Friday, December 27, 2013

Socks are visible

Right then.Are you ready for this?I have a LOT to catch you up on.Sometimes I think my life is measured in reverse cat years, as so much seems to get jammed into a short space of time.I don't blog for a week and everything changes.

So, since my last blog post on Santacon, I traveled to Chicago and started my new job at Takeda!Now, I generally will not blog about my job as talking about work stuff on social media is fraught with potential pitfalls - I don't ever want to do a Justine Sacco (for any of you unfamiliar with the story, click here:- story's end? her ass was totally fired).But, as I sat down last night to write this blog post, I figured just describing my first week at work, the folk I'd met and the excitement of all the preparations for my impending move to Japan would be perfectly fine.

Its funny how your life can completely change in the blink of an eye or the click of a mouse.

My first week at Takeda (I started Dec 15th) was completely brilliant.I flew to Chicago late Sunday night, and was going to be in the Deerfield office Monday through Wednesday, doing all the HR onboarding, training stuff, IT stuff, paperwork (so much paperwork) and then as many meetings with as many members of my new team as I could cram into the three days!It was bloody FREEZING - the morning after I arrived, it was FOUR degrees!1FOUR degrees, I tell you!!That is really quite chilly, especially after having flown in from Californian sunshine of 65 degrees!Nonetheless, I caught the free shuttle bus from the hotel to Takeda's campus to report in for Day One, bright and early at 8.45am!Takeda is literally a stone's throw from the Hyatt but - both given the weather plus the fact there are no sidewalks along the busy freeway, walking there was not a viable option.There were about 5 or 6 of us all sitting waiting in the lobby, and I was very impressed by how nice the facility was.Its very light, airy and modern - three identical office buildings with lots of glass and high ceilings basically stuck together in a row.Handy in that the meeting rooms, loos, coffee rooms etc are in exactly the same place on every floor in each building, so once you've learnt the layout, you're set no matter which building you're in.For a directionally-challenged person such as myself, that's a cool bonus.

Anyway, Day 1 pretty much consisted of back-to-back training presentations from all the various folk we needed to hear from (payroll, IT, security, HR, health and safety, etc etc) to get ourselves set up in the Takeda system.Got my new ID badge and was pleased that - for once - I happened to be having a Good Hair Day when it was taken.At last.One piece of ID where I don't look like the living dead or that i've been submerged, decomposing, at the bottom of a lake for a couple of weeks.It was really quite refreshing.I like this company already.

After all that malarky was done with, I finally managed to make it up to the temporary office that had been reserved for me, up in building 2 on the 3rd floor.An office!!I had an office again!!!With walls and a door!!(my euphoria was short-lived, once I learnt that the Tokyo offices are all open-plan, so my rekindled romance with non-cube corporate living would be, sadly, short-lived.Well, maybe..).I had a number of meetings scheduled with various folk, but even before my first official meeting, I was extremely impressed by just how warm and welcoming everyone was.Asking for help to find the copier room, this random chap not only showed me the copier room, but then also introduced me to several other folk on the floor - just because they were there, and I was a new hire.Someone taking just a few moments out of their day to make me feel welcome, not because they had to, but because that was part of the culture.So, overall, my first impressions have been extremely favorable - and were borne out in all the meetings I had with various people.To a tee, folk were friendly and extremely happy to welcome me onboard!The meetings were more introductory ones, rather than detailed work discussions, but I certainly left Chicago with a MASSIVE stack of files and presentations to read over the Holiday Shutdown.Yep - in one of those blissful "I couldn't have planned this better if I tried" moments, my first full week at Takeda was then followed by the two week company shutdown, where the offices close and everyone buggers off until January 6th!And I was getting paid for it!!Of course, my plan was to take one of those weeks off to relax and recharge after what has been, by all accounts, a pretty stressful year and then take the second week to start to read through all that stuff, so that i'm fully prepped about my new compound and the diabetes market and would be ready and raring to go on January 6th.

Or so I thought.

