Japan’s Executive of the Year Shinya Suda: “Don’t Hesitate to Share Your Ambition”

Our Executive of the Year winner for Japan in the 2022 Adobe Experience Maker Awards may be a certified pharmacist, but it’s his three-decade-long career in information technology (IT) that earned him this notable recognition.

Shinya Suda is the senior vice president of information systems at Astellas Pharma Inc, an organization that aims to improve the health of people around the world through innovative medical solutions serving over 70 countries.

With the help of Adobe Experience Cloud solutions, Shinya led a company-wide effort to improve customer experiences and unify the organization’s technology stack globally. Following his big win, we spoke about his career, path to IT, and his advice for other Experience Makers.

Congratulations! Executive of the Year for Japan, that is a huge honor and I’m sending a round of applause!

Thank you, quite honestly I’m very proud because it is not just recognition about myself, but about what my team and colleagues have achieved. I feel honored for this award.

When I read your nomination, I thought the same thing. This is a company-wide effort affecting a full end-to-end customer experience, for an organization you’ve been with for quite some time!

I have been with Astellas for 30 years through the continuous evolution of IT and digital! I joined just after graduating from a masters course of pharmaceutical chemistry. My 30-year career in IT actually started without any knowledge of IT!

So you’re a certified pharmacist in Japan! What first attracted you to IT and working with technology?

When I started my career, I realized IT was everywhere. Through it, I can work with anyone, in any business area, anywhere in the world.

What’s more difficult, chemistry or IT?

A chemical reaction is when one entity and another are hit with energy to create new things, and I see similar things among people in the business world.

Two people have an exchange of ideas and opinions, and can create innovative things. It’s quite similar to a chemical reaction, and IT is a kind of enabler for this chemical reaction.

Let’s talk about that innovation at Astellas Pharma.

We deal with prescription drugs in over 70 countries — it’s important for us to deliver information to healthcare professionals accurately and in compliance with local regulations. We implemented the Adobe platform to enable us to do this effectively.

No pressure! We often joke that we’re not saving lives here, we’re just building digital experiences. You’re actually saving lives!

I hope so! My family or I might be that patient. That’s why any digital technology will help address patient lives around the world, it’s a key motivation for me.

One of my goals is to create the best mix of human capabilities and digital technologies. People can be burdened by many things that digital technology can replace. Like a powered suit, if I want to carry something that is one hundred kilograms, I cannot. But with the powered suit, I can lift it up.

So, technology does not replace me, but empowers me. I want to build the best mix of data, technology and human ability to make that human more capable to innovate.

What advice can you share with others from your win and long career in this field?

We are in a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, but I believe we have one obvious thing; my ambition. I believe leaders can be a source of energy to influence people and inspire people, and also empower people on the team. My advice is to share your ambition with your team members and colleagues like a child.

A child always says, “I want something,” or “I want to be something.” This is ambition and a dream without hesitation.

“Don’t hesitate to share your ambition — that is my simple advice for others.”

Without ambition, big things don’t happen. That’s beautiful — and as Executive of the Year, you certainly inspire others. Who inspires you? Who is somebody that made you realize big things are possible?

In 1997 I was transferred to the Netherlands to our European regional headquarters. At that time, I couldn’t speak English well and I didn’t believe I could survive outside of Japan. But I had a very good time because many colleagues were kind and quite supportive.

After that, my career totally changed. After nine months, I returned to Tokyo and continued to work with various people around the world. Globalization of information systems became my life at Astellas, so my manager at that time was the most inspiring person for me.

Wow, it takes bravery to go for it and figure it out in such a new environment. What a great parallel to the world of digital experiences especially in an age of COVID — you’re bravely pioneering bold new paths. The theme of this year’s awards “Behold the Bold!” fits perfectly.

In these volatile times, no one knows what is the right thing! In that case, we can create the right thing, we can decide what to do and make it happen.

Some people look at ambiguity as a threat, and I think you see it as an opportunity.

Absolutely, yes.

And, we are always focused on patient-centricity. So, even if we have different standpoints and opinions, we elevate the conversation always to “what is best for the patient?” It gives us one common goal to create and deliver value.

A North Star, to unify people against a common goal. That’s wonderful — what other mantras guide you day to day?

When I send messages to my team, I close with the phrase “Be professional, be passionate, and be proud.” Those are three things I always live by.”

You are living proof of that mantra! I’m always so excited by what’s possible with these tools, they allow for some really incredible work. But, these tools are nothing without people like you to make the magic happen.

Yes, I have been working in global environments now with various types of people for decades. And I always consider which type of people I want to collaborate with again. I reached three keywords; open, honest, and fair. I believe this motto can be well accepted by people across the globe, even if they have a different culture or background, this is common for everyone.