Japan's Takeda looks to outsider as it reaches for international status

Japanese drugmaker Takeda Pharmaceuticals saw an era end last year when generic versions of its top seller, diabetes drug Actos, hit the market. Now it is trying to usher in a bold new era by giving a non-Japanese executive a shot at being CEO at a particularly difficult time.

Christophe Weber, a French national who currently leads the vaccine business of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), will start with Takeda in April as chief operating officer. At that point, President Yasuchika Hasegawa will become chairman but will also keep the CEO position. If the drugmaker and Weber find each other a good fit after a year, the 47-year-old Weber will get the CEO role, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Takeda has actually turned to a number of outsiders as Hasegawa tries to shake things up and focus the company for global growth. In September, François-Xavier Roger, who had been at Millicom International Cellular, was named chief financial officer. He was given the responsibility of making the drugmaker more efficient while slashing ¥100 billion from its cost structure by 2017. He actually pointed to his outsider status as one reason he thought he could succeed. "I'm not a party to the history of any original part of the company, so I don't have any specific interest in trying to protect something that happened in the past," Roger said at the time.

It is a particularly challenging time for Takeda. Actos, which brought in more than $3 billion in U.S. sales at its peak, once made up about a fifth of the drugmaker's revenue and half of its sales in the U.S. With generics eating its market share, the drugmaker has said it expects its profits to fall by 40% over a few years. It tried to get ahead of that damage last year by laying off  2,800 people in the U.S. and Europe to preserve margins as much as it was able and then folded Millennium, its biotech arm, into the company's overall operations.

The drugmaker also last year was rebuffed by the FDA in its second attempt at approval for a successor to Actos, the experimental diabetes drug alogliptin. That came more than 5 years after it originally sought an approval for the drug. The FDA said it wanted more data before it would consider approval for the treatment.

Hasegawa said the decision to hire Weber was made after first considering internal candidates and factoring the upside and downside of turning to a foreigner. "We're no longer in an age where decisions are based on whether a person is Japanese or foreign," he said in a press conference. "I expect [Mr. Weber] will lead our global transition while protecting Takeda's good tradition."

- here's the Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)
- more from The New York Times (sub. req.)