Senior Vice President, Genentech
For Bill Anderson, work and leadership at biotech giant Genentech wouldn’t be possible without the rigorous technical focus he found in the Leaders for Global Operations dual-degree program at MIT Sloan and MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering.
Anderson, senior vice president in the company’s BioOncology business unit, found his technical grounding from MIT well-suited to the company’s emphasis on straight talk and giving ultimate priority to data, not political considerations.
“For us working in oncology, there is huge motivation to take on risk and do great things,” Anderson said in a recent MIT Sloan webinar. “Because we are data-driven, our pursuit of a new medicine—which can take ten or more years—is less subject to the whims of a senior executive.” It’s that culture, Anderson said, that has made Genentech a leader in developing new medicines.
When he joined Genentech in 2006, Anderson was surprised that, even as a newcomer, his executive committee did not scrutinize his every move. Having held senior positions at Biogen and other leading chemical and biotech companies, Anderson was attracted to Genentech by its distinct corporate culture. He found the leadership team focused obsessively on decision-making and global issues affecting the whole company, and left the management of his business to him and other general managers. The role the executive team played as a “values and operational principles committee,” as Anderson describes it, rather than as an oversight committee, reflects a key aspect of the Genentech culture.
There are many forces within the cultures of large organizations that work against the pursuit of that kind of openness and honest communication, Anderson said.
“It’s very hard to create a super-high performing culture across a company,” he said, “but each leader can do this in his or her own space.”
MIT’s Leaders for Manufacturing program, now Leaders for Global Operations, came into being at a time of fears that American manufacturing was being eclipsed by Asian competition and no longer attracted the best talent. Anderson said that the 18 years since he started at MIT have shown that these challenges can be addressed: “The industries where we have had good support and resources, as in the biotech cluster in Cambridge, have prospered, and those where there wasn’t the support and resources have melted away.”
And despite a 21st century stigma, a career in manufacturing and operations is not a losing proposition, he said.
“If you talk about ‘manufacturing,’ that’s uncool,” he said. “But if you talk about how you use cells from a hamster that lived 20 years ago, with subsequently altered DNA, that now helps produce tons of humanized proteins that contribute to cures for major diseases—that starts to get pretty interesting. This is Star Trek stuff: Nobody would have believed 40 years ago that we would have 20,000-liter tanks full of hamster cells turning out cancer medicines. But that’s what we’re doing now. That’s what gets me excited about manufacturing—a specific product I could help make, as well as the chance to lead a large organization behind that product.”
Watch Anderson’s full webinar at TechTv.