Christophe Weber, president and CEO of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., brings a global vision, a multicultural perspective, and a long-term approach to running the 235-year-old Japanese company.
Weber served as the keynote speaker Tuesday morning at the latest installment of Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast Forum, where he noted significant transformations to position the company for success, including expanding the company’s global footprint, diversifying its leadership and workforce, and being as agile as possible for a company operating in more than 70 countries worldwide. In particular, he discussed the strategic decision to hone the pharmaceutical company’s focus on innovation in three areas of therapy: oncology, gastrointestinal disease and disorders, and mental health. Under his leadership, Takeda has consolidated its research operations in Japan and the U.S.
“My job is to bring Takeda to the next stage,” Weber said.
There are very few global CEOs in the world, and clearly Christophe (Weber) is a global CEO.
—Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun hosts the CEO Breakfast Forum series, in which CEOs, presidents, and other top business executives from a range of industries share their expertise with audiences of other CEOs and senior executives from the Greater Boston area.
‘A global CEO’
Weber joined Takeda in April 2014 as chief operating officer, was named president and representative director two months later, and was appointed CEO in April 2015. He has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 25 years, amassing experience in nine countries. He worked for more than 20 years at the British company GlaxoSmithKline, rising through the ranks to hold several leadership positions including president and general manager at GSK Vaccines and CEO of GSK Biologicals SA in Belgium. He is French and holds a doctorate in pharmacy and pharmacokinetics, master’s degrees in pharmaceutical marketing and in accounting and finance, and a bachelor’s degree in statistics—all from the University of Leon in France.
“There are very few global CEOs in the world, and clearly Christophe is a global CEO,” Aoun said.
Weber has continued Takeda’s pivot toward globalization that began with his predecessor and as part of a strategy toward global competitiveness and spurring innovation. In 2008, 90 percent of the company’s employees were in Japan. Today, 70 percent are outside Japan. Weber has also diversified the company’s leadership team—which comprises nine nationalities and 70 percent of which has joined Takeda in the past two years—as well as its board of trustees.
Additionally, he envisions investments in emerging markets across the globe being part of Takeda’s future—a future in which he’s looking not just 10 years ahead, but 50 years ahead. “Many pharmaceutical companies have actually slowed down in emerging markets, or even moved away from emerging markets,” Weber said, explaining that many are focusing on the big U.S. market. But, he added, the rest of the world is too big to ignore. “If you have a 50-year horizon, it’s a no-brainer. That’s our perspective on emerging markets. It’s a long-term perspective.”
A global mindset, with local agility
Yet, Weber is also acutely aware that the healthcare market is very much a local one. As the company has become more globalized, he has given more autonomy to his teams in the countries in which Takeda operates to be agile in adapting to the local markets’ needs. “The way you bring products to patients is very different country by country,” he said.
Weber noted that another area in which he’s leading change in Takeda’s R & D operation is continuing to build strong partnerships with academia, startups, and the biotech industry.
He was asked about such partnerships during an engaging Q&A following his talk. He pointed to one launched last year with Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University; the 10-year partnership is focused on developing therapies for conditions such as heart failure and diabetes. Another partnership involves Takeda teaming up with three institutions in New York—Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, and Weill Cornell Medical College—to expedite early-stage drug discovery of innovative new therapies. “We believe success will come from strong partnerships,” he said.
Aoun asked Weber several questions, focusing on everything from his personal career journey and leadership style to the role government can play in supporting research. Weber noted that leading a Japanese company requires a leadership style that fits with Japanese culture—that is, showing the utmost respect, having sharp listening skills, and being patient to allow people the time they need to express themselves.
Aoun noted the importance of the federal funding for research at U.S. colleges and universities and asked Weber about the role of governments across the globe in funding R & D. Weber said that while Japan is providing important funding, the U.S. is a global leader in this realm.
“Public funding for medical research is very important,” he said. “I think this has been the competitive advantage of the United States.”