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Meet Chifumi Umeda: a rock music enthusiast from Japan who helps others crank up their confidence, in good times and bad

She’s a diehard fan of rock music, enjoys high-rope walking with her kids and has trekked the snow-covered mountains – all while leading one of our company’s largest businesses.

May 14, 2020

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She’s a diehard fan of rock music, enjoys high-rope walking with her children and has trekked the snow-covered mountains of Japan – all while leading one of our company’s largest businesses.

“I love diversity and new challenges – at work and in my personal life,” says Chifumi, who joined our company in the finance organization 12 years ago. In December 2019, she was named global commercial lead for our Hospital and Acute Care (HAC) business, making the leap to a global role after most recently leading our hospital, acute care and vaccines businesses in Japan.

“I always wanted to be the head of finance and never imagined I’d end up where I am today,” she says. “I’ve experienced many opportunities along the way, and although I’m not always 100% confident when trying something new, it gets easier after I take that first jump. I learn, survive and am ready for the next big challenge.”

Chifumi achieved her goal of leading our finance group in Japan in 2015 and then did something unexpected: She switched careers entirely.

“I remember sitting down for what I thought was a one-on-one performance meeting with the managing director in Japan. Instead, he told me the head of sales was leaving, and he thought I could do the job. I almost said ‘no’ – I was a finance person, not a salesperson. Then I got to thinking: Maybe I can do this. My manager trusts me. Maybe I should give this a try.”

And she did. As head of sales, Chifumi led a large, successful sales force.

But within a few years, she would face her biggest challenge yet.

Chifumi Umeda and her family
Chifumi Umeda and family

Leading during challenging times

COVID-19 started to rapidly spread around the globe soon after Chifumi started her new global role with HAC. Within the organization’s portfolio are several essential drugs for treating patients in critical care, and the demand for those products surged in many countries.

“It is truly an unprecedented challenge,” says Chifumi. “The situation and environment evolve every day and are different for each country. We feel like we are running nonstop at top speed. But our mission of saving and improving lives unites us, and the entire cross-functional team is rising to the challenge together.”

Like others around the world, Chifumi has had to adjust to working remotely and engaging with her team. “Without face-to-face interaction, it’s so easy to feel vulnerable, and you are not sure if you are doing enough,” she says.

There is no perfect solution, but Chifumi says she tries to stick to two basic values: transparency and authenticity. “I believe that teams can be most effective when leaders are clear on their priorities and when leaders open up to the team about what they are dealing with.”

Chifumi also has seen her team members embrace authenticity, sharing their personal thoughts and always asking for how they can work together better, which she truly admires and aims to model the behavior herself.

Helping others build confidence

Regardless of the situation, mentoring is one of Chifumi’s favorite roles. Earlier in her career, she helped create a three-year talent leadership program for high potential employees in Japan.

She also provides one-on-one mentoring to a diverse group of people, including mentees from our research and finance organizations. “I love helping others and building their confidence,” says Chifumi.

Along with mentoring, spending time with family is one of Chifumi’s top priorities, such as a family trip to the mountains of central Japan. Now, she and her husband are in the U.S. with her two children, who have enrolled in public school and are experiencing the challenges of learning in an unfamiliar language remotely.

Most days, Chifumi is on back-to-back web meetings and tries to catch a few time slots in between to help her children with schoolwork. “The children are racing to get my attention as soon as my calls end,” laughs Chifumi. “They rush to me as soon as they hear me say ‘bye,’ which is one of the few words they understand at this point.”

What they do understand is that their mom has a big job, with important responsibilities. And when an especially challenging task comes her way, she cranks up the rock music and gets to work.