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Global Opportunities for Global Minds


The promise of lifetime employment is disappearing in Japan. The age of companies that look after their employees from the cradle to grave is gone. The struggle to find skilled executives in a competitive landscape is becoming increasingly difficult, and organizations must now deal with a labor market that has choices. The demand for skilled professionals outweighs supply. 

Judith Love, a business franchise head of a major pharma co, explains:  

Without a doubt, finding people who meet the standard that the job demands is one of our biggest challenges. There are many people who have been in their jobs for far too long. We often meet candidates who could clearly do the job, but they lack the diverse experience that would take them to the next step We are interested in candidates where we can help build their skills and give them an international experience to further their careers. 

A pharmaceutical executive from the Kansai area notes: 

The biggest challenge has been finding the right talent to be able to export. We have found a seven-year talent gap compared to other markets. For example, an employee may be given the opportunity to be a therapeutic area (TA) brand director in one market at age 35, whereas in Japan, they are not going to have that opportunity until their early or mid-40s. We are now looking to push down the age of our senior managers. It takes time, but we need to start.  

Another challenge in hiring talent in Japan’s pharma market involves finding candidates with a global mind-set. An executive from a European pharmaceutical company says that his company’s biggest obstacle is finding candidates with the right mind-set who have a modern management style—that is, people who are able to lead, focus on customers, and work with a global perspective. 

What are employers doing to attract and retain top talent? Once upon a time, finding Japanese pharma managers with global exposure was as rare as cherry blossoms in February. Global clinical trials and the shortening of the processing time for new drug applications mean that more products are being launched at the same time as in the rest of the world. These push factors have meant that Japanese managers must take their positions at the global table. More and more companies are exposing their top talent to global markets. 

AbbVie is one of a number of companies looking to provide internal career options, but they understand that the candidates of today aren’t satisfied with having their careers siloed. Dr. Susumu Adachi is the medical director at AbbVie, which has provided him with the opportunity to move from medical science liaisons (MSLs) to medical affairs, as well as other functions. Adachi states, “We understand that MSL is a narrow career path, and not everyone is going to be a manager, so we have to provide other options. We have sent top talent to the Japan and Asia Pacific (JPAC) office in Singapore and moved people internally on short-term assignment (STA) to different positions.”  

James Feliciano, the president of AbbVie, underscores Adachi’s comments: “We are rooted in a corporate culture where employees can grow. Without a dynamic company, we cannot serve patients the way that we should.” 

AbbVie is not alone in its focus on employees. Christoph Buerki, chief financial officer (CFO) of Novartis, says, “Finance is a very strong function of Novartis. We are heavily involved in business decisions, and there are global opportunities. We have monthly discussions on talent. We don’t always have ready-to-export talent, but the ones we have had are very well taken care of.” 

Tadaaki Taniguchi, director of R&D at AstraZeneca, says, “We send people outside Japan to the UK and Sweden to work on the Global Regulatory Affairs team. We have encouraged, for example, people in RA to work outside their function and to lead cross-functional matrix teams.” 

Thorsten Poehl states, “In terms of career growth, employees are given solid plans. We are pushing hard for global postings for Japanese workers and for global people to come to Japan. We are working towards a better global alignment with a better exchange of global leaders.” 

Says an executive from Eli Lilly, “We aim to drive a core set of experiences for the employees and then put them in different situations and give them different opportunities. We provide opportunities to work on different brands and to lead different projects. We offer a lot of support and training. Japanese workers have been sent to headquarters fairly regularly.” 

Poehl emphasizes that, in terms of multinational pharmaceutical companies’ approaches to career development, “BI has a very strong pipeline, one of the strongest; it is very hard to argue that. Strong science and a strong portfolio of products. BI has a very different culture from many other companies. It’s family owned, and we put people first; it’s about people and patients, not maximizing profits. People come first.” Poehl’s words are echoed by James Feliciano, who describes “growing the business with employee engagement, creating an environment where employees can grow.” 

Gone are the days when employees had one function and one location for their entire working careers. For the globally minded, the pharmaceutical industry provides a host of opportunities.

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