Learnings from across cultures and countries
I was born in India but moved to Japan after graduating from high school. My father was a diplomat, and his work took us across the world, to Morocco, Moscow and in between to India, then to Australia, Zambia, and several parts of Europe, we eventually arrived in Tokyo. Thirty-eight years later, I am still here, in Tokyo. As the Sales and Solutioning Head for Indegene, Japan, I am excited by the opportunity to help an Indian-origin global company navigate Japanese waters and achieve success. For me, it’s the best of two worlds, both of which I call home.
To backtrack a bit, my father had a choice to go to Europe or Japan, where I would have entered Cambridge University. However, I chose to write the entrance exam to join a university in Japan. It was not an easy proposition at that time, as only one Indian had completed the engineering degree after WWII; many others in my father’s knowledge had tried but given up. This motivated me greatly, and I made it through the high school language test with 1850 Kanji characters, technical knowledge test in Japanese, and then the conversational interview levels. After the exam, one of the examiners called me and said, ‘We would like to keep you, but you got one question wrong’. I responded that the said question had not been in the scope of the exam but that I could answer it if he wanted me to. Having successfully done so, I earned my place in the university. Later, I secured a scholarship from the Japanese government and went on to do my master’s degree also in Japan.
My career began in aerospace engineering at Mitsubishi Research Institute, later at Marubeni Corporation and Lockheed Martin. For over a decade, I worked in an industry, which is to be credited for teaching me to cross barriers and work across segments, across geographies.
In 2000, my father, who had recently retired, was suddenly unwell. He was in India at the time, and I was not happy with the various diagnoses being made. I brought him to several experts and was told that he had an advanced stage of metastatic colorectal cancer and that he only had a couple of days to live. Only with the help of intensive care and medical interventions, I was able to spend about two months with him before he passed away. This is the time when I had real-life experience with healthcare. As I am someone who always look for solutions and problem solving, I began to take a deep and personal interest in healthcare as an industry. My father did not have the benefit of precision care medicine that we do now, nor there was a technology that we have today to treat cancer. Oncology itself was not well defined and medicine was more generic. I had transitioned from mission critical in aerospace to embark on another journey. I struck out on my own for a while and became obsessed with taking technical knowledge for people in critical situations and building efficiencies into systems and parallel workflow processes to report accurate information to monitoring dashboards. It was the beginning of my foray into healthcare.
In comparison to other countries, Japan's healthcare system is unique. Japanese are health conscious, hence Pharma company profits are controlled to make healthcare economically accessible to all. Perhaps this is why Japan’s R&D budgets are decreasing; we seek approved drugs from other countries, limiting budgets to local population testing for Japanese suitability. Risk management is prioritised over speed in efficacy, and this is seen in how a medication is administered. The pandemic has accelerated the need for change. Though hospital and industry laws will take time to change, digital transformation has a tremendous scope.
Prescriptions, diagnostics, treatment and medication have advanced greatly, and I would like patients to have access to this advancement. Understanding that each patient is unique, and that technology can help us understand each person’s history and even blood type, offer an opportunity to take the right medication for the right patient and in a precise and personalised manner. I am excited by the hybrid model that brings in AI-assisted decision making without ignoring the individual human factor.
Indegene has the skills that Japanese pharma companies need now. But they must meet people where they are most comfortable. This is a society where reputation is important, where formality is expected and where trust takes time to build. Japanese quality requirements are pretty high, and granular quality assurances are expected. Also, in Japan, young people learn on the job, and certificates are not an appropriate measure of knowledge. Therefore, there are high expectations in project management, process management, risk management, quality control, commitment and assurance in meeting timelines.
I am excited by the collaboration between Indegene and Japanese customers. In some ways, it sums up my own experience of blurred borders. Having lived in many places and travelled to many countries, and having worked in multiple industries, I think there is a lot to be said about bringing learnings, erasing the hard lines that divide, and truly matching talent with opportunity. I see myself as a bridge between Indegene and the local industry, and across India, Japan and the world.