Royally Kranked

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Genentech's Culture Of gBuzz Bingo

So the last post dealt with Genentech's gouging the blind in Britain by trying to stop the cheap and effective "off-label use" of their wonderdrug Avastin, and calling them on their avarice by pointing out that actually encouraging the use of a drug for which it hasn't been officially approved is something Genentech itself, and it's CEO Art Levinson, have encouraged more than once

But by far the most interesting link was the unbelievably fawning puff-piece Fortune did on Genentech and it's CEO, Art Levinson, when it rated the company as the best to work for

Genentech: The best place to work now

Domagoj Vucic didn't come to Genentech for the rich stock options or the free cappuccino or the made-to-order sushi or the parties every Friday night. He came from the University of Georgia seven years ago because he believed Genentech could help him answer a burning question: What is it that keeps caterpillars infected with baculovirus alive for an entire seven days before they explode into a gooey puddle? Figuring that one out could, believe it or not, be a big step toward curing cancer. Doctor-scientist Napoleone Ferrara didn't come for the perks either. He joined Genentech in 1988 because the company would allow him to pursue an obsession: the study of the formation of blood vessels that feed, say, a tumor, and the search for an antibody to disrupt the process.

It's not just the bio-scientists. Ask Cynthia Wong, a mother of two, why she chose to settle at Genentech after working at Citibank and Towers Perrin, and she doesn't even mention the onsite day care or the concierge service that can pull off a birthday party on a moment's notice. Instead the senior manager quotes a breast-cancer patient who had visited her sales department a day earlier. "She has two little girls," Wong says, getting tears in her eyes all over again. "She wants to see them in braces. She wants to be there when they pick out their prom dresses." With the help of a Genentech drug called Herceptin, she probably will.

Work that really matters -- it's what makes Genentech the Best Company to Work For in 2006.

Ironically enough, upon closer examination the fawning is actually nothing of the sort, and in spite of the images Genentech likes to present-that science is more important than profits, that a culture of individualism is encouraged more than "go along to get along"-the reality is quite different

Genentech pours tremendous energy into hiring people with that kind of passion. In fact, it can take five or six visits and 20 interviews to snag a job. The process is meant partly to screen out the free agents -- people preoccupied with salary, title, and personal advancement. If candidates ask too many such questions, "Boom, wrong profile," says Levinson.

So one has to almost grovel for a job with great perks.

Apparently Genentech wants strong, confident employees who won't aggressively push for the best terms they can get

And I'm sure Levinson's attorneys would NEVER be insistent about salary or perks when his contract is renegotiated after it's expired

And what's even weirder is that Genentech's desire for strong willed individuals is logically at odds with the CEO's desire to paint those same individuals as a chain's weakest links

The gantlet is also designed to let job candidates know exactly what they're getting themselves into. "We're extremely nonhierarchical," Levinson says. "We're not wearing ties. People don't call us doctor. We don't have special dining rooms." (They aren't even assigned parking spaces, and it's hell in the morning to find a spot.) Executive job seekers from Big Pharma, especially, find that a jolt, he says. "A lot of them say, 'But I like being different! I like being special!' Well, you're not going to be special here. If that's important to you, that's fine. But you won't be happy here."

Strong-willed lackeys, quite the corporate combination for success

And what can the newbies expect?

Well, it sure reads like the term "loyalty oath" applies, especially with the last sentence

New-hire orientation includes patient lectures, history lessons by Boyer and other old-timers, in-depth sessions on the company's goals, its science -- and the fact that the place works "because of all the thousands of little decisions that are made every day," says HR vice president Denise Smith-Hams. The company polls its workers weekly to ferret out complaints and monitor whether all the new parties are aligned with Genentech's goals.

At this point, a comment about "Genentech's goals", besides increasing profits in the double-digit range, from Levinson would have been helpful, as would a fleshed out definition of that term "monitor whether all the new parties are aligned with Genentech's goals"

Something else about Levinson jumped out during the article, namely that he's one of those types who likes to instigate, stir things up, and push/bully others when he's got a "BRILLIANT" idea that he's unwilling to perform on his own

Here status is conveyed not by snagging the fanciest title or the biggest office (CEO Levinson's measures about 9 feet by 12 feet and is done up with low-end metal office furniture). It's defined by matching wits and taking chances. Or seeing who can take the dare. At Genentech nobody dresses up, except on Halloween. This past Halloween, Desmond-Hellmann spent the day as Snow White, and Levinson and the rest of the management team dressed as the Six Dwarfs (minus Dopey). They were en route to hand out candy at another office across town when their SUV convoy drove by archrival Amgen. Levinson hailed the driver to stop and told the group he wanted to have their picture taken on the Amgen front lawn, posed around the Amgen sign. They did, but Levinson was not entirely satisfied. What he really wanted, he told them, was a picture of Snow White and the Dwarfs inside the Amgen lobby.

Some of the Dwarfs chickened out, and Snow White was about to -- until Levinson goaded her. "Oh come on, Sue, don't be a weenie." They entered through the revolving doors and got a shot before security guards began to arrive and they had to abort and flee. "We know the names of our patients, and a lot of them die, and I think that's part of our loopiness," explains Walter Moore, VP of government affairs. Like Apple and Google, Genentech, despite the fun and games, is anything but relaxed.

If it was such a wonderful idea for a picture in the lobby, why couldn't Levinson have just done the bit himself?

Instead, it looks like Levinson doesn't want to take any chances all on his own if the result could end up in failure, although I doubt he'd be as quick to involve others if a success could be portrayed as his alone

And one other sentence made no sense, there was no background to give it any context

"We know the names of our patients, and a lot of them die, and I think that's part of our loopiness," explains Walter Moore, VP of government affairs.


How does ANY of that tie into Levinson wanting a group picture in a rival corps lobby?

And Levinson seems to delight in denigrating others when it comes to corporate culture, especially as that culture relates to profit margins and market share

When Levinson sees signs of culture atrophy, he pounces, as he did in an e-mail to senior managers in December about "the spread of unintelligible, gibberish-laden PowerPoint presentations.... I have recently sat through several presentations that were simply incomprehensible -- mind-numbing, bloated discourses that were full of buzzwords and otherwise devoid of meaningful content. This is a serious problem, and the worst part is that it's spreading like the disease it is." (His abhorrence of corporate-speak helps explain why Levinson loathes consultants. "They suck you dry," he says.)

Mr Levinson, you mean buzzwords like THIS CEO used?

And if he REALLY wanted to stop the problem of mind-numbing powerpoint displays and presentations, perhaps a memo to ALL the employees who have this responsibility-as opposed to senior managers only-would cut down on this cataclysm befalling Levinson ever again

Otherwise, Levinson will play the underlings off against each other, and the more public the humiliation, the better

In case the memo alone doesn't do the trick, Levinson invented a game called gBuzz Bingo. Here's how to play: From the company intranet, download a bingo card featuring terms like "actionable," "traction," "value-added," and "winwin." Take the card to any meeting where you expect the worst. Check off boxes as the words are uttered. First to complete a line wins, which of course requires that you shout out: "gBuzz!"

The winner receives the smug satisfaction of silencing the b.s. And DNA by the Bay, as Genentechers call their company, keeps its magic -- for one more meeting, at least.

All very well & good, but what happens after the silencing?

How does the meeting continue if, God Forbid, EVERY speaker could fill up a gBuzz Bingo card with their own presentations?

Read the whole article for an idea of the benefits Genentech offers-And considering the price of success is to be as big a corporate suckup as possible at Genentech, material gain is the absolute least Levinson can offer his workers


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