“We wanted to reinforce the concept of global Japanese company, and this new headquarters is a symbol of that”

Total transformation

Takeda readies itself for the future


Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Kageaki Smith

At 237 years old, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company is leaner and more agile than ever before, with sharper vision, clearer values and a more modern mindset. Japan’s largest pharmaceutical firm has even recently had a complete makeover — opening its new global headquarters in Tokyo. Compared with the Takeda of even five years ago, it is a different company today in nearly every regard. President and CEO Christophe Weber was chosen to lead this transformation in 2014 and, after administering some strong medicine, the firm is now in a better position to face the coming decade.

One of Weber’s first prescriptions was to help Takeda focus its chosen therapeutic areas. Following 18 months of analysis and discussion, the decision was made to work exclusively in three areas: oncology, gastroenterology and neuroscience; plus vaccines.

“If we are in a therapeutic area, it’s to be a leader in that therapeutic area,” says Weber, from France, who has more than two decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. “And in these therapeutic areas, we want to develop the most innovative medicines.”

The work of focusing in on these three areas and transforming the organisation of the R&D department began in 2014. This dramatic level of change was, understandably, “quite stressful for our employees”, according to Weber, as almost everyone in R&D was affected in some way. However, since this transformation has resulted in positive, concrete outcomes, Weber is confident that the choices made were the right ones.

“Right now, we are seeing people’s motivation and excitement going up because they are clear about their mission, about their role,” he observes. “In fiscal year 2017, we had 17 programmes in the R&D pipeline move from one stage to the next. The year before, we had five.”

Being more focused in its therapeutic areas has also resulted in a more strategic approach to R&D, which, in turn, should yield greater productivity. Takeda currently invests roughly US$3 billion — 18% of its annual revenue — per year in R&D.

“Takeda’s mission is to strive towards better health and a brighter future for people worldwide through leading innovation in medicine,” says Weber.

It has also been Weber’s mission to transform employees’ mindsets in several areas. He has succeeded, for example, in changing attitudes towards research partnerships with external organisations. At present, Takeda has more than 180 active partnerships in R&D with startups, biotech firms and research institutes.

“There was a little bit of not-invented-here syndrome in the past — people were more focused on what we could discover internally — but I think we’ve moved a long way from that,” he notes. “Now, our productive R&D engine uses a combined approach of internal and external innovation.”

Weber has also pushed for increased diversity at Takeda, especially in Japan.

“We have provided a number of initiatives in Japan, such as a flexible work environment to support employees during major life events, but also for personal reasons,” says Weber. “Now we have more than 80% of our employees using flexitime. Also, people are taking more vacations.”

As of March, the number of women in pre-managerial positions reached 20% — a big step forward for the firm, whose starting point was “very low”. And more new fathers are taking paternity leave. Weber is also implementing a cultural shift from a seniority-based system of promotion to one based on meritocracy, something that will help Takeda attract top-rated global talent.

One area that Weber has not changed is the firm’s value system. Takeda’s core value, referred to as Takeda-ism, is integrity, which is expressed in fairness, honesty and perseverance. A lot of training takes place to ensure these qualities are entrenched in the day-to-day dealings of employees at every level of the firm. However, Weber has added the four priorities — patient, trust, reputation and business — as a way to help better express Takeda-ism today.

“We say, put the patients at the centre; then, build trust with society; reinforce our reputation; and then, develop the business — in that order,” he explains. “I think this has had a huge resonance globally.”

Data from the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association shows that Japan’s pharmaceutical market accounted for more than 20% of the global market in 1995. However, as of 2015, it accounts for less than 8%. It is critical for Japanese pharmaceutical firms to globalise in order to ensure sustainable growth. Currently, Takeda has a footprint in more than 70 countries and some 30,000 employees. According to Weber, Takeda has been “one of the fastest-growing companies in Europe” over the past few years.

Employees are being prepared for the firm’s more globalised business model through a number of global talent development programmes.

“When we recruit senior leaders, anywhere in the world, they attend a Global Induction Forum in Japan for one week,” he explains. “Twice a year we do this. And we talk a lot about our values so that there is no misunderstanding about how we want to operate.”

Another example of a global talent development programme is the Accelerator Programme, which gives young, high-potential employees the opportunity to take positions in different countries and be mentored by executives. This helps to develop people early in their careers to become leaders who can work effectively in different national contexts.

“The concept of agility is very important,” states Weber. “We want to be local-centric to be patient-centric, because every healthcare system is very different.”

In July, Takeda moved from its 50-year-old Tokyo headquarters into a newly built 24-storey building, the Takeda Global Headquarters, with interior design by the renowned Japanese designer Kashiwa Sato.

“We wanted to create something special and quite modern, but also Japanese,” he explains. “We wanted to reinforce the concept of global Japanese company, and this new headquarters is a symbol of that. The design of our new global headquarters beautifully embodies our mission of contributing to better health and a brighter future for people worldwide.”

Sato’s design is based on the concept of life force, what he considered to be the essence of Takeda’s business. Walls throughout the building, for example, are covered in artistically rendered wooden kanji characters for words such as “water”, “light”, “people”, “connections” and “future”.

With the major aspects of its transformation now complete, Takeda is moving forward with a new outlook, and in a clear direction — ready to face the years to come.

“We will know if it has been successful later,” says Weber. “But so far it has been fantastic.” 

“[We] are seeing people’s motivation and excitement going up”