20 Years of U.S.-Japan Pharma Industry Change

The launch of U.S.-Japan pharmaceutical industry group New York Pharma Forum in December, 1990 took the form of a symposium followed by a black tie dinner at the Waldorf Astoria’s Skylight Roof. If memory serves, about 70 people came to the symposium, and a little over 200 were on hand for the first annual dinner. There were speeches at the dinner by Ed Pratt, then the CEO of Pfizer, and by Shigeo Morioka, CEO of Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co., who, along with Haruo Naito, Director General of Eisai Co., came from Tokyo to participate in the launch. Mr. Naito gave the “kampai,” or toast, and then took part in a Kagamiwari ceremony, for which he and several of the other VIPs in attendance donned traditional happi coats and then broke open a sake barrel.  We hired a dance band for the occasion, but I was told by the Japanese executives that there was little likelihood of getting the Japanese couples to dance. My staff and I received more than a few calls from Japanese executives before that first dinner asking us, at the instruction of their wives (yes, they were all men), what the women should wear, whether a kimono was appropriate since it was considered formal wear in Japan, and what black tie really meant. They were anxious to fit in and wanted to be properly attired.

Those of us who were there 20 years ago can attest to vast differences between then and now.  There are superficial ones (besides our wrinkles): the Japanese never call anymore to ask what to wear, since they are quite accustomed to Western-style entertainment; unfortunately, it’s been quite a few years since we’ve seen a beautiful, graceful Japanese kimono at one of these events; the Japanese and Americans agreed that long speeches were too boring for a black tie dinner, and they were restricted to the afternoon symposium; and the dinner has now become a dinner-dance, with plenty of Japanese couples dancing as well as Americans.

The deeper differences in New York Pharma Forum  reflect the results of two decades of change in the industry. NYPF’s Japanese leaders of have been at the forefront of that change. Two of the speakers at this year’s 20th anniversary symposium are a case in point.  The Japanese companies, which all firmly stated 20 years ago that mergers were a Western phenomenon that would never affect them, have nevertheless undergone consolidation, including mergers with American and European companies. Hatsuo Aoki, president of NYPF from 1994-1995 while he was head of Fujisawa U.S.A. in Chicago, went on to head Fujisawa globally and was the driving force behind its merger with Yamanouchi to create Astellas, now one of the few global Japanese pharma companies. 

In 1989, Eisai was headed in the U.S. by Soichi Matsuno, president of NYPF from 1997-1999.  He had a handful of employees on his staff 20 years ago.  By the time he left the U.S. 10 years ago, Eisai had grown exponentially and entered the ranks of global pharma companies.  Today he is Deputy President of Eisai in Tokyo, and Eisai Inc. in the U.S. has  thousands of employees and is in essence an American company, with all American employees except for a couple of expat Japanese. The company has developed and launched new drugs in the U.S. market before even introducing them in Japan. 

We shouldn’t underestimate the difficulties that these and other Japanese expatriate executives have had to overcome to make their companies global competitors. There are cross-cultural business differences such as very divergent human resources and compensation systems between the U.S. and Japan, for example.  The language barrier alone is tough for most Japanese. One pharmaceutical  company executive from Japan said that when he first came to the U.S., around the time that NYPF was launched, he spoke English very poorly and had a hard time understanding what was going on around him. He recalls being utterly miserable for months, but he was determined to learn the language and the culture. He obviously  succeeded: Dr. Isao Teshirogi met the challenges here in the U.S. and is now president of Shionogi & Co. in Japan. The American president he appointed to head Shionogi U.S.A., Dr. Sapan Shah, is a vice president of NYPF.

It’s hard to express how satisfying it is, having been involved in the development of this organization 20 years ago, to see the rise and success of so many of the people I’ve worked with – both Japanese and American. I wish that Shiro Yamasaki could be on hand for the 20th General Assembly and Annual Dinner to celebrate with us. Not surprisingly, however, he now occupies a very senior role in the Japanese prime minister’s cabinet, and unfortunately he can’t get away.

— Lucy Siegel

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