[Through the Glass Door] Does Art Levinson Stay at Genentech?

With the Roche’s acquisition of Genentech finalized the next obvious set of question surrounds who stays and who goes.

More specifically, does somebody like CEO Art Levinson, arguably the singular driving force since 1995  – albeit playing the point on an executive group that behaves from a distance like a real team – stay?

The quick answer is not likely .

The better question is why not ?

Cash – something that temporarily motivates many people – is important for senior managers yet it is generally not the end all that it can be for others. And having worked hard and likely made some money along the way, Art will be like any number of people who can walk from Genentech without any short-term compensation challenges.

So what does attract and / or keep someone as talented and high achieving as an Art Levinson?

Three things come to mind:

  1. Is there a serious piece of work – or an organization in need of guidance and help – that they can call their own? Or is the job lacking in autonomy: things like major capital expenditures, research initiatives, major bets on new technology expressed to a second or third set of reviewers who will make the final decision.
  2. Does somebody like Art get to set the tone and culture for the organization – or is subscription to the broader culture of the new owner required. For somebody like Art, being able with his exec team to set the tempo and pace of the organization – the cultural heartbeat as it were – is what makes working at a place engaging.
  3. Last, is Art ultimately responsible and accountable – and have the authority that goes along with it? Or, at the proverbial end of the day, is it really the decisions of any number of people above Art that will cause Genentech to succeed or fail?

Folks like Art – as well as many if not most of the Genentech exec team – have lots of options. Everyone loves a winner, and loves a winner with a string of success even more. And the with a retention plan in place that only keeps folks until the summer , my bet is that a la Chiron a number of folks leave once the plan’s handcuffs are off. [Updated 4/4: See this CNBC link on what people participating in a Pharma Market Poll ]

If in Art’s case the answer is “yes” to all three of the questions above he might stay. Since I don’t think any of the three will be a clear “yes”, I think he leaves. [Update: See this piece from Gawker.com on Art, which is interesting as a next step for Levinson.]

An exercise I run with leadership teams called "Road Trip" maps things like destinations, deliverables, roles and responsibilities, and rules of the team engagement. It’s being able to set those areas – the what are we doing and how are we going to do it – that engages senior leaders and in part keeps them someplace. Without it, senior managers are mostly following the directions and map that someone else has put in place.

In Art’s case he can take time off, teach, go back to the lab, work the VC routine, or even do a new start-up – all things that bright, hard working people do when they’ve said good bye to one stage and want to start working at another.

It’s been an incredibly good run for Art Levinson. Stay tuned for his next act.