Q&A: Ana Cardoso, VP of HR emerging markets BU, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

Q&A: Ana Cardoso, VP of HR emerging markets BU, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

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Framing the talent development conversation

Ana Cardoso, VP of human resources, emerging markets (EM) business unit at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, gives Jerene Ang an insight into what it takes to become 'best employer' - talking to employees about their aspirations, and more.

Vital Stats: As the VP of human resources for the emerging markets business unit at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Ana Cardoso leads the largest of four geographic business units in the global pharmaceutical company. Leading a team of 150 HR staff located in 35 countries, she is responsible for the HR strategy that is focused on attracting, developing and retaining talent across a region of 9,000 employees.

A Japanese company with more than 230 years in the market, Takeda Pharmaceuticals has recently become part of a group of 13 companies globally, and one of two pharmaceuticals, to receive global Top Employers® status for 2018. In this exclusive, Ana Cardoso, VP of human resources for the emerging markets (EM) business unit at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, gives a rundown of some of the initiatives leading to this global recognition.

Q Congratulations on this amazing achievement. How does it feel to be awarded such an accolade, and what steps did Takeda take leading up to this?

It’s a great feeling because it shows we are on the right path. It wasn’t an overnight achievement, it’s really a consequence of really hard work in different locations and having everybody on the same page. Even so, we can’t relax after this achievement. We have to keep working on it and improving over time.

Q I understand the EM business unit has amazing engagement levels. Please share more about the initiatives leading to this.

We started running the global employee survey two years ago to enable us to compare engagement levels from country to country and have internal benchmarks about how we are doing. The first time we did it, the EM business unit recorded 89% engagement. With it being the highest compared with internal and external benchmarks, we thought “how do we get better than that?” But, we ran it again last year and it increased to 92%.

From the survey, one area we know we are doing well in is, our employees can see how their daily responsibilities connect to the overall strategy – they see that they are adding value to the company’s achievement.

Other things that helped are strong values, the patient and customer-centricity. At Takeda, we always say the patient is at the centre of everything we do. The employees really see this connection – they see that we are really focusing on the patient for everything we are doing. They also see that what they are doing is important for the patient. This helps them understand they are working for a cause.

It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing we have been doing to get to where we are. But, I think the key of what we have been doing in HR is investing in development, succession and talent management so everybody sees they have a role to play and that we are investing in them to develop even further.

Q How do you get employees to actually see that what they are doing is contributing?

It is not just about setting up the strategy, it is also about the follow-up. We keep communicating where we are, our achievements and we have Q&A sessions so staff can ask as many questions as they want.

Once the direction is set by the CEO and members of Takeda’s executive team, we really cascade it down and share the strategy with employees. We invest a lot on explaining our journey to people – why we need these objectives, why we need to go through this process – and we always have the importance of the patient there.

We don’t have a single meeting in Takeda that starts without showing a video of a patient. We bring the patient in and allow them to share their stories and how our treatment or therapeutic area has somehow helped them. I think this helps a lot in creating a sense of belonging and engagement because employees see that we are working for something much bigger.

We also centre our decisions around the patient. We have a framework we follow whenever we make a decision that goes – patient, trust, reputation, business. We don’t do something if the patient isn’t at the front. We always ask ourselves if we have gone through that framework when making a decision – it really brings a different mindset to the organisation.

Q I understand Takeda has a dedicated development initiative called the DNA framework. Please share more about the programmes and initiatives within this framework.

At Takeda, we have a very consistent talent management process in place. This is a global process we apply everywhere, where we assess our people and talk about their performance annually. When having these conversations, we make sure to calibrate the discussion.

We look at the conversations about our talent and decide who is ready to take over another assignment – we see who needs this kind of experience to keep developing and growing.

We need to ensure it’s not just my opinion about the person, but it’s the organisation’s opinion on that employee. We also discuss what is next and what gaps need to be filled for them to move forward and take on a new role.

With EM being a dynamic and fast-changing area with many countries, we needed to develop our leadership pipeline more quickly. So in EM, we have these conversations twice a year.

We first do so in the emerging markets leadership team (EMLT) and cascade this process into the five area levels – APAC, Greater China, Middle East and Africa, Russia, and Latin America – and 35 countries. We really invest time in talking about people and their aspirations and their development gaps.

Then, we develop programmes to address these gaps.

Different business units in Takeda have their own unique solutions. In EM, we have DNA (develop, nurture, accelerate) which is tailored to our needs to develop people and give them the right opportunities. This encompasses a series of initiatives from formal programmes such as partnerships with Oxford and INSEAD, as well as on-the-job development such as mentoring, job rotations and international assignments.

Q How do you select who to send on international assignments?

We look at the conversations about our talent and decide who is ready to take over another assignment – we see who needs this kind of experience to keep developing and growing. After shortlisting the talent, we go to the markets and ask what support they need and what profile would be beneficial to the market. They will also have a shortlist.

