By Gilly Wright
Japan’s largest pharmaceuticals firm, Takeda, has appointed Frenchman Christophe Weber as COO in a highly unusual move designed to groom him for the role of CEO. Weber will join the firm in April 2014, to potentially take the CEO reins the following year, making him the first non-Japanese leader in Takeda’s 230-year history.
Weber is head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines division, but has, during a 20-year tenure, been chairman and CEO of GSK France and regional director of GSK Asia Pacific, as well as having held various senior posts in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
The poaching of Weber shows Takeda’s determination to grow overseas, which is confirmed in a statement by Takeda president Yasuchika Hasegawa: “To be competitive in the global market, we need a global person in an important position. We have extremely high expectations for Mr Weber’s contributions to further enhance and accelerate the implementation of Takeda’s global strategy. He can understand the situation in both advanced countries and emerging countries.”
Takeda acquired Swiss-headquartered pharmaceutical firm Nycomed in 2011 in the largest cross-border takeover by a Japanese pharmaceutical company to aid expansion into emerging markets and Europe. Nycomed has a large global footprint; with growth markets in Brazil, Eastern Europe and India and China. P. Reed Maurer, president of the International Alliances a Tokyo pharmaceutical advisory firm, says the challenge for Weber is to manage this infrastructure, which to date has not performed well.
Maurer believes this will be a tall order for Weber: “Even if he is a kind of superman he will have a tough time for three reasons. First, he is an outsider, and outsiders generally do not have a good track record in the pharma industry. Second, he is a foreigner, and a foreigner has never led a Japanese firm. Finally, he is young, at 47. Except for family-owned firms, people become presidents when they are in their late 50s. In this seniority-based personnel system, age is respected. Thus, the people older than Weber will find it very difficult to bow to a younger man with no seniority in the company.”
Takeda has recruited several other foreigners from bigger rivals in recent years, including François-Xavier Roger, who joined Takeda as CFO from Millicom International in September 2013, and Phillip Duncan, who arrived as chief procurement officer from Novartis.