By Sam Haddad

24 Mar 2023

A Japanese pharmaceutical company is perhaps not an obvious place to look for a workplace revolution. But in the early 1990s, under the direction of its new president Haruo Naito, pharma giant Eisai quietly began to transform the way it did business. Instead of focusing on the bottom line, from then on Eisai would prioritise what it called “human healthcare”, first and foremost seeking to relieve the suffering of patients and their families.

Naito invited each department, from sales and marketing to finance, to rethink their business processes with this new goal in mind. For instance, instead of simply trying to sell drugs to doctors and hospitals, the sales teams focused on getting the right products to the right patients, who in the main were suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

One sales manager in a poorly performing district, where GPs refused to meet with sales reps, set about educating older people on how to avoid falling – one of the major causes of hospital visits in that age group – through a series of lectures and demos on how to make their homes and habits safer.

A year later, when the manager tried to call the GPs again, they were eager to meet up, having heard good things about Eisai from their patients. The manager doubled her sales in six months. “She didn’t do anything to sell, but by changing the way she worked and by generating social value through caring about her clients, the result was economically successful,” says Isaac Getz, professor of leadership and innovation at ESCP Business School in Paris and co-author of L’Entreprise Altruiste (The Altruistic Enterprise).

It’s just one example – out of the thousands of businesses Getz has studied over the past 20 years – of a company turning social purpose into stronger business fundamentals, leaving it in a much healthier position in the long term. It is, he suggests, a valuable way to shore up a business against bumps in the road, and it’s a message that’s gaining traction in these uncertain times.

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