Is Roche Already Transforming Genentech's 'Culture'?

Apr.15.09 | About: Roche Holding (RHHBY)

So is Roche (OTCQX:RHHBY) already flexing its muscles now that the acquisition of Genentech is complete? Reports are Wednesday morning that Genentech's CEO, Arthur Levinson, is moving aside for Roche's Pascal Soriot, and several other top executives are leaving as well.

This does not seem like the way to reassure the Genentech folks that Roche is going to leave them in peace, to put it gently. And the sorts of comments that are out there in the press reports can't be helping, either. As that Bloomberg story has it:

The changes begin the company’s transformation to a team- oriented culture from one that supports individual scientific enterprise, said Stephen Burrill, a venture capitalist who invests in biotechnology companies.

He says that like individual scientific enterprise is a bad thing. (Update: out of context, perhaps? See the comments section on the blog.)

And if that's indeed what made Genentech what it is, then you'd think we need more of it, because (remember) it's a very successful company indeed. I'm always wary of people talking about "team-oriented culture", too. That sounds too much like HR-speak for comfort. And while drug discovery necessarily has to be done by large teams of people, it's the individuals who come up with the ideas. And it's the individuals that push their ideas forward, sometimes in the face of opposition from other individuals who think that they're completely wrong.

That's how new things get tried, and how we sort out what works and what doesn't. Too often, a lot of talk about "team culture" can be the sign of an organization that doesn't value initiative as much as it should. You don't want a bunch of people shouting at each other all the time and refusing to work together, true - but you don't want a situation where no one can do anything without everyone joining hands. A lot of really good ideas don't seem like good ideas to everyone at the time.

So I can't say that I'm happy to read Wednesday's news. We'll see what it really means. If Roche themselves start talking about changing Genentech's culture, then all bets are off.

Update: "It will never work because if we owned all of Genentech we would kill it"