Learning from Success – Building with Trust at Genentech

By Daniel R. Matlis

Early in my career, a mentor gave me these words of advice: “To succeed, you must learn from everything you do.”

Working to take that advice a step further, I began to learn from other people’s mistakes and more importantly from their success.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet three winners of the third annual Facility of the Year Awards (FOYA) competition, sponsored by ISPE, INTERPHEX, and Pharmaceutical Processing magazine. Interviewing the leaders of these wining teams afforded me an opportunity to learn from their success, and share it with you in this three part series entitled “Learning from Success.”

Each article in the series will feature some of lessons learned from each of the winning projects. 

They are:
• Genentech located in Oceanside, California, USA, FOYA winner for Project Execution
• Shanghai Roche Pharmaceuticals, Ltd., Shanghai, China, FOYA winner for Project Execution Regional Excellence
• Vetter Pharma-Fertigung GmbH & Co. KG, Ravensburg, Germany, FOYA winner for Process Innovation

Lessons in Project Execution from Genentech
Genentech’s Oceanside Product Operations (NIMO) project, located in Oceanside, California, was built for the production of Avastin® (bevacizumab), a therapeutic antibody for the treatment of various forms of cancer.  This six-building, 500,000-square-foot, master-planned campus includes manufacturing, laboratory, office space, a warehouse, central utilities, and a “spine” inter-connecting space.  The facility designed to have a production capacity of 90,000 liters.

Genentech’s team consisted of the owner, engineering company, architect, and general contractor. The team formed and developed an innovative project delivery approach that is best described as “Design-Build Hybrid.”  This means that  civil, architectural, and structural work were executed using the traditional design-bid-build  approach , while mechanical, electrical, process, and instrumentation and controls (I&C) used a design-build strategy under the management of the general contractor.

In order to achieve consistency in project standards and quality, the owner, architect and general contractor all unanimously selected an engineering company to oversee all engineering performed by the design-build subcontractors in the mechanical, electrical, process, and I&C engineering disciplines.


 Johannes R. Roebers Ph. D. is the brains behind the “Design-Build Hybrid” methodology. At the time of our interview, Dr. Roebers was Sr. Director, Engineering, Facilities, and Validation at Genetech.

Today, he is Senior Vice President, Head of Biologic Strategy, Planning and Operations for Elan Corporation, plc. in Dublin, Ireland


During out interview Dr. Roebers shared these lessons from his award winning project:
1. Management must be willing to give you the freedom to do things differently.
  This lets you experiment with new approaches
2. The owner must be mature and know what they want.
  If you don’t know what you want, it will be expensive
3. Approach the project as a journey, and run it in a collaborative style.
  Use your plan as a guide, but be flexible to address the unexpected
4. Hand select sub-contractors based on their ability to get the job done, not lowest bid.
  Cheapest is not best
5. Develop a vision and rules for working together
  The team must get through the good and bad times, so build trust
6. Spend the time on a thorough vendor selection process
  You can only trust the trustworthy
7. Work with local people whenever possible
  It’s hard to run the other away, if your kids go to the same school
8. Develop preliminary specifications and work with the subcontractor to finalize them
  Builds of ownership and commitment
9. Be you contractor’s best customer
  They will be committed to getting things done for you
10. Once you developed a wining team, keep working together
  The team gets more efficient and effective

As a result of utilizing the “Design-Build Hybrid” approach and people-oriented execution focus, Johannes R. Roebers’ team delivered the base project on time and under budget.

Dr. Roebers concluded: “The results speak for them themselves:

  • Zero Observation during the FDA pre-approval inspection earlier this year
  • Very low injury rates in construction
  • Tremendous pride and ownership by everybody who was involved. 
  • I still have craftsman come to me saying: “this was the best project of my life!” 
  • Current smooth, successful operations producing Avastin”
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