Japan’s Takeda today officially named French national Christophe Weber its first non-Japanese CEO. The 49-year-old Weber, who takes over April 1, will now have to show whether he can succeed where so many other foreign heads of Japanese companies have not.
Weber seems committed to becoming one of the exceptions to the rule in Japanese business and making the gig as a non-Japanese CEO work. He even spurned an opportunity to bolt when he reportedly was offered the top job at Sanofi before the French drugmaker named Olivier Brandicourt from Bayer to that spot. He has already promised growth in his first year as CEO and made a series of moves to in oncology, gastrointestinal meds and emerging markets to back that up.
The announcement of Weber’s official promotion was made by Yasuchika Hasegawa, the company’s first non-family CEO, and the force that has pushed the company beyond its parochial outlook. Hasegawa retains his titles as representative director and chairman of the board, and so will continue to be around to run interference for Weber, whom Hasegawa hand-picked as the person to fully transform the 234-year-old company into a global force.
“Since he became COO of the company last April, I have been supporting Christophe and at the same time carefully observing his performance as a CEO successor. I have concluded that he is ready to assume Takeda’s CEO role,” Hasegawa said in the statement.
When Hasegawa first announced Weber as his pick to succeed him, there was lots of speculation about whether Weber could make it in the insular Japanese culture that has defeated some other high profile non-Japanese picks. Michael Woodford’s tenure at Olympus ended in turmoil when in 2011 he reported accounting irregularities at the company which led to the convictions of several executives and wiped out most of its profits for the year. In 2013, American Craig Naylor, the second non-Japanese CEO at Nippon Sheet Glass, suddenly resigned over differences of with his board. On the success side of the ledger, Carlos Ghosn, the French-Lebanese chief executive of Nissan and Renault, has been given credit for restoring the financial picture of that car maker.
It’s not as if Weber had no idea of what he faced when he signed on as COO a year ago with a promise of the top job. He headed the Asia-Pacific operations GlaxoSmithKline before going to Takeda. Hasegawa prepared the company for the event with a series of hires, like François-Xavier Roger as CFO, so that Weber joined a team of non-Japanese peers with international experience. Two of the company’s board members are non-Japanese. Weber has broadened that global outlook further with a series of his own promotions and hires of execs from around the world.
Now they must execute. Takeda needs new strategies, new drugs and new revenue, after losing the patent and substantial sales from its diabetes drug Actos. The company has already warned investors that the results from its fiscal year ending March 31 will be dismal, with net income projected to be off by 40%, after the previous year’s 28% decline.
But Weber has said things will improve in the next fiscal year. He has said midterm growth should be in the mid-single digits. He has laid a blueprint for growth that relies on emerging markets, oncology and gastrointestinal meds. The company is putting resources into its oncology business and rebranding it Takeda Oncology, dropping the Millennium name it has had since Takeda bought that company for $8.8 billion in 2008. Weber has said Takeda is looking at M&A moves that would support his plan and has already picked up a small portfolio of drugs from Numec for $121 million to broaden its place Turkey’s emerging market.
In a statement today, Weber said: “I will devote all my energy to leading the new Takeda organization from April 1, 2015, and continue to make contributions to patients and healthcare professionals, to engage and motivate our employees, while responding to the expectations of investors and shareholders.”
By Eric Palmer