世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！
- After you graduated from university, why did you decide that you wanted a career with Santen Pharmaceutical?
I joined the company in 1996, when Japan was experiencing an economic downturn. Recommendations from schools to corporations were subsiding and jobs were difficult to find. When contemplating my career path, I felt that becoming a researcher was not something that I wanted to pursue. Instead, I wanted to put my knowledge to good use in a suitable industry, hence I chose the pharmaceutical industry. At that time, the profession of Medical Representative (MR) was newly established. I was attracted by it because a sales role would enable me to utilize my knowledge and readily produce results. I wanted to join a company that had clear roles and strengths as an organization, and that is when fate brought me to Santen Pharmaceutical. Back in the day, Santen Pharmaceutical was operating almost exclusively in Japan, but it had the advantage of occupying 40% of the domestic market. I figured that I could definitely learn something from it and decided to join the company. Another reason was that my grandfather lost his sight due to glaucoma, so eye diseases were something that I took seriously and personally.
- Santen Pharmaceutical specializes in the manufacture and sale of innovative ophthalmic products. What product would you say is the heart of your company?
Our main products are ophthalmic drugs for medical use. We are generally known for products such as Santen FX as advertised on TV commercials, but in actuality, more than 90% of our total sales are from medical products, mainly dealing with pharmaceuticals used and prescribed in ophthalmology, with the majority of them being drugs for glaucoma and other diseases that lead to blindness. Other mainstay products for a large number of our target patients include drugs for allergies and dry eyes. In our new field of research, we are also working on the development of treatments for intractable genetic eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa. We focus most of our efforts on how to prevent and treat diseases that lead to blindness.
- Please describe your typical day as the CEO and President at Santen Pharmaceutical.
I usually try to squeeze my work schedule into a set number of hours per day. This is a habit that I acquired when I worked in Europe a few years back, and I still practice it to this day. I would say that around half of my work commitments are spent in intercompany meetings and decision-making, and a quarter for regular catchup sessions with senior management around the world, as well as internal and external meetings and interviews. Before COVID-19, I had business dinners 2–3 times a week, went to the gym, and then headed home. In addition to this, I frequently traveled both domestically and internationally. Now, I work mostly from home and visit the head office only a few times a year, as I attend all meetings and events online. And, since I enjoy cooking, I now cook dinner a few times a week after work.
- What is the most important quality you value in your profession?
One thing is that I firstly ask myself whether the company and I are making a contribution to global society. When I was a child, I realized that my life is a mere moment in the history of mankind and the earth. I then thought about the coincidence of being born in this country in this era and what I could do in this fleeting life. When working in this industry, I believe that my goal in life—as a member of society and as an individual—is to cure people with the products we develop and produce, and to directly contribute to the further improvement of our products. I want to feel that people like my grandfather, who suffered from eye diseases, will be able to see their grandchildren grow up with their very own eyes and to cherish this every day.
We also need to grapple with work-life balance. This is connected to what I mentioned earlier: You need to live life to the fullest because you only live once. When people hear the term “work-life balance” in Japan, they often think that it is about taking time off from work at night or on weekends. However, this only brings what was negative to zero. Instead, we need to set goals interactively for both work and life, i.e.: Earning money from work in order to meet our life goals and enriching our lives with the skills we gain from work. When looking at people in Europe in particular, they thoroughly live up to this notion. There is a consistency between work and life, as if to say, “I want to do this particular thing in my life, hence why I’m in this job.”
One of the reasons why I think people in Japan do not take enough paid leave is because they are bad at planning ahead. Europeans value their time off from work—they plan their yearly vacations from as early as during their current vacations to ensure that they take worthwhile time off. This is something that I value and that Japanese people should learn to do. For example, I am a history buff and am particularly interested in European culture, and I had always wanted to someday live in Europe. That dream actually came true, and I was able to ski in the Alps every week! I feel that it is essential to dream and set goals in life instead of just working hard. Without dreams and goals, you will just lead an exhausting life.
In our company, we have a blog post for employees that questions whether they have talked with their families or bosses about taking vacations, or about setting goals at a meeting to start the fiscal year. I request that plant managers make sure to let their workers know when they plan on taking their long vacations during the year. If supervisors take paid leave, it encourages their employees to take vacations too. The same goes for childcare leave—I took my first paternal leave for one month in the first year I became the company’s president when my child was born. I also tell my employees that especially with childcare leave, you can plan ahead, so do apply in advance and take it. Since then, the rate of employees who take parental leave has increased from 5% to around 70%.
- You received your MBA degree from the prestigious University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 2007. Out of the many prestigious universities in the world, why did you decide to study at Cambridge? What did you learn there? Furthermore, would you also share with us some memorable episodes of your days spent at Cambridge?
When I thought about what I was lacking as I joined the head office in a sales position and moved forward with my career, I realized that I needed to improve my business skills and acquire skills to face a global world. I am originally from a science background, so my experience in accounting and marketing was limited to practical applications. In light of this situation, I decided to pursue an MBA to determine how much I actually understood business management as an academic discipline, as well as to figure out where I stand in this world.
