Executing Projects in a Flat World, Lessons from Shanghai Roche

By Daniel R. Matlis

In this, the second installment of our “Learning from Success” series, we hear from the winners of the Facility of the Year Award for Project Execution Regional Excellence, Shanghai Roche Pharmaceuticals, Ltd. (Shanghai Roche)
Shanghai Roche, located in Shanghai, China, is joint venture between Roche and Sunve Pharmaceuticals, and was started in 1994.

The Shanghai High Potent Production Project (SHiP) involved the construction and start-up of a new strict containment solid dosage manufacturing building. The facility produces Cellcept and Xeloda, highly active medicines for the prevention of organ rejection in transplant recipients and for the treatment of specific forms of cancer. The site manufactures tablets and capsules for both the Chinese, and export markets.

The drivers for SHiP, from conception to reality, ware speed, innovation and global teamwork executed on a modest budget.


Dr. Stephen Firmer, SHiP’s Startup Manager and Paul Rosselli, SHiP’s Project Manager, shared lessons from their award winning project and provided advice for others executing construction and startup projects in the flat world.


1. Remember the cultural difference.
  When the culture frowns upon giving bad news, it is hard to get a straight answer.
2. I know you are talking, but I can’t understand you.
  If you don’t speak the same language, it is very hard to communicate.
3. Foster a team environment from the start.
  A dedicated, cohesive team will get things done.
4. Don’t be the know it all.
  Let the locals show you the way; it may be more effective in their part of the world.
5. Don’t underestimate local legal and regulatory requirements
  Work with the system, not against it.
6. Communicate through both directly and indirectly channels.
  Make sure your message is clearly understood at all levels in the organization.
7. Discuss issues and concerns up front
  Success comes from alignment and understanding.

As a result of this approach, Dr. Stephen Firmer and Paul Rosselli delivered impressive results: 

  • The project took two years from approval of project funds to commercial production
  • The facility complies with the highest environmental and safety standards
  • Shanghai Roche is poised for the rapid production growth of Cellcept and Xeloda
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