TOKYO Top Japanese businessman Yasuchika Hasegawa backs Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to revitalize the stagnant economy in the face of criticism that the government is sidestepping politically thorny reforms ahead of an upper house election.
The member of Abe's panel of industrial competitiveness told Reuters in an interview that he was confident the government eventually would take up issues like corporate tax and labor regulation, which critics complain have been left out of Abe's marquee policy agenda.
The omission of those and other measures such as liberalization of the farm sector have disappointed markets and received mixed marks even from some members of the growth panel, but Hasegawa, one of Japan's leading business innovators, said people needed to be patient.
"Prime Minister Abe has been acting with speed and commitment unparalleled by his predecessors," said Hasegawa, CEO of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd (4502.T), on Thursday.
"It's easy to find fault. But there is no one but Prime Minister Abe who can energize Japan. It's TINA -- there is no alternative," he said, quoting late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Abe's growth strategy is expected to be approved by the cabinet on Friday.
The prime minister said this week the government would decide on tax cuts in the autumn to encourage companies to boost capital spending, and promised to lay out the second part of his growth strategy after the upper house election on July 21.
Japan's economy grew at an annualized 4.1 percent rate in the first quarter, better than that of the United States, underlining a steady recovery on a pickup in global demand and Abe's bold stimulus policies.
However, companies have been reluctant to increase spending on plant and equipment. Revised GDP data showed on Monday that corporate investment fell 0.3 percent from the previous quarter, marking a fifth consecutive quarter of declines.
Hasegawa has championed looser labor regulation to help shift workers from mature sectors to growth industries.
"To make Japan a best place for corporate activities, we need to liberalize labor regulation, though I would not say as much as the United States," he said.
TURNING TAKEDA AROUND
Hasegawa, who turns 67 next week, joined Takeda in 1970 and did stints in Europe and the United States as he rose through the ranks. He took over the helm in 2003 from Kunio Takeda, a scion of the founding family which had run the company for most of its more than 200 year history.
A self-confessed "risk taker and a man full of screw-ups," Hasegawa made his mark with a string of multi-billion-dollar acquisitions.
He bought U.S. biotechnology company Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc in 2008 for $8.8 billion and Nycomed A/S of Switzerland for 9.6 billion euros in 2011, in what was then reported as the biggest foreign takeover by a Japanese company.
Labor liberalization is a cause close to Hasegawa's heart, and Takeda is one of the few Japanese bluechip companies to recruit foreigners for senior positions.
The company is searching for people to fill its chief financial officer and top procurement positions, and Hasegawa said they are very likely to be non-Japanese.
"We need someone with a global-standard track record for our key global positions. We don't care whether they are Japanese or not, but they are likely to be non-Japanese when we look for experience," he said.
Hasegawa's globalization drive faces some of the very hurdles Abe's growth strategy is expected to fix.
"For global-standard talent, Japan is not an attractive market," he said, citing language barriers as one reason.
"Also, given Japan's high tax rates, nominal compensation gets higher if we try to be globally competitive," he said.
The drugs company is overhauling its business structure including procurement and research, after some of its mainstay products went off patent protection leading to a slump in sales.
Takeda disappointed investors last month when it said it expected far smaller profit for the current financial year than it had forecast a year ago, hurt by generic competition.
"We used to enjoy a very efficient business, with four blockbuster products generating 80 to 90 percent profits, and our main markets were Japan and the United States," he said.
The days of "blockbusters are over. We need to have both geographic and product diversification," he said.
($1 = 99.1400 Japanese yen)
(Reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Stephen Coates)