In selecting a school, I knew that I wanted to study abroad, as it was possible to acquire my degree within one year. Since the company was planning to focus on Asia in the future, I wanted to study in Europe because of its strong cultural influence. The MBA program at Cambridge University is notably diverse, with students from various backgrounds and nationalities. There were about 50 nationalities in a class of 80 students at that time (whereas for business schools in the United States, having 20% non–U.S. citizens would be considered quite diverse). If there is only a small number of international students, schools may cut them some slack, but at Cambridge University, since international students made up the majority, they had to compete on the same level as the students around them. It was tough, but it was something that I wanted to do, so I chose to study at Cambridge.
As for my favorite memory, it would have to be how beautiful the city was. I had visited the city three years prior on a business trip, and I was amazed to see the pubs I had visited hadn’t changed at all. Another thing is that in Europe, there are many interactions among business schools in various regions. It was a great experience to get involved with many people from Europe through sporting events and casual gatherings. The University of Cambridge is also a sanctified place for people in the sciences, as it has given rise to many prominent scientists in its development. I visited the university during my college graduation trip and thought to myself, with a mix of longing and resignation, how wonderful it would be to study there. Such bittersweet thoughts and the chance for any opportunity became the catalyst for my decision to prepare my application to Cambridge. Ten years later, I became one of the students I once admired.
- How did you prepare yourself to apply to the University of Cambridge while maintaining your career? Also, how did you study after enrolling?
I think it generally takes about a year to prepare, but in my case, I only had six months, as I had to wait for my company to grant me permission. There were four parts to the application: TOEFL, GMAT, essay, and interview. As for the TOEFL, I invested a lot of my time in studying English while working, so I would say I was comfortable with my speaking. On the other hand, my weakness was academic vocabulary, so I had to cram the material within a short period of time. At the same time, I had to prep for the verbal and writing sections on the GMAT by attending a course for three to four months. I hadn’t told any of my colleagues that I was preparing to study abroad because I wanted to prepare for it without leaving any stone unturned at work. I studied intensively on weeknights after work, during my commute to work, and on weekends. I flew to England for the final interview, and I received an email of acceptance as soon as I landed back in Japan.
I believe it is important to have a sense of purpose when studying. It is the same with other studies and exams, but if your goal is merely to pass the exam, it will be hard to persevere. If you have a clear motive for what you want to pursue after you pass the exam, you will strive to study harder and be determined to achieve that goal after entering the university. Be mindful of this when outlining your goals in your essay and during interviews!
I would say that there is not much of a difference in what you learn at different business schools. In the case of Cambridge, however, there are quite a few collaborations with companies, and if you are not proactive enough, it may be tough. It may not be as intense as the U.S., but if you lack assertiveness, you will fall behind your peers and professors, so such a quality may be indispensable. Studying was strenuous, but I was able to focus on my homework after classes. Studying while working is always an option, but I personally think it is better to study intensively for a year. The advantage is that you can concentrate on your studies and consider how you will utilize the skills you have acquired.
- You have received higher education in both Japan and the United Kingdom. In the field of education, what are things that exist in overseas institutions, but not in Japan?
The biggest difference I found was that in the U.K., they delve into the thinking and values of individuals. It is often said that one should not ask for the right answer, but rather dwell on the process. For example, if asked to identify what problems exist in the world, merely answering that there are “environmental problems” and wondering whether that is right or wrong is the wrong approach. Some people may answer, “diversity” or “crypto-assets.” The idea here is to discuss and debate why they think these are the right answers. I feel that this mode of inquiry is very profound. Even in conversations with our classmates, we were expected to tell our own stories and share our values and thoughts. A conversation about shopping entails talking about why you chose a particular product, what attracted you to it, and so on. If your rationale for all this can be reduced to a mere “because I felt like it,” without motive or passions, you will be seen as a shallow, incompetent person. I believe people in the U.K. are raised to extensively question what they value in life. This, I think, is distinctively different from Japan. If asked to think this way, Japanese people would become perplexed—thus, assertiveness is key here!
- While dealing with businesses domestically and overseas, was there ever a moment you felt things were “unique,” other than the differences in language and customs of other countries? What kind of an experience was it?
There are regional differences within Asia, such as between China and Singapore, and within Europe, but when it comes to businesses, I feel that people outside of Japan are curious about the people they interact with, and they expect us to talk about ourselves. They don’t really care what your title or position is, but rather want to know who you are as a person, what you are passionate about, and what you want to accomplish through certain tasks or projects. I think a large part of how they evaluate you as a person has to do with how you respond to these questions. Japanese people, however, seldom interact with people on this level.
Remarkably, I believe that society overseas is based on academic meritocracy. I don’t necessarily think that a person’s academic background determines their social stratum, but I do feel that it functions as a barometer in society. While there are no exclusions of people without education, having an academic background or network that is globally accepted serves to one’s advantage in many ways. Another thing I found to be interesting is that people overseas freely participate in cross-cultural interactions by understanding other cultures and values. However, from a Japanese perspective, if you assume one’s culture or values based on the fact that they are Europeans or Chinese, it won’t resonate with them and you will end up being distanced—so be mindful of this when interacting with people from different cultures.
