Domo Arigato, Mr. Miller

Marshall Miller brings Kansas City and Tokyo together

Published in 2007 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers — November 2007

Back in 1974, Kansas City attorney Marshall V. Miller seemed like a pioneer in international relations. At the time, his clients, Japanese companies interested in doing business in the United States, were considered novelties.

“Nobody had any experience in this kind of work back then,” Miller recalls. “My first Japanese client was actually a referral from another law firm. They didn’t know what on earth to do with this client, and since I had experience dealing with import and export law and customs law, they suggested me.” 

That client was Kawasaki, maker of motorcycles, Jet Skis and all-terrain vehicles. After Miller successfully represented the manufacturer in several U.S. trade and customs matters, word spread. Over the next few years, several other Japanese companies asked him to represent them in similar import/export matters. 

“Relationships began to develop through word of mouth,” Miller says. “Without my really focusing on it, that part of my business grew.” And as it grew, so did his interest in U.S.-Japan trade relations. In the last three decades, Miller has represented nearly 40 different Japanese businesses. 

A key component to success in a foreign country is understanding—and appreciating—the culture. Over the years, Miller has taken many trips to Japan and has worked to establish the office of Japan’s Midwest-region consulate general in Kansas City. He was also instrumental in establishing a sister-city relationship between Kansas City and Kurashiki City.

“I learned early on to understand the Japanese culture and people,” Miller says. “In the Japanese business world, building relationships and trust are key. And once you establish a business relationship there, you enter into a serious commitment. In Japan, relationships are very longterm.” 

In 2004, Miller’s contributions to Japanese commerce were awarded with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, a high honor bestowed by Japanese Emperor Akihito for his “significant contributions towards deepening friendship and understanding between the people of Japan and the United States.” Miller was one of just two non-Japanese citizens to receive the honor that year. 

“Most of the people who receive this award are from Japan,” he explains. “The equivalent is like in England when the queen knights someone.”

The Midwest office of the Japanese consulate general nominated Miller for the award. The process of nominating an individual for the Order of the Sacred Treasure (the award itself was established in 1888) is laborious—the decision is made by a vote in the Japanese Parliament, and the emperor and prime minister themselves affix their seals to the award. “It is incredibly gratifying to be recognized,” Miller says. “It is an amazing honor.”

In 1980, Miller, who was then partner at the Kansas City-based firm Swanson, Midgley, Gangwere, Thurlo & Clarke, started his own practice, Miller & Company, a 23-person firm that focuses solely on international trade, customs and foreign trade zone law. 

Today, his firm still has a number of Japanese clients but also represents other domestic and international companies. “It’s been great fun,” Miller says. “There’s never a dull moment.” 

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