to Expatriate Managers at Pharmaceuticals Here in Japan

A Trap for expatriate managers at Japanese branch of global pharmaceuticals.

There are many expatriate managers here in Japanese branch of global pharmaceutical companies. Many of them are in the position that manage Japanese people. For expats here in Japan, of course, it is a bit difficult to evaluate Japanese people who has totally different culture.

Needles to say, the biggest gap is language. For Japanese people who work at global companies, or even Japanese companies which aim to business globally, English skill is one of a key factor to success. That is why studying English have been essential for Japanese who wants to get better job, or wants to promote next stage.

On the other hand, studying English is very hard for people who has brain thinking by Japanese language, because the two languages are extremely different for many terms such as pronunciation, letters, grammar, and culture.

I feel that a wrong measurement is rampart among many of them. That is “skill of English speaking” When these managers try to evaluate the Japanese employees skill set, they tend to give high marks to the people who speaks English well.

Of course, the importance of English education is widely alleged in Japanese society, so many people got ability to speak English by study. However, realistically, even nowadays, English speaking Japanese are still hold a minority position. Sometimes I see the expats who are new here in Japan surprising the fact that many people can not understand English.

Additionally, the people of the Head quarter Japan makes foreign expat wrongly assumed that Japanese people usually has English speaking skill, because many Japanese people in HQ Japan can speak English. Expat don’t know the people in HQ Japan are recruited with required English skill. HQ is a place gathering English speaking Japanese people. It is not average people Japan in terms of English.

Then, the purpose of Pharmaceuticals coming Japan, is of course selling their drug as many as they can. In that case, sales people are key of the company. Also sales people who are charging Japanese Key Opinion Leaders of the products therapeutic area are more important. These kind of people, called MR, which means medical sales representatives are usually don’t speak English very much.

Think about it. Which is important between well English speaker in HQ but doesn’t know about the real market, and the great MR who can talk with KOL by cell phone now, but doesn’t speak English.

It might be understandable that communicate with own language is comfortable for foreign expat. However, the “comfortableness” causes sometimes wrong judgment to the people.

It is not saying that MR doesn’t need English skill. Of course MR is also necessary to study English. However, If good MR, the guy should not have lower evaluation because of the English skill.

People who work at pharmaceuticals should be evaluated by their professional work, but not by English skills. In Japan, of course, almost all business are operated by Japanese. Sometimes great guys has wrongly low evaluation because of low English skill. On the contrary, sometimes not that professional guys has higher evaluation because of good English skills.

Regardless MR or other function such as marketing, MSL, RA and R&D, English is necessary. But English is not the most important. English is necessary, but not important.

If you are an expat and have some concern, or some questions about the Japanese pharmaceuticals working condition and cross culture, please contact me. I am happy to explain for more detail.


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