- As a “manufacturing powerhouse,” many Japanese corporations, including Santen Pharmaceutical, have contributed to supporting the country within the global economy. What do you think of the current situation? Further, what efforts should Japan make going forward?
This actually is a serious issue our industry is currently facing. Our strength as pharmaceutical companies in Japan is the ability to produce high-quality products at a low cost. High quality is a must for pharmaceutical products, and I think Japan can fully compete with the rest of the world in this regard. This is certainly linked to our branding.
Having said that, we in Japan are faced with challenges in innovation. If innovation and production are integrated within a single company, high profits can be expected, but when separated, it may lead to exploitation in the organizational structure, where there may be an innovator on one hand, and a mere subcontractor producing the products on the other. I believe we (Japan) are now at a crossroads: Without the power of innovation, I fear that we will merely be considered a nation of production centers for other nations. In Japan, wages have not risen for decades, and becoming a “low-cost country” is only a matter of time. Thus, I do not think that embracing cost performance is necessarily a strength and that if we do not seriously put in the effort to innovate, I fear that we will become a subcontracting nation.
This is not only limited to the world of manufacturing. In the tourism industry, for example, some luxury hotels in Kyoto cost around 100,000 yen per night. There may not be many local, Japanese people who can afford to stay in these hotels, but there is always demand on a global scale. I think it is important to establish whether we can compete under the global standard and offer value on par with that. As globalization progresses, the gap between the two is widening further. As another example, Geneva, Switzerland is one of the most expensive cities in the world: The rent is about ten times higher than in Japan, but the people who live there indeed earn enough income to afford it. Where there is money, innovation transpires, and accordingly, Japan may not be able to attract talented people, driving the country to become inward-looking. With this sense of impending crisis hanging over us, it is vital that we act now and think of ways to leverage our current strengths.
From the perspective of inventions, I believe that Japan has a certain competitive edge when going against other nations. To compete with the rest of the world, we need to think outside the box to make our inventions useful to the world. I think it is necessary for Japanese companies to take part in such efforts overseas and for the government to encourage them to innovate through excellent researchers and students in the Japanese higher education institutions we have on hand.
- Going forward, what do you hope the younger generation will be conscious of when putting themselves out there?
Firstly, I wish for them to aim higher rather than to settle for being exploited. I actually think that we’ve been given a chance due to COVID-19. By being able to work from home, our company can now work in teams according to different time zones—in our case, our employees are all in the same East Asian Time Zone whether you are in Japan, Singapore, or China. Up until recently, I had to fly overseas to meet and work with employees in other countries, but now I have the luxury to do all that from the comfort of my home. On the flip side, however, you lose advantage as to where you work physically. These are issues that we need to face and take seriously, but in a positive fashion, embracing opportunities to challenge ourselves.
Secondly, in addition to English education, I would say that it would be advantageous to speak Chinese. Learning Chinese should not be as difficult as imagined, as we have the advantage of knowing the Chinese characters (kanji), so why not take up lessons? English and Chinese are now widely spoken in the world, so being adept in both languages surely has made my job much easier!
- Who do you respect as a global leader?
A leader is like a lighthouse that shows the direction the organization is heading. I believe that my role is to elucidate the reason behind the company’s philosophy while at the same time illustrating the appropriate zones for the company.
The person who has been on my mind lately is Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft Corporation. I really admire how he has transformed a mega-company that was previously profit-driven into a socially-conscious company while still making a profit and increasing its corporate value.
- Please give a message to the younger generation who aspire to become future global leaders.
Learning English is merely to get you started out in the world—it does not in itself guarantee you anything. The important thing is what you want to do in the future. If you don’t have a clear goal to motivate yourself, you will be rejected in the selection process, and you won’t be able to study abroad. Picture yourself where you want to be in the next ten, twenty years, with a strong will to take on any challenges in working towards your goal, without regrets. Make sure to take care of your physical and mental health to stay positive and achieve success in both your work and your life, without ever giving up. We always welcome such people in our company!
- Event Information: Santen IBSA Blind Soccer World Grand Prix 2021 in Shinagawa
What is blind soccer? Blind soccer is a five-a-side game played by visually impaired athletes through the sound of the ball and voice communications of the players. It is an athletic competition in which people who are visually impaired and the sighted both take part, with the latter serving as goalkeepers. As a company specializing in the field of ophthalmology, Santen Pharmaceutical promotes sports for the visually impaired and aims to build a society where all people, whether disabled or not, can blend and live in harmony.
We will be hosting the “Santen IBSA Blind Soccer World Grand Prix 2021 in Shinagawa” from May 30 to June 5. The games will be streamed online, so please do support our Japanese national team!
Shigeo Taniuchi, CEO of Santen Pharmaceutical, Co. Ltd.