by Meagan Johnson
Genentech is the penultimate Generation X company. It was founded by DNA expert Dr. Herb Boyer and venture capitalist Bob Swanson one night in a bar in 1976. The two men sketched out their dream of a futuristic biotech company on the back of an envelope. Genentech now boasts 11,000 employees and leads the search for cures for incurable diseases.
Sixty percent of Genentech’s employees are Generation X, which is double the national average. If you add in the Generation Yers working there, as of this writing, 75 percent of Genentech employees are under the age of 44.
Genetech likes to work hard and play hard. They have monthly parties called Ho-Hos (nobody knows where the name “Ho-Hos” came from.) When celebrating the 100th batch of a new drug they have cake and champagne on the patio. CEO Arthur Levinson arrived for a lab photo dressed up in a hunter’s costume. The point was that a scientist had to have a hunter’s instincts when hunting for the cause and cure for cancer.
The culture at Genentech is called “casual intensity.” You can walk into a lab filled with scientists performing potentially life-saving experiments and hear rock-and-roll blasting over the sound system. According to Chief Executive Officer Art Levinson, what captures the attention of their Gen Xers goes beyond the parties, music, and free espresso (offered in the cafeteria): It’s Genentech’s mission: “Our mission is to be the leading biotechnology company, using human genetic information to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialize medicines to treat people with serious or life-threatening medical conditions. The secret of Genentech’s commercial success is its unique corporate culture.”
Levinson protects Genentech’s mission, focus, and culture from “evil ghosts” like bureaucracy, idle talks, bloated discourses, and mind-numbing meetings. To keep the focus on the mission, Genentech hangs large posters of the stories of its patients on the walls. When a patient dies, they take the picture off the wall with a small ceremony. Everyone at Genetech feels it; it is always a sad day.