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Takeda Pharmaceutical to stay Japan-based while growing on global basis, new French leader vows

Drugmaker's new boss vows to take company to new heights

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

The inauguration in June of Christophe Weber as president of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. invited opposition from a group of its former executives and members of its founding family, but the Frenchman says Takeda will remain “Japanese-based” under his leadership.

“I think there is sometimes this fear that, because I’m a foreigner, (Takeda may) lose its roots in Japan. Not at all,” the 47-year-old Weber said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “We’ll remain a Japanese-based company.”

A globalizing Japanese company seeking to enlist the management expertise of foreign nationals is no longer uncommon, especially after Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn led the major automaker out of a slump.

But Weber’s appointment once again brought to the fore the latent xenophobia that still haunts corporate Japan, as a group of more than 100 shareholders — mainly former executives and founding family members of the Osaka-based, 233-year-old company — submitted a letter of protest to management in April.

The letter actually disputed the viability of Takeda’s recent globalization moves led by Yasuchika Hasegawa, Weber’s reformist predecessor and current Takeda chairman and CEO.

It questioned not only the Frenchman’s nomination but also the acquisition of Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. of the United States and Swiss drugmaker Nycomed A/S, which it termed as failures, in addition to other issues regarding the way the company is operated.

The media was quick to jump on the drama of new foreign blood pitted against the old guard in a Japanese company.

“I think it’s difficult to please everybody, and I always respect . . . different opinions,” Weber said. “(Hasegawa) has been criticized on acquisitions . . . (but) one should look at what Takeda would be like today if it didn’t own Millenium or Nycomed. (We) would have been half our current size, and . . . would have to cut (our) research and development investment by half as well.”

Handpicked by Hasegawa, the former GlaxoSmithKline PLC executive initially joined Takeda in April as chief operating officer.

He joined the company at a time it faces multiple issues.

It had not brought lucrative new drugs to the market since 2012, when the last of the patents of four cash cow products expired. In December, the company was forced to terminate development of its diabetes drug fasiglifam due to liver safety concerns, despite the significant hope placed on it. Then in April, a U.S. federal court ordered Takeda to pay $6 billion in punitive damages after it found it concealed cancer risks of its diabetes drug Actos.

Despite these difficulties, Weber thinks Takeda is “in a very interesting phase” with significant growth potential, having established itself as a global company over the past half-dozen years with a global footprint spanning the United States, Europe and emerging countries.

“For me, what is very attractive is, ‘How we can bring Takeda to the next stage and make it into a truly global leader?’ he said, adding this is what Hasegawa expects him to do.

While pushing ahead with a drive to turn Takeda into a true global leader, Weber said he respects the company’s tradition as a Japanese company.

“Takeda’s values are very specific, and . . . linked to the history of Takeda,” he said. “I’m very respectful about it.”

One of Weber’s specific goals in his new role is to make Takeda more competitive and fast growing. To that end, the company needs not only to bring “good, innovative new medicines to the patient,” but also to “do a good job at doing that,” he said.

Weber does not regard Japanese culture in a special light, shrugging off the debate that often arises when a foreign national becomes the leader of a Japanese company.

“You know, I am used to change. I have lived in nine different countries, and every country is different. You just need to adapt yourself,” he said. “Japan is different, but other countries are different, too.”

Asked what he wants to achieve in the next three to five years, Weber said: “I want to lead Takeda to be considered a truly global leader . . . in areas where we’ll be present and in the countries we’ll be present.

“I think Takeda has a possibility to really become a truly global leader, and I insist on it being Japan-based,” he added.