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American Eric Johnson to lead Japan’s JSR

Nonnative CEO will be a rarity for Japanese industry

by Jean-François Tremblay, special to C&EN
March 21, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 12

 

09712-buscon2-johnson.jpg
Credit: JSR
Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson, the current president of JSR North America and head of the Japanese company’s global life sciences business, will become CEO on June 18. Johnson will lead JSR from Sunnyvale, California, where he is currently based.

Once called Japan Synthetic Rubber, JSR has aggressively diversified over the years and is now one of the world’s leading producers of electronic materials. More recently, the firm has pushed into the business of supplying materials to the life sciences industry. In a related move, JSR’s life sciences business will now be headquartered in North America.

Compared with firms in the US and Europe, Japanese companies rarely appoint foreign CEOs. When they do, friction can emerge. Nissan dismissed its Brazilian-born CEO Carlos Ghosn in November after he was arrested. Michael Woodford, the British CEO of Olympus, was dismissed in 2011 after alleging accounting irregularities at the firm.

Writing in the Japan Times earlier this year, Jochen Legewie, a consultant advising multinational companies in Japan, observed that foreign CEOs who are headhunted into Japanese firms tend to fare better than managers, like Woodford, who are promoted internally.

But Johnson has strong internal support. He was viewed as a star of JSR’s electronic materials business and later helped establish the life sciences business. And Mitsunobu Koshiba, JSR’s current head, will remain at the firm as chairman. The two were at the same site for about five years when Koshiba was posted in California.

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