Revelations from a Former Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Insider Expose Dysfunction at the Top | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Revelations from a Former Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Insider Expose Dysfunction at the Top

Five deaths and 216 hospitalizations - a major scandal caused by the one-man management of the founding family.

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In 2013, at the young age of 42, Mr. Hiroshi Akira took over as the 6th president. Despite his tenure, he was often treated like a spoiled child by long-standing executives, reportedly struggling to assert his presence.

“Even when problems arose, it wasn’t surprising. That’s how bad the working environment was within the company,” sighed Mr. A, a former employee of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical until March of this year.

The health damage caused by supplements such as “Red Koji Cholesterol Help” sold by the company shows no signs of stopping. As of April 8th, the number of deaths has reached five, with 216 people hospitalized. While Mr. A was not directly involved with the red koji supplements, he was troubled by the internal situation of the company.

“Regardless of the department, there are brainstorming sessions, with over 10,000 ideas gathered every month. However, during the selection meetings, if someone’s opinion differs from the executives’, they are shouted down. It’s common for executives to yell at employees in front of everyone. But no one puts a stop to it,” Mr. A said.

Regarding the attitude of executives bordering on harassment, Mr. A’s colleague directly appealed to President Hiroshi Akira (52) for improvement last year, but the situation remained unchanged. Even consulting with the Human Resources department yielded the same result. Mr. A continued,

“There were too many internal transfers, and in the team I was involved with, consisting of about a dozen people, members and bosses changed every few months last year alone. Moreover, as far as I know, there is no established culture of handing over responsibilities. We try to train the successor with the remaining team members, but we can’t fully provide all the specialized information. I think this incident happened because of such accumulation of issues. The president and executives, who should be working to create a better internal environment to prevent such incidents, are not functioning properly.”

One factor contributing to such a closed internal environment is the autocratic management style of the founding family. In particular, Mr. Kazumasa Kobayashi (84), the father of the current 6th president, Hiroshi Akira, who serves as the chairman of the board of directors, is often referred to as the “Emperor of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical.” Since assuming the position of the 4th president in 1976, he has held the representative authority for 48 years, continuing to reign supreme at the top.

What exacerbated this old-fashioned internal environment was the outflow of talent.

“In the past, there were employees who could speak up to Chairman Kazumasa. Especially in the medical equipment field, which the chairman, with his liberal arts background, often described as ‘lacking in knowledge,’ the voices of employees with specialized knowledge were listened to. However, since the sale of the subsidiary medical equipment manufacturer Kobayashi Medical in 2012 and the subsequent restructuring of related companies, and the complete withdrawal from the medical equipment business in 2015, many talented employees left one after another, and dictatorship became even stronger,” said another former Kobayashi Pharmaceutical employee.

Is it true that there were issues in the working environment, such as the autocratic behavior of the management and haphazard handovers? When a questionnaire was sent to Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, the response received was, “We are fully committed to responding to inquiries from customers who feel unwell and to recalling red koji-related products. Therefore, we refrain from providing an answer.”


If the scandals were indeed born from a distorted corporate culture, they are by no means acceptable.

While President Akihiro held a press conference, Chairman Kazumasa has not been seen on the stage at all. Will he continue to hide behind a cloud?

From the April 26, 2024 issue of “FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Kei Kato (1st photo) Kyodo News

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