By Joshua Jacobs
April 15, 2011
Bill Anderson, a 1995 graduate of the MIT Leaders for Global Operations program, has pursued a career in biotechnology leadership built on a foundation of his two-fold experience at MIT Sloan and in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering. As he described in a recent interview and web seminar for the LGO community, the first essential factor for him as a leader was the rigorous technical focus he found at MIT. As he says, "I went in [to the then-Leaders for Manufacturing program] believing that in a 20-year career you'll see lots of cases, but you need the deep technical underpinning to be able to sit on technical committees and keep pace, whether it's about finance or drug development." Anderson also recalls his LGO peers, many of whom remain his close friends, and MIT faculty as instilling in him a realization that there is more than just management—that one needs to pursue a vision of building and leading a great organization.
As Genentech's Senior Vice President in charge of its BioOncology business unit, Anderson 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. 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." Anderson says it was this culture that led to Genentech's leadership in bringing new medicines successfully to market.
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 quickly found that 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 that CEO Art Levinson and his team played as a "values and operational principles committee," as Anderson describes it, rather than as an oversight committee, reflects one of the key aspects of the Genentech culture.
There are many forces within the cultures of large organizations that work against the pursuit of this kind of openness and honest communication. "It's very hard to create a super-high performing culture across a company," says Anderson, "but each leader can do this in his or her own space."
The Leaders for Manufacturing program 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 says 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."
How does Anderson inspire the current generation of students to pursue a career in manufacturing and operations? Not by arguing that "manufacturing is cool" in an abstract way. "Look, if you talk about 'manufacturing,' that's uncool. 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."
See Bill Anderson's LGO web seminar to hear more about his perspectives on leadership