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It All Started on a Trip to Japan

Though Born in Germany, Japan is Now “Home” for R&D Leader

In Japanese, the word for home is uchi, うち. For Gerold Meinhardt, M.D., Ph.D., a German native living in the U.S., his true uchi is Japan. 

Japan is a home away from home for Gerold.

Gerold, VP and Global Lead Oncology Development Asset & Portfolio Management at Daiichi Sankyo, discovered his affinity for Japanese culture when he hung up his white coat as an academic medical oncologist to join the pharmaceutical industry and pursue his passion for clinical research. This career change led him to visit Japan more than 20 times while working on the development of two liver cancer medications.  

“I completely fell in love with Japan and became intrigued by different aspects of the country and culture,” he explained. “Through a friend, a British born, Indian author who made Japan his home, I learned to understand that there are places which have nothing to do with you in terms of birthplace, yet, you go there and you have this explicit feeling of ‘this is home’ and ‘this feels right.’ Japan is like that for me.” 

So, when the opportunity presented itself to join Daiichi Sankyo, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in Tokyo, Gerold felt an immediate connection to the company culture, which 16 years later continues to grow. 

Gerold's love of Japan's aesthetic extends to constructing miniature replicas of the country's landmarks.

Japanese Influence on His Leadership Style

Over many years of observing and collaborating with colleagues from Japan, Gerold has been influenced by aspects of the Japanese way of doing business.  

For one, he values the culture’s focus on the big picture, commitment to long-term goals, and tendency to have more patience—qualities he attributes to Daiichi Sankyo’s ability to develop our proprietary DXd ADC Technology. “In the context of drug research, to give a team the time to appropriately develop and optimize something is very Japanese. That mindset led to our astonishing ADC pipeline. The time dedicated to optimizing our DXd ADC Technology is a major part of our success story.”  

Gerold also admires the strong sense of community he has observed in Japan, where the success of the group is valued higher than that of an individual. “I have observed how in Western countries the individual is often praised for independently solving issues. However, Japanese culture attributes success to the team, and considers an individualistic mindset potentially detrimental to the group,” he said. 

Furthermore, Gerold appreciates the attentive, thoughtful and caring nature of the Japanese leadership style. “There is a lot of contemplation (and stillness!) as well as compassion underneath the surface, and I find it quite inspiring,” he noted. “Many employees remain with a company the length of their career.” 

By adopting a Japanese-inspired leadership style, Gerold said he has created a “safe and authentic” environment for his own team. “You must foster a spirit of transparency, honesty and show vulnerability. This requires admitting your own mistakes and being open to correcting your own thinking and position,” he said. "We have a wonderful team, and a highlight of my career will always be the joy of standing beside one another when Daiichi Sankyo received a rare standing ovation after our data was presented at the 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting’s plenary session.” 

Gerold values teamwork, whether playing in a band or developing medicines.

Teamwork is Music to His Ears

Gerold, a lifelong musician who once played bass guitar in a Rolling Stones tribute band, feels a strong synergy between playing music and establishing strong teams. “When playing in a band, you just listen and react to what is happening in this space created by like-minded equals. This feeling of being part of something larger always puts me in a Zen-like space,” he said. “In an ideal work environment, you have a team where people come together, things fall into place, everybody knows what they are supposed to do. You organically react to each other and that is when something bigger is created.” 

Despite having to leave his band in Munich when he moved to the U.S., music continues to play a major role in his life. He writes and records songs in his home studio, which is equipped with guitars, bass guitars, a drum set, piano and keyboards, all of which he plays himself. He still takes frequent business trips, but with his travel guitar and keyboard in tow, he never misses a beat. 

While Gerold’s true uchi is Japan, it is clear his heart and passion for his work remains with him wherever he goes. 

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