Tomo Hasegawa, President, Japan at Medline Industries: Episode #84 Japan’s Top Business Interviews

Tomo Hasegawa is a second-generation Japanese-American with extensive leadership experience in the global medical and pharmaceutical industry. After he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an Electrical Engineering degree, Mr. Hasegawa joined Hewlett Packard (HP) as a Project…

Tomo Hasegawa, President, Japan at Medline Industries: Episode #84 Japan's Top Business Interviews

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Tomo Hasegawa is a second-generation Japanese-American with extensive leadership experience in the global medical and pharmaceutical industry. After he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an Electrical Engineering degree, Mr. Hasegawa joined Hewlett Packard (HP) as a Project Manager and Engineer where he helped design ultrasound devices that HP was creating at the time. When HP was struggling to survive the competitive market in Japan, Mr. Hasegawa was assigned from the US to work for HP Japan Medical (later became Agilent) to help turn around the business. He was originally hired to assist with marketing and sales of roughly 50+ people. Eventually, Agilent was acquired by Phillips and Mr. Hasegawa became the General Manager of the cardiac ultrasound business in Japan. After three years, Mr. Hasegawa was headhunted by Sonosite Japan, a company specializing in portable ultrasound devices. Mr. Hasegawa then began working at Sandoz Japan, a multi-national pharmaceutical company, and most recently, joined Medline Industries Japan office as their president.

Mr. Hasegawa says HP’s people-centric approach in business was what made the company so successful, and he has taken on this leadership approach throughout his career. He explains: “[As leaders] we were told to just do two things…first, set the direction and second, get things out of the way for your people.” During the early 2000s, a rival company had headhunted many of the leadership staff from HP, which caused many challenges. Mr. Hasegawa initially struggled with the challenge of leading an organization with a strong competitor, on top of the fact that he had no experience in doing business in Japan in Japanese. Yet he eventually came to realize that the customers care much more about the product and wanted to hear about the technical details, which Mr. Hasegawa as an engineer had thorough knowledge of. Within his team, Mr. Hasegawa’s knowledge and active listening skills helped him build trust and credibility.

At Sonosite Japan, Mr. Hasegawa joined just as the company had set up a subsidy from Olympus, which grew to 15 people within a year. Mr. Hasegawa helped take the company from a distribution model to a direct sales model and exceeded set targets. After a successful four years at Sonosite, Mr. Hasegawa was offered a position at Toshiba in the US to lead their ultrasound business. There, Mr. Hasegawa was tasked with bringing an ultrasound device to the commercial side. Mr. Hasegawa’s felt Toshiba had “made it” in the US when he was approached by salespeople from General Electric (GE) who joined Toshiba, and are still with the company.

Mr. Hasegawa then joined Sandoz Japan after completing an MBA at the University of Washington – Michael G. Foster School Of Business. This was Mr. Hasegawa’s first experience in the pharmaceutical industry, leading an organization of approximately 300+ people. Mr. Hasegawa found it challenging to be in a competitive market trying to sell a product that was similar to many other rival companies. He explains that because the company was trying to make a cultural transition yet at the same time not agreeing on how to make the change, maintaining transparent communication was a challenge. Mr. Hasegawa recalls his years at Sandoz as a challenge but also a time of tremendous growth and learning. He explains: “I remember my boss telling me I don’t care about your opinion and it’s like, okay, great. So, what do you care about? And he explained to me it’s facts, insight, and then action. That’s what we pay you for…not the, this is what my gut is telling me…Right, the insight is why we are human beings running a business. Otherwise, you can have a computer run the business for you.”

Finally, Mr. Hasegawa joined Medline, a medical product manufacturing and distribution company, which he calls the biggest company people have never heard of. The secret of Medline is, according to Mr. Hasegawa, despite its grand scale, it is run like a start-up – the organization is agile, bureaucracy-free, and focused on the genba (field). Mr. Hasegawa led the Japan branch of 400 people. At Medline too, Mr. Hasegawa practiced the leadership approach he developed at HP by setting the direction and leading by example. From customizing products to suit Japanese customers to building a warehouse in Japan, Mr. Hasegawa says such leadership activities allowed him to build trust from his team as well as customers who felt listened to. Mr. Hasegawa has built a yattemiyo (let’s just do it) spirit within the company culture, which he believes has given the organization more innovation.

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