni includes trading with Gavilon Grain in Omaha, Nebraska, and managing trading operations at Columbia Grain’s Portland, Oregon, export operation,” said Mark Fowler, USW vice-president of overseas operations. “His experience is a real benefit for our farmers and for our loyal customers in Japan. In the short term, he will help us navigate the challenges for growers and customers as the United States and Japan negotiate a new trade relationship. He is also an excellent choice to maintain the trust and transparency that has marked our long and very successful partnership with Japan’s wheat buyers, millers and wheat foods industry. While it will be difficult to say good bye to Charlie, we are very happy to welcome Rick to our organization.”

Nakano joined Marubeni’s cereals and grains section in 1991 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from WASEDA University. His next post was as marketing manager at Columbia Grain (CGI) in Portland before returning to Japan and becoming general manager of Marubeni’s wheat and barley section in 2005. In 2009, he returned to CGI as vice-president to supervise its business operations. He expanded his management responsibilities in 2011 as assistant general manager, food unit, and general manager, global grain, of Marubeni America Corp. in New York. In 2013, Nakano was appointed deputy chief operating officer, agriculture, of Marubeni’s Gavilon Agricultural Investment, Inc., division in Omaha and named general manager in 2015. Most recently, he was corporate officer and general manager of Marubeni’s Pacific Grain Terminal subsidiary in Tokyo.

Utsunomiya joined USW in May 2007 after the death of former country director Takeo Suzuki. His path to USW also led from grain trading management with Marubeni, including as chairman of CGI. He also served as president and chief executive officer of Marubeni’s invested rice mill subsidiary, general manager of the company’s soy processing division and assistant general manager of its food division among other positions over his 30-year career with Marubeni.

“We were fortunate Charlie could put that expertise and deep personal knowledge of our customers and contacts in Japan to work for our organization and the wheat farmers we represent,” said Vince Peterson, president of USW. “His leadership helping us pursue every advantage in the Japanese market has been invaluable. He has been a sage counselor, guiding our efforts properly and effectively through the intricate business culture that accompanies any problem or opportunity there. Charlie’s successful stewardship will leave U.S. wheat interests in a strong position at a very important time in Japan.”

This leadership addition is the most recent to USW. During a Feb. 15 board meeting, board of directors elected new officers for the 2019-20 fiscal year:

  • Rhonda K. Larson — secretary-treasurer;
  • Darren Padget — vice-chairman;
  • Doug Goyings — chairman.