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Takeda CEO Tackles Japan’s Seniority-Based System

A European CEO's Challenge フランス人社長 老舗を背負う
武田薬品工業のクリストフ・ウェバー社長=五十嵐大介撮影
Takeda Pharmaceutical CEO Chiristophe Weber

日本語の記事はこちら:カメレオンのように異文化に適応せよ

By Igarashi Daisuke

――Can you please explain how you are developing global talents?

At Takeda, we have both local and global talent development programs. At the global level, we have a program called the President’s Forum, which every year brings together about 50 executive candidates from around the world. They spend a week with myself and some members of Takeda Executive Team, discussing company strategy; this provides them with a lot of knowledge about global business and is a great opportunity for employees who want to compete at a global level.

Of the 42 participants last year, about 30% were Japanese. The majority of them were in their 30s or 40s, and there was almost an equal balance of men and women. They were divided into teams of five or six to discuss strategies, and then they had to present their results to myself and the other senior executives.

 

At last year’s President’s Forum, the topic for discussion was the acquisition of Shire—how to create a new organization and how we should proceed with the integration, and since then senior management has actually adopted some of the ideas that came out of those discussions. For example, the Patient Value and Product Strategy (PVPS), whose head came from Shire and which is responsible for strategies and support across regions for Therapeutic Areas and all global brands, excluding Oncology and Vaccine brands, is the result of a proposal made at the President’s Forum.

――Are English language skills a requirement for Takeda employees?

My successor as company president or new appointments to the executive team will need to speak English. In the past, there was no clear rule, and even now, English is not the company’s official language. Russian is spoken in Russia, and Japanese is spoken in Japan. But if you want to reach the top, English is a must. Why? Because the executive team is made up of 11 nationalities. I'm French, but only a few other members speak French, so English has to be the universal language.

――With so many non-Japanese executives, does Takeda still need to be headquartered in Tokyo?

The company was born here, and I am very happy to be in Japan. That's why we invested a significant amount of money in building this new headquarters here in Tokyo. We are very proud of Takeda’s heritage, and the core values that we consider most important are very strongly connected to Takeda’s history in Japan and to the corporate philosophy that we call “Takeda-ism”.

When we recruit leaders globally, they always come to Japan for a week and take part in a Global Induction Forum. Also, Takeda’s core values—to put the patient at the center, to build trust with society, to reinforce our reputation, and to develop the business—are considered very important. They are also excellent values to have as a pharmaceutical company that is expanding globally. They are like a compass that we use when making decisions.

――With concepts such as lifetime employment and the seniority wage system, Japan has a unique corporate culture. What do you think of its strengths and weaknesses?

I try to control the weaknesses of Japanese corporate culture and further improve on its strengths. I think that loyalty is important, for example. Although it has been many years since I graduated from university, Takeda is only the second company I have worked for—I feel I am a loyal person. I value harmony, and I don't like conflict with others. As I think you’ll find if you ask those around me, I'm a pretty calm person.

 

However, I don’t think that consensus is always necessary, because sometimes you have to make a decision even if you can’t reach a consensus. At times like that, it is necessary to be cautious and to spend a lot of time in discussions with other team members carefully examining the issue. When deciding whether or not to acquire Shire, we repeatedly held long discussions, and when making such big decisions, I always ask every member of the team to share their thoughts. While it may not be a voting process, it is a very collaborative team exercise. 

本社ロビーのスクリーンでは、ニューヨーク証券取引所への上場を祝う武田薬品工業のクリストフ・ウェバー社長らの映像が流れていた=五十嵐大介撮影
Takeda CEO Weber and other executives celebrate the company’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange, shown on a wall screen in Takeda headquarters lobby(photo by Igarashi Daisuke)

On the other hand, we are trying to really change the seniority-based system so as to make it more flexible. Of course, experience is important, but everybody is different. Some people jet around the world, while others don’t. Some people are ambitious, while others are less so. Some people are fast learners, while others learn at a slower pace. So, I tell employees, “think about your own career.” At many Japanese companies, everybody gets promoted at the same speed, but I don't want to have that kind of rigid system at Takeda.

 

This idea also incorporates my desire to see more women promoted to the executive level. If we want to have more women in management, we need to have a more flexible system. We value the ability of our employees, and of course, someone who has been working for 5 years has more experience than someone who has been with us for just a couple of years, but we want to have the flexibility to see it in terms of more than just a number. And the same can be said about how we view the work-life balance. We now have a policy whereby people can work from home or work flexible hours, and it’s a system that’s being used by a lot of our employees in Japan. Not only that, but I have a lot of town hall meetings and roundtable with our employees to involve them in discussions to design the future of the system.

 

Many of the questions we receive from our employees relate to the system we have that enables them to create their own careers. With this, they have to think for themselves about where they want their career to go—this is a relatively new thing to be expected of employees here.

――Do you have any initiatives to promote more female employees?

In Japan, we created a women's employee resource group called “Hanamizuki,” to support female employees. Through research and discussion its members develop proposals for how we can create a more equal-opportunity environment.

 

The reality in Japan is that many women have to spend more time doing housework than men do, and so, creating a working environment that allows for a better work-life balance is very important for women—we don't want it to be a choice between work and family. Some women are reluctant to become managers because they think it will involve very long hours, but what I say to our newly appointed managerial employees in Japan is that becoming a manager does not mean that you need to work twice as long, there are only 24 hours in a day. So, we have to ensure that they are aware of the need to maintain their work-life balance.

 

At Takeda, our target is for 30% of newly appointed managers to be women.

――Many Japanese employees experience difficulties in taking time off work. How does Takeda tackle this?

This attitude towards taking time off is very different here that it is in Australia or Europe, where I worked previously. Of course, even in Japan the situation varies from one company to the next, but I think that the big difference between company culture in Japan and in other countries is due to the lifetime employment system. 

One of the characteristics of Takeda in Japan is that the management defines the rhythm of the workplace. If the manager comes to work early, everybody comes early. If the manager stays late, everybody stays late. In my experience of working in other cultures, people are more independent, and will leave early even if the manager is working late. We are trying to change the situation in Japan, and tell our employees, “Every individual is leading their own life. Simply being at work until 8pm every night doesn’t mean that you are doing good work.”

 

What we are trying to say is that quantity is not the only parameter for evaluation—quality and work styles are also important factors in productivity. In Japan the role of the manager is key, because if the manager is inflexible, then it is very difficult to change these habits, and the workplace requires greater employee independence, flexibility and freedom.

――What kind of skills do Japanese business people need in order to do well globally?

Japan has very good educational standards, so there’s no problem in that respect. They need some degree of experience of the industry in which they wish to work—at Takeda, we don't send people without experience overseas. With us, they first learn the basics of the pharmaceutical industry in Japan, and then it's really a matter of whether or not they have the ambition and the willingness to work abroad. They don't need to be a superman or superwoman. We also respect whether their personal situation allows for them to work in a foreign environment. In my case, Japan is the ninth country that my family and I have lived in, and this was a big decision for us to make as a family. Some families are able to do that, and some aren’t, and I respect that.

 

Another important aspect is being able to adapt to different cultures, to adapt to different ways of working, depending on whether you’re in Japan, the U.S. or anywhere else. You have to change color like a chameleon! You yourself have to adapt to each place you go.

 

日本語の記事はこちら:カメレオンのように異文化に適応せよ

(In the next interview, we will ask about Takeda’s acquisition of the Irish drug manufacturer Shire. We plan to publish the interview in March 2019)