[Land O’Spin] The Genentech Talent Factory

There are a number of the ways to spot effective leadership over a period of time. One to watch is the degree to which people from the leader’s organization succeed outside the firm. While this is a knife that cuts two ways, as covered below, it’s a quick test to see if that leader has the ability to identify, develop and promote people.

With the news that the new Facebook Chief Financial Officer is David Ebersman, Genentech’s former CFO, you can put another feather in the cap of former Genentech CEO Art Levinson and his ability to hire people that later turn up in prominent places. Ebersman had a 15 year career at Genentech, working in areas outside of Finance and Accounting such as business development and product operations prior to his appointment as Genentech’s CFO in 2006.  Ebersman is part of an exodus of executive suite talent following Roche’s full acquisition of the South San Francisco company earlier this year. [Disclosure: Genentech, prior its acquisition by Roche, was a client.]

Not unlike what you see from Goldman Sachs & Co. in the financial world, there are scads of former Genentech employees scattered across biotechnology companies (and in Ebersman’s case, non-biotech companies) performing successfully in serious jobs doing real work. Both firms, Genentech and Goldman, have had a knack for hiring well, developing well, and fostering opportunities both inside and outside the organization. Both pedigrees are highly valued in the employment realm.

As Roche moves through it’s acquisition of Genenetch it has sprung a caste of senior execs (as well as not so senior execs) who are starting to land in significant roles: Sue Desmond-Hellman, for example, was tapped to the Chancellor of the University of California – San Francisco last month. Roche will have no need to fill those senior roles and time will tell in terms of who else below the exec team level ends up leaving the company.

The blade on the knife that cuts the other way? Senior execs who run through good people quickly – people who end up doing well in other places after being disparaged and under promoted at their old shop. Those are the types of execs who never seem to have someone who is capable of succeeding them, and whose exec suite is filled more with "me toos" rather than people with their own mind and the ability to strengthen the organization in which they work.

In Art’s case he continues to demonstrate the former: the ability to spot talent like Ebersman, promote and develop it, and see the results of his work take off as other employers prize the talent that’s been developed.

Land O’Spin is an occasional set of writings focused on best practices in coaching and assessment: how do take what you observe, know what it means, and draw conclusions about what outcomes will occur in the future.