It's strange how sometimes just the right words can change your life. That was the case when, back in 1988, Lonnel Coats, Eisai's US president and chief
operating officer, was at home studying for the LSAT, and fighting off a major case of cabin fever. He had just left the
fast-paced, go-go world of consumer products at Pepsi-Cola, and was seeking a profession with the same excitement—but with
Lonnel Coats grew up through the company's commercial side, and was named Eisai's US president and COO in April 2004.
Coats never did become a lawyer. His studies were disrupted by a friend in the pharma industry who encouraged him to put down
the books, and join him at Janssen.
"At first I protested," says Coats. "I said, 'I don't think so—I'm not a doctor, I don't have a medical degree, or medical
background.' But he said, 'Listen, Coats, they're not looking for any of that. They're looking for somebody who can think.
They'll train you on the rest.'"
Such were the beginnings of a man who, only a year ago, was tapped to head Eisai's almost $2 billion US operation—and today,
is probably the highest ranking African-American executive in the pharmaceutical industry.
Coats, along with the newly named chairman and chief executive officer Hajime Shimizu, take over the reigns from William
Sheldon, former president and COO, and former chairman Soichi Matsuno, to continue another year of stellar growth.
Pharm Exec: What's been the toughest adjustment to being a CEO?
Coats: I realized that, as president of a pharma company, I am now a representative of the entire industry. As such, my toughest
challenge is listening to and seeing the kind of scrutiny our industry is taking.
How does the scrutiny affect your job? Public scrutiny and not having a great image can dictate and determine public policy. As an industry head and as the head
of this business, if public policy follows the kind of scrutiny we have had here lately, it can indeed stifle innovation.
I think the biggest challenge in the past year, and the one in which I think we'll come into this new year, is how do we begin
to resolve the image issues that don't just impact Eisai's presence in the US marketplace, but impact the entire industry.
How do you handle that issue, day in and day out?
The answer is to continue to innovate, as we have historically, and to be able to communicate with the public in a way in
which they accept that innovation as value.