Posted on July 14, 2017
Nashville businessman Bill Hagerty has won Senate confirmation to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, making him the third Tennessean to hold one of the nation’s most high-profile diplomatic posts.
The Senate voted 86-12 on Thursday to confirm Hagerty’s nomination, which President Donald Trump submitted in March. Hagerty still must be sworn in before he officially assumes the job.
In a Senate floor speech shortly before the vote, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., noted that when Hagerty served as Tennessee’s commissioner of economic and community development, he once gave a speech at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo entirely in Japanese.
“That’s just one reason I think Bill Hagerty is one of President Trump’s best appointees,” Alexander said.
Hagerty will go to Japan not only speaking the language, Alexander said, but understanding that close ties between the two countries can create jobs for Americans and the Japanese.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of Hagerty: “There’s no one more well suited to fill this important role.”
Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida also sent his congratulations.
“I am greatly honored to greet you as ambassador to Japan as you have plenty of experience such as living in Japan and working for both government and private sectors,” he said. “… I very much look forward to your early arrival and to working with you to further strengthen the unwavering tie between Japan and the United States."
Hagerty, 57, is a private equity investor who served as director of presidential appointments for Trump’s transition team.
He served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development under Republican Gov. Bill Haslam from 2011 to 2014. In that time, he helped orchestrate multiple business deals between the state and Japanese companies, including Bridgestone Americas, CalsonicKansei North America Inc. and Nissan North America.
Previously in the private sector, Hagerty spent time in Tokyo for three years while with the Boston Consulting Group, a business consulting firm. There, he was senior expatriate responsible for managing Boston Consulting's western clients in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.
Hagerty breezed through the committee’s confirmation hearing May 18, where he faced questions on how to open up Japan for more U.S. exports, how to deal with a nuclear North Korea and a China looking to expand its influence.
He also fielded questions on Trump’s controversial comments on trade between the two countries and that Japan may need to play a greater role in its own security, with the suggestion the country might want to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Hagerty said he had no intention of urging Japan to do so.
Hagerty becomes the third Tennessean to hold the diplomatic post.
Former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., who died in 2014, was ambassador to Japan under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. Luke Edward White, who was born in Giles County, served in the post from 1906 to 1907 under President Teddy Roosevelt.