2005 Top employers survey

This Advertising Feature has been commissioned, edited, and produced by the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office

Another year, another top employer position for the company that has dominated the rankings in surveys sponsored by Science's™ Office of Publishing and Member Services. But events of the past 12 months have given survey takers an increasingly negative perception of the biopharmaceutical industry.

For the fourth straight year, respondents to the survey to identify top employers sponsored by Science's Office of Publishing and Member Services have rated Genentech as the dominant employer in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. But while they show their respect for the northern California company and others that received high ratings, this year's respondents have formed a darker view of the reputation of the biopharmaceutical industry as a whole. Recalls and withdrawals of drugs, and particularly those involving Vioxx, Bextra, and other COX-2 inhibitors, have created a strongly negative image of the industry” an image scarcely mitigated by such positive events as the development of new cancer drugs and approvals of other new medicinal products.

Standing alone

In terms of perceived quality, Genentech stands alone. Respondents rate the company more highly than others on all the main characteristics that they use to determine their choices of the best employers. Two other firms that do not fill the traditional pharmaceutical mold earn the silver and bronze medals. Amgen, a biotechnology company that, like Genentech, has become a generator and manufacturer of therapeutic drugs, occupies second place in the survey, up from fourth last year. And Johnson & Johnson, a health care company that has units devoted to diagnostics and medical devices as well as pharmaceuticals, holds onto the third place that it occupied last year.

Next in line come AstraZeneca and Novartis, each of which has moved up the table from last year's survey. These two Europe-based pharmaceutical firms take a traditional approach to drug discovery, development, and manufacturing but represent newness in that they were created by mergers within the past 10 years. Then, rounding out the top 10 employers, come Genzyme, Eli Lilly and Company, Boehringer Ingelheim, Biogen, and Roche Pharmaceuticals. Boehringer Ingelheim makes its debut in the top 10 this year, while Roche returns to that high standing after a year in which it placed 12th.

The rankings stem from the driving characteristics that respondents to the survey selected as the half dozen factors most critical for a company's success. Those characteristics struck two key themes: an innovative approach to research and a values driven approach to employees.

Just as last year, respondents selected as the most critical driving characteristic the quality of "being an innovative leader in the industry." Related characteristics in third and sixth place were "having a clear vision of where the company is headed" and "doing important quality research." Driving characteristics relevant to employees and their feelings occupy the other three places in the top half dozen. These were: "treats employees with respect," "has work culture values that are aligned to individuals's personal values," and "has loyal employees."

The element of respect

Top companies agree with the need to treat their employees respectfully. Richard Scheller, Genentech'™s head of research, points to the comment of company founder Robert Swanson that "our most valuable asset goes home every night in tennis shoes." "Genentech is its employees," Scheller adds. "The workers here really feel that is the case from the top right on down." Roger Perlmutter, executive vice president of Amgen, strikes a similar theme. "Having the best team doesn't guarantee that you'll succeed in the drug discovery and development business," he says. "But you can be confident that, if you don't have the best team, you'll fail. We feel that every employee treats every other with trust and respect."

Recognition plays an important role in maintaining scientists' loyalty to their companies. "One very key element is a level of independence afforded to individuals at the same time as a balanced team effort," says Lynne Cannon, vice president and global head of human resources at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, the Swiss company's research arm. "Our career ladders and recognition system ensure that scientists are recognized for their contributions."

The need to maintain innovative leadership resonates with the nature of the pharmaceutical business during a period when many firms' drug pipelines have started to decline. "The challenge we face in the pharmaceutical industry is not very different from that in the movie or music industries: Year after year we have to come out with hits," explains Harlan Weisman, company group chairman for pharmaceuticals at Johnson & Johnson. "Over the last five to 10 years, just like the movie industry, pharmaceutical companies have come out with product X2, product X3, and other me too drugs. Movies and songs that people like are coming from independents willing to experiment with new ideas and to take risks. We take a similar model that seems to work: We have small units empowered to make decisions from early discovery all the way through to early concept testing in humans. That allows our teams to experiment, create, innovate, follow hunches, and even fail and make mistakes. We want our scientists to learn from their failures."

The right resources

That approach relies on the presence of top-notch scientists equipped with the necessary resources. "We maintain quality research by continuing to make investments," declares Lynn Tetrault, human resources vice president for development at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. "We look at external collaborations to bring world class science and new technologies to AstraZeneca. Our scientists see us stretching to bring new things into the company."

Just as important, successful pharmas set out to stretch the inventiveness of their employees by staying away from excessive merger and acquisition activity that has strongly influenced the pharmaceutical industry in recent years. "Boehringer Ingelheim has mainly achieved its growth by innovation through developing its own products or in-licensed products," points out Hans-Joachim Geppert, the company's head of human resources. "Our unique private ownership structure allows for long-term value orientation and strategic persistence." Roche Pharmaceuticals has a different structure but operates in a similar way, according to director of staffing and diversity Brad Smith. "We've avoided the megamergers and other strategies that don't necessarily foster innovation and quality research," he says. "Our goal is to grow organically by investing internally in our in-house research and our relationships with Genentech and other alliance partners."