One of the more exciting and fun meetings I had was with the relocation specialists who would be handling my transition to Japan.I'd spoken a couple of times with the lady who had been assigned to handle my case, and we'd chatted for a bit so that she could get to know me a little, my personality (poor thing) etc before then talking about my specific relocation needs.I was delighted to hear that Takeda were going to match my 2 bedroom apartment here in San Francisco with a 2 bedroom apartment in Tokyo (yey for visitors not having to sleep on an Aerobed!) and we started talking about potential neighborhoods and key requirements.My relo lady also connected me with the local relo folk in Japan, so they were also in touch, starting to co-ordinate and plan the itinerary for my home-finding visit!It was all incredibly exciting - and very real!My tickets were booked for January 2nd and I'd be spending the first 2 weeks in Tokyo, then flying back to Chicago for meetings on Jan 20th, then heading to NYC to meet with my agency the last week in January, before finally collapsing back into a heap in SF at the end of the month.The legal folk who were working on my Japan visa had also been in touch, so i'd sent them some initial paperwork and documents, and would hear back from them as to how long it would take for my Japan work visa to come through.Around 6 weeks was the estimate, putting my final, Oh My God I'm Really Leaving SF for Japan date at early February.

Now, as part of the relocation package (which, again, they do a very nice job with), there several things- other than simple finances - included that are intended to help with your transition.One is for language tuition, up to 120 hrs, so I definitely signed up for that.Another service offered is for a day of "cultural training", to help you understand better some of the cultures, customs and protocols involved with living in Japan.Its an all-day, in-person one on one training session with a consultant and its intended to help you thrive in a new culture, both from a personal and a professional perspective.Because I was flying out to Tokyo on Jan 2nd and would be meeting my team the first couple weeks, I wanted to try and squeeze in the training before I left.Its just so different, that any and all knowledge and insight beforehand was going to be invaluable.

So, that's how I found myself yesterday - on Boxing Day no less - working through lots of various exercise with Keiko-san, to help me decode how Stuff Gets Done in Japan and how people think, make decisions and do business.As we worked through each section, I had to reflect on what my objectives were, or how I thought about things, or my leadership style, or what was important to me as then the basis for comparing that with how my Japanese colleagues thought, felt or acted.As I got started in the day, I was asked to write down what I wanted to get out of the day's session.Here's what came to mind:

* to understand basic protocol and courtesy so that i don't offend

* to understand how best to be effective in my role within the context of the Japanese organization

* to feel confident about my transition

All good stuff, no?

Anyway, I won't regale you with a blow-by-blow account of the whole training session but the discussion was wide ranging and covered both personal and professional challenges and motivations.I learnt some key cultural differences through fruit analogies (UK people are coconuts, US people are peaches and Japanese are fuzzy coconuts - answers on a postcard if you can figure out what that means).I learnt about the different personal needs and values that are rated highly by a Japanese person vs a Westerner (these are all generalizations) - for example, that egalitarianism and independence are prized traits for us, whereas status, interdependency and the collective orientation are key working traits for the Japanese.Some of this, of course, I already knew a bit about but it was still very helpful and enlightening to go through some specific examples of how you would approach business situations and decision-making in a more Japanese-style, vs our direct Western (especially East Coast NYC!) approach!I also learnt how to introduce myself in Japanese: "Hajimemashite, Sarah Holloway desu.Dozo, yoroshiku onegaishimasu".I got Keiko-san to record it, so I'd be able to pronounce it properly again!

I also had one of - potentially many - Lost in Translation moments.Keiko-san and I had been talking over lunch about the various districts I could live in Tokyo, the various pros and cons of each, and I mentioned that I'd just been sent through a sample itinerary from my Japan relocation team, mapping out a full day of touring the different areas for my home-finding visit on January 8th.There was one part in the itinerary I was slightly puzzled by, so i pulled up the document and asked Keiko-san.It was in the "smart tips and introduction" section and this is what it said:

"Slip-on shoes: Since many properties have a "shoe off" rule (street shoes are removed at the entrance), so slip-on shoes are a must for house-hunting.Also, socks are visible"

