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Cultural challenges for new OSI chief

Naoki Okamura

Naoki Okamura Photo Credit: David Pokress

The new head of OSI Pharmaceuticals Inc. didn’t just have to nagivate different offices and figure out the corporate culture of a foreign company his firm had just bought.

Naoki Okamura, installed as the new chief executive in July, also faced cultural challenges. Okamura, 48, interviewed in today’s Executive Suite column, said he has been living outside his native Japan for the first time and came into an “entirely different social system.”

In October, he moved to New York and had to get settled with an apartment and driver’s license — all “really kind of a challenge for me, but that’s life. That’s how it goes.”

When asked what he thought of Long Island, where OSI is relocating its small-molecule oncology research center, he said, “I think it’s a very intimate community. I really like it. But because I’m from Tokyo, Japan, and don’t even speak the English language [very well] — from the outside, it’s not easy to break in that kind of very tight community.”

Working for a global company such as Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma Inc. and his personality have made it easier, he said.

Okamura said, “I’m very open, upfront, transparent, in many ways.” He said he heard that “typical Japanese” are perceived [by Americans] as being “so subtle, so quiet, smiling” but perhaps hiding their true feelings. “Me — if I’m happy, I’m laughing. I get angry,” he said, and pretended to hit the table with his fist.

While the company seeks to maintain certain Japanese traditions, he said, “Probably I am somewhat different from the traditional Japanese company employee, that’s why I feel there’s no significant difference there.”

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