I think Maxwell Smart, from that 1960s US TV comedy, would call this: “The old Japan is different trick!” But is corporate Japan, in 2014, really so different from the rest of the corporate world? Are Confucian traditions and social norms in Japan so ingrained that people will only report to their elders?Not according to a recent survey conducted by Morunda. We surveyed 300 managers and directors, who either worked for foreign companies or large Japanese firms. These executives were all aged be-tween 40 and 50 and almost one third replied. Nearly 80% revealed they would not mind reporting to a younger manager. “I don’t care about age,” one manager replied. “Competency of manager is the key.”Another thought it was more about attitude than culture. “One must have the attitude, which allows one to report to everyone.” Is it still true that most pharmaceutical companies are still age-based hierarchical organizations in which only younger staff report to seniors? Apparently not, according to our survey. More than 35% of respondents had reported to someone younger than themselves. About 20% said they personally didn’t report to a younger supervisor, however one of their colleagues did and nearly 40% of respondents said they had never reported to a younger manager.But our investigation reveals an attitude change is at hand. More than two thirds of the people surveyed thought that companies had little choice but to alter their attitudes because of the current talent shortage.

In other markets young guns are often given far greater responsibly. I am often surprised when I speak to expat executives at pharmaceutical companies and discover how much responsibility they are given at such a young age. Their roles within their companies are a major contrast to their Japanese peers.

I met one such candidate recently who had been a product manager for four different products, one of which he launched in Canada. He is now running a large marketing group in Japan all before his 37th birthday.

His combined marketing experiences, packed within 8 years, is possibly more hands-on then some Japanese marketing directors, ten years his senior. Are the young stars at pharmaceutical companies being held back by old attitudes regarding age and responsibility?

More than 70% of respondents believed that Japanese companies will change hiring practices and the best candidate will be appointed, no matter the age. One candidate thought the trend was obvious. “There is a general trend that people and companies are freer from “seniorism”.”

But not all agree. “I would not think most of the Japanese companies (people) would like to change the existing hiring system.” Surprisingly, only 3% said they would not, under any circumstances, be happy with a younger “boss”.

Maybe the “Employment Measure Act” that was revised in 2007 is driving this change in thinking. The Act stipulates that employers “must provide equal opportunities in respect of recruitment and hiring irrespective of age” thereby making what was formerly “a duty to endeavor” into an affirmative legal duty.

Considering Japan’s aging population and the talent shortage, some suggested that more emphasis should be placed on skills and talents rather than age and balance.

One candidate thought that Japan was loosing ground to other markets. “The USA, China or India will develop much faster than Japan if Japan sticks with Japanese tradition of promoting with seniority. “Many industry experts believe they already have.

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Morunda www.morunda.com should be your choice of recruiting partner in Japan and Asia Pacific. Why? Because we live and breathe the pharmaceutical industry in Asia and the Pacific—we’re specialists!

  • Morunda has completed over 400 managers to director-level placements since 2001.
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