We will then try to address the business need and employee need at the same time. If we cannot find the best match for the employee, and the person is really someone we want to develop, we create a role for them.

Last year, we identified 32 people who we felt would benefit from an international assignment and we progressed 15 – nine have started and another six who are waiting to start.

Q Apart from international assignments, under DNA, you have formal programmes as well as mentoring. So how do these work?

In Singapore, we have a programme called the EM summit which was developed in partnership with INSEAD. The one-week programme has common topics from all functions to help develop a broader perspective and is more focused on leadership. This is open to people from different parts of the business because it is something that is applicable to all functions.

But, developing only the broader aspects isn’t enough, we also need to develop technical capabilities. For that, we set up technical academies and partnered with institutions such as Oxford to come up with courses to develop critical capabilities, including marketing, finance, HR and regulatory. These programmes are built according to the needs of the business and are designed to Takeda EM.



Mentoring is part of the EM summit. It is a continuation of the leadership development. After the programme with INSEAD, participants can choose who they would like their mentors to be and we will try to match their expectations. Once matched, the senior leaders will mentor them for a year through quarterly conversations where we follow up on their career aspirations and see where we can help them.

Currently at the EM level, we have 30 people in the mentoring programme. Each EMLT member has two to three people to mentor. For example, I have three mentees who I mentor for the course of a year to support their development. The best part of this experience is that it is very tailored. Since every employee has different needs, mentoring allows them to talk about their experiences, aspirations and challenges with someone they trust. The feedback we received for this programme has been amazing. It shows how big an impact we can create by just making the time to help people. It’s a low cost initiative that’s just about the willingness to help people develop and about the passion.

The EM summit and mentoring drives the leadership aspect (including behaviour and innovation), while the technical academies help us develop the necessary technical capabilities. They complement each other and we need both to develop the team. All these initiatives are cascaded down to all markets and we keep doing this for different levels. These are also not the only development opportunities available. Employees also have development opportunities in their own country, in their area, in the region and globally. The challenge is to offer the right opportunity according to the need of each one of the employees.

Q Am I right to assume the challenge is overcome through conversations?

I think the conversations and assessments have helped a lot because we don’t just assess people and leave them where they are, we discuss what’s next and how to get there. I think the how and what we do with the outcome is more important than the assessment itself. The secret is in improving the quality of the process and having more meaningful conversations with people and asking for nominations for the initiatives.

Q Who owns these initiatives? And when were they implemented?

According to our governance, the global HR team owns the development initiatives for the most senior levels worldwide. We then have the HR function in EM who is responsible for DNA, while at the area and country level, the local HR will be responsible. We are very clear about who is responsible for what and who is accountable for each target population in EM so we know we play an important role no matter where we are in the organisation.

DNA was implemented two years ago. We started rolling out everything in 2015-2016. Those two years were focused on designing the strategic approach we would like to have, as well as what programmes we wanted. We got to a point where we had enough. So for 2017 and 2018, it’s really about improvement and following up to say: “Are they effective enough? Do we need to change anything?”

Take the EM summit for instance. Every year we sit down with INSEAD and look at how effective it is, the needs, if we need to adjust anything, and if the people who join the EM summit are progressing. We do similar reviews for mentoring and the international assignments.

I believe we don’t have to invent new initiatives every year, it’s about having the best ones and the most effective ones and making sure they work extremely well.

It’s not just launching initiatives, it’s about continued improvement. I believe we don’t have to invent new initiatives every year, it’s about having the best ones and the most effective ones and making sure they work extremely well.

Q I’m sure this helps with identifying future leaders. Can you share a bit more about how Takeda approaches succession planning?

When we started working on succession planning, our concern was the process itself. We wanted a consistent method applied to the whole of EM to ensure the bar is set at the same level across regions. We also made the methodology clear and challenged each other to make sure we were assessing people the right way.

Not only does it help us assess and place them correctly, it also helps us explain to them when employees ask why they are placed in a certain way. We can show that it is a comprehensive and method-based approach and not just a guess or an individual leader’s perception.

After working out the process, this year, we started measuring it consistently. We found that from 2016 to 2017, internal promotions grew from 51% to 66% across Emerging Markets. In APAC, it grew from 29% to 54%.

I think from the statistics, we have two very important messages.

One, we are doing a much better job in preparing our teams to be ready when opportunities arise.

Two, it sends a message to employees that if they do their part in being committed to their own development, they will be considered when they apply for an internal job and they can get it. I think this also plays a part in engagement because they are developing themselves knowing that when the opportunities are there, they will be considered.

Art Direction: Shahrom Kamarulzaman & Mohd Ashraf; Photography: Elliot (Studio Three Sixteen Pte Ltd) – www.studiothreesixteen.com Makeup & Hair: Michelle Chin (www.michmakeover.com) Using YSL beauty Singapore

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