Socks are visible?What does that mean, "socks are visible"?Does it mean "your socks are visible"?Or does it mean "your socks must be visible"?And does that mean i have to wear socks?What if i'm wearing tights instead?Do i then need to wear socks over my tights so that I am wearing visible socks?Do I need to make sure to have a pair of socks in my handbag at all times lest I find myself suddenly in need of display socks??I figured that bare feet are always a no-no, but what then?This digit-dressing dilemma is exactly why I signed up for this cultural training - just a small thing like this, with so many possible ways to interpret three words, all laden with the potential to cause inadvertent offense!!!On showing this to Keiko-san, she was also a little bemused at first before agreeing that probably the first meaning "hey dude - your socks are going to be visible so make sure you don't have any holes in them" was the correct interpretation.Loopy - sorry to say you'd be totally screwed if you ever visited Japan.

Although they didn't mention anything that your socks had to match.

Anyway, so that was yesterday, and it was great day, full of insight and which left me even more excited for my impending move.In just one week's time I'd actually be in Tokyo!!How crazy was that.

Well, then.Isn't it funny how things can just change in the blink of an eye.

I hadn't been on my email all day, so - after fending off three URGENT phone calls from the bank (I'm STILL clearing up the residual detritus of my identity theft - and don't even get me started on AllState and the ongoing battle to get my floors replaced), I finally logged on to my work email and checked myinbox.

And there it was.

A message from Takeda's CEO announcing the following "Today, I must inform you that we have come to the very difficult decision to terminate the Phase 3 clinical development program for TAK-875 (fasiglifam) due to concerns about liver safety".

One sentence and my world completely changed.This was my drug, the product I'd been hired to help steer to market - gone.No more.And - with no product to launch in Japan - there was no longer any valid work reason for me to move to Japan.So, just like that, sayonara Tokyo.

As I read the email, and corresponding press release, again and again, with my heart in my mouth and my stomach through the floor (its quite an interesting sensation - but not one I'd recommend), my shock started to give way to anxiety and a teeny bit of concern.What would happen to my team?My boss?Would sayonara Fasi and Tokyo then be followed by "sayonara Sarah"?If my product was dead, would I still be needed?

Then followed about 5 Doctor Who episodes-worth of time where I couldn't get in touch with my boss, as she was in Europe, on vacation, so - at the time I was reading the email - it was 2am in the morning and she was asleep. That was a pretty awful feeling, knowing that I knew that news and that she was still oblivious.Eventually, though, the clock rolled around to early morning in Europe and she texted me to let me know she was awake and to call her.With my heart thumping in my chest, I dialed to get the skinny on my likely fate .

I just knew there was a deeper meaning to the Toblerone in my Christmas stocking, other than an addiction to triangular-shaped nougat-studded chocolate that is impossible to eat after having been in the fridge.

Yep, instead of moving to Tokyo, I now seem to find myself moving to Zurich.Land of cheese, mountains and Heidi (Loopy - quiet now.. unless that was Austria?).I don't have too many details to share yet but what I can share is that I still have a job, its going to be a great opportunity, I still get to report to my awesome boss (I know she never reads this, so no danger of being called a suck-up) plus her awesome boss who was one of the people who originally interviewed me and thought i was a rockstar!While I'm still mentally processing the idea of moving back to Europe vs moving to Japan, its also going to mean that i'm one hell of a lot closer to my family in Cyprus and in the UK.I'll even be able to pop home for extended weekends!!!So that is one very big upside that I am focusing on, and that is certainly helping to offset the bitter disappointment of my Japan dreams evaporating.But, as I see it, maybe Japan is simply meant to be an adventure for the future, instead of my adventure for now. Hopefully I'll still get out there one day, even if its just to visit - you just never know.

So, that's my news.That's whats happened to me in the space of the last 2 weeks.I guess 2013 isn't going out without one last final roller coaster of emotion!!

2014 cannot arrive soon enough.

Which leaves me with just one final thought - anyone want to buy a Rosetta Stone Japanese course?
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