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Can the new CEO at Genentech maintain a tradition of groundbreaking R&D?

Bill Anderson

Bill Anderson

During the 6 years that Ian Clark managed Genentech as its CEO, he never lost sight of the singular mission he had at the big Roche subsidiary. Like Pascal Soriot before him, and now Bill Anderson coming in after his departure at the end of this year, job 1 at Genentech is keeping the pharma giant’s uniquely productive R&D operation focused on big new products.

That job profile hasn’t changed one bit. This is what Roche’s Daniel O’Day, CEO of Roche’s pharma division, had to say on Clark’s replacement at the helm:

We are confident that (Anderson) will nurture Genentech’s unique culture and build upon a legacy of pursuing groundbreaking science to find the next breakthroughs for patients.

When Roche seized complete control of Genentech in 2009, the consensus view was that the rigid and somewhat unforgiving Swiss mentality of the owner would extinguish the creative environment that helped make Genentech a world leader in cancer R&D. Its own Basel-based research group, pRED, was headed into a painful reorganization that has yet to produce the kind of new products expected of it. But the feared demise of Genentech, gRED, didn’t happen, which is one key reason why Clark was able to launch 11 new drugs in his 6-year tenure as CEO, including the closely watched PD-L1 checkpoint pioneer Tecentriq.

Ian Clark

Ian Clark

Like Clark, Anderson is a longtime commercial player. He joined Genentech from Biogen 10 years ago as VP of sales and marketing for immunology. I asked for an interview, but Genentech’s PR contacts thought we should give it a few weeks before setting anything up.

Anderson, though has talked about what makes Genentech a special place to work.

It starts with technical excellence, he said in a presentation at MIT, in a company where all managers are expected to have a deep understanding of their field. Managerial charisma and an ability to wriggle out of a situation can not substitute for technical excellence.

Here’s the rest of the list of values:

-Fact-based approach
-Speaking in plain English
-Trusting over your idea to your peers
-Keeping communication personal
-Dis-ing the trappings
-Humility and being wrong
-Checking your ego at the door
-Hard work
-Collaboration and conflict
-The true mission of companies…and Genentech

Clark, Soriot and now Anderson all had some impossibly big shoes to fill. CEO Art Levinson became a legend in his own time as the outsized chief of a company that was revolutionizing cancer treatment. Soriot went on to become CEO of AstraZeneca, and now Clark is supposedly “retiring” at a time his CV and experience give him dibs on one of the top jobs in the industry — or any kind of biotech role he’d care to pursue.

That’s something that will be worth watching, even though the Genentech job clearly no longer commands the same high profile that it once had.

In the meantime, it’s up to Anderson now to protect the golden goose in Roche’s operation, which has played a franchise role in countering generic competition as it loses control of some big markets.


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