[New Rules] Just What Does Genentech’s Sue Desmond-Hellmann’s Move to Become the Chancellor of UC San Francisco Mean for You?

The news that Genentech’s President of Product Development Sue Desmond-Hellmann has been named at the Chancellor for the University of California’s San Francisco campus should hearten any number of people.

For Genentech acquirer Roche it should send a quick shiver – if they noticed the move – down their talent spines.

Why is this important to you?

There are four reasons this move may be of interest:

Career Optionality: As Robert M. Wachter, MD, who is Professor and Associate Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco noted in his blog hearitly welcoming her to UCSF, senior administrators at places like UCSF have long academic credentials: Sue’s predecessor was a Nobel prize winner.  Her contributions have been primarily in industry.

My former Chiron colleague Helen Kim, now CEO at start-up TRF Pharma, Inc., made similar moves as she went from Affymax as Chief Business Officer to become the Chief Program Officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation, moved back into industry to quickly become the CEO of Kosan Bioscience , and later sold Kosan to Bristol Meyers Squib and moved on to her current CEO role.

Having industry experience valued in academic settings further opens up that route as an option – which should signal opportunities in the similar non-profit and foundation space as well. While such a move might be transitional, as it was in Helen’s case, it provides a place to do interesting work, make a contribution, and wait until something in biotech opens up.

Honor by Association: Others in the biotech world – both inside and outside Genentech – will gain in value to have one of “their own” picked to such a prestigious post. Not unlike the reason below, people frequently need one high profile move to begin to realize that the option is valid, and open to others.

More Gold in Them (Genentech) Hills : Sue’s move gives added credence to the theory that Art Levinson was also running a talent factory within Genentech – where Desmond-Hellmann had worked since 1995 and had been promoted by Art. For talent hunters, Genentech become an even more desirable first place to start a hunt.

More Glass (Ceiling) Breaking: For women, the appointment (along with a female to a similar post at UC Davis) is more of the glass ceiling breaking , providing validity to having qualified people who are female as Chancellors – or their industry equivalents of CEOs.

And Roche? Why should they worry?

Sue’s appointment, a little over a month after the takeover and a few days after she had left Genentech, suggest that this move was in the works for a while: university search processes, unless it’s for a men’s sports coach, are not legendarily nimble or quick. I would be surprised if other similar shoes don’t drop soon in terms of senior managers moving out of Genentech.

Unless Roche had put some unusual “no touch” provisions in any severance compensation provided to departing Genentech employees, I would would anticipate other Genentech folks working at UCSF for Sue. While I don’t personally know Sue, I know people who do: she is highly regarded as smart, hard working, a good line manager with great people skills. I can imagine that there’s a legion of folks who will follow her if work life at Genentech is less than peachy under Roche’s management.

What’s next?

At only age 51, Sue could still have a long career in front of her, either a number of years at UC or back into industry as a CEO, or both.

For Roche’s Genentech operation, this move is the first of likely many high profile moves of respected managers from South San Francisco to their next step.

Stay tuned.

New Rules is an occasional set of writings focused on changes in norms, culture, or ways of navigating work, organizations and careers. More about executive and team coaching services and related consulting work can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” in the sidebar or Hire Me in the header.