Japan Pharma Companies’ Talent Gold Mine

Over the past 10 years the Japanese pharmaceutical industry has done a 180 degree turn. Japanese companies have slowly lost their market share while foreign companies have gone from strength to strength. In terms of recruitment, at the beginning of this decade it was difficult to even meet a candidate from Japan’s leading companies, such as Takeda, Fujisawa, Yamanouchi, or Eisai, let alone place them with another company. Those companies were filled with graduates from Japan’s top Universities and they were promised life time employment.

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The 2000s have seen an increase in mergers and acquisitions and early retirement packages have meant that those same candidates are now looking for alternative opportunities at Multinational Corporations (MNCs). Japanese pharma companies are turning increasingly to overseas acquisitions to drive growth, buy technology and build market share, spurred by a thin product pipelines, a stagnant domestic economy and a shrinking population.

Domestic pharma companies have also been tapping into their cash reserves; we might cite Takeda’s $8.1 billion deal for US biotech firm Millennium Pharmaceuticals and Daiichi Sankyo Co’s $4.6 billion takeover and of course Eisai’s US Bio-pharma’s purchase of MGI Pharma for $3.9 billion. The jury is still out on Daiichi Sankyo’s purchase of a controlling stake in India’s Ranbaxy Laboratories.

We now see the top foreign companies filled with talent from Japanese pharmas. Since Japanese companies are now focused on markets outside Japan rather than relying on domestic demand, those famous Japanese companies who traditionally would loath to hire from outside are now looking to tap into the same bilingual talent pool that the MNCs have been fishing in for years.

When one of the big Japanese pharma companies moved their global function of Clinical development to the US they soon realized the shortage of bilingual talent on the ground in Japan. I received a call from the US wanting to recruit a director in Japan. Apparently, out of frustration with the slowness of HR processes in Japan, they decided to take recruiting into their own hands.

Japanese companies have not been our focus up until now— not that we haven’t had opportunities. My colleagues have made several placements with Japanese firms. Our own experience of working with Japanese companies has been slow and cumbersome. Therefore, it was with certain reluctance that I accepted this hiring assignment from a big Japanese pharmaceutical company.

The recruitment process was not without its problems, as all searches are. However, as soon as I released the brand name of my new client the proposition became extremely attractive. The same candidates that I had pitched regarding positions from GSK, Novartis, Abbot and Boehringer were now doing back-flips in their eagerness to meet with the big Japanese company. Suddenly, the same candidates who were usually slow and unresponsive were available, cooperative and flexible with their schedules, suggesting that the brand name of a Japanese company still has a higher appeal than the top five foreign pharma companies. Whether the candidate would prefer to work at HQ rather than a subsidiary (even if the functional HQ is in the US) or whether cultural or social status preferences come into this, I am not sure.

One thing is clear— Big J companies may be sitting on a gold mine of talent if they are looking to bolster their ranks in Japan.

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