While they respect individual companies, respondents to the survey looked less favorably on the industry as a whole. "Overwhelmingly, the event that had the greatest impact was a negative," reports Brian Reger of Senn-Delaney Culture Diagnostics & Measurement, who oversaw the survey. Taken collectively, that event involved drug recalls and withdrawals resulting from the prominently publicized failures of drugs that had already reached the marketplace.

Negativity didn't rule the survey entirely. Respondents also noted that the approval and launch of new drugs, and particularly the development of new cancer drugs, gave the pharmaceutical industry a positive image.

Setting up the survey

Senn-Delaney conducted the web-based survey between 19 April and 16 May of this year. The firm contacted researchers throughout the world registered with either the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, publisher of Science) or conference organizer IBC Life Sciences who identified themselves as working in biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies. Individual scientists received e-mail invitations from Beth Rosner, publisher of Science and director of the AAAS's Office of Publishing and Member Services. The message directed them to a unique, one-person-one-vote URL to ensure that they would vote just a single time. Individuals who did not respond to the initial message received two reminders before the fieldwork ended.

When they logged onto the survey site, respondents first identified the type of organization that employed them. Then they were asked to choose the best, average, and worst employers familiar to them through having worked or consulted for them, collaborated with them, or other means. A total of 37.1 percent of respondents either work currently or used to work for the company they chose as best, while 10.1 percent have or had a consulting or collaborative relationship with that company.

The survey next asked takers to rate the companies they chose on the basis of 42 specific characteristics, such as providing job security, having a research-driven environment, and being socially responsible. Those answers provided the basis of the statistical approach that Senn-Delaney used to determine the top 20 employers. The firm first identified the characteristics that most actively distinguished the best, average, and worst employers selected by respondents. It then applied a statistical process that included frequency analysis, stepwise regression, and discriminant analysis to those characteristics and the companies that possessed them in the views of survey respondents. The result: a unique ranking score for each company mentioned by survey takers.

Statistics of the sample

The survey also asked respondents for details about their own working and personal demographics. Those questions dealt with such issues as their academic training, the field of their current employment, and the likelihood that they would seek to change jobs within the next 12 months. And a section that encouraged free-form responses asked individuals' opinions on the events of the past year that have had the greatest impact on the biopharmaceutical industry's reputation for good or ill” and on measures that the industry should take to improve its reputation.

A total of 1,566 individuals completed the survey. Of those, 81 percent work in North America, 14 percent in Europe (including the United Kingdom), and 4 percent in Asia. Slightly less than two-thirds of the sample (64 percent) is male, while about 70 percent are at least 35 years old. Half the survey has at least 10 years of work experience. The sample consists of highly educated scientists; two-thirds have a Ph.D., M.D., or M.D.-Ph.D. degree. Three quarters of respondents declare that they have not yet reached the peak of their careers, and a full 48 percent report that they "are extremely likely," "very likely," or "fairly likely" to look for a different job within the next year.

Respondents work in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, from agricultural sciences to zoology by way of such fields as biotechnology, immunology, medicinal chemistry, and pharmacology. A large majority ” 83 percent of the sample” works in private industry. Slightly less than half of the respondents work for biotechnology or biopharmaceutical firms, while pharmaceutical companies employ just under one-third. Companies with at least 5,000 employees account for 46 percent of the sample, and firms with fewer than 1,000 workers 38 percent.

Three tiers of achievement

As in previous years, the survey's rankings placed the top 10 employers in three readily identifiable tiers of achievement. But unlike the situation in times past, Genentech occupies the first tier this year in splendid isolation, with a ranking score of more than 90 out of 100. Five companies ” Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Genzyme” fill the second tier, which corresponds to scores between 80 and 89. Lilly, Boehringer Ingelheim, Biogen, and Roche make up the third tier, with scores between 70 and 79.

The rankings have a certain familiarity. By earning first place for the fourth year of the four in which Science has conducted the survey, Genentech gains the kind of aura enjoyed by such sporting dynasties as the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics, and the Green Bay Packers of the 1950s and 1960s. Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Lilly have placed among the top 10 in every year, while Novartis and Genzyme have made the list for the past three years and Biogen for the last two. Of the two new companies that crack this year's top 10, Roche occupied 12th place last year while Boehringer Ingelheim did not feature at all in 2004 because it did not receive enough mentions in that survey.

The six key driving characteristics chosen by this year's survey takers also mirrored last years in several respects. "Being an innovative leader in the industry" emerged as the most important driver, just as it had in 2004. "Treating employees with respect, " "having a clear vision of where the company is headed," "having work culture values aligned with individuals’ personal values," and "having loyal employees" also made the list this year and last. The only newcomer to the key drivers this year is "doing important quality research."

High grade on driving characteristics

The top employers won the respect of survey takers by scoring high grades on those half dozen driving characteristics. Genentech bested or equaled every other member of the top 10 on each of the six categories. Amgen showed significant advantage over the others on most driving characteristics. And Johnson & Johnson racked up high scores on "treating its employees with respect" and "doing important quality research."

How do top companies maintain their driving characteristics? "We haven't strayed from the mission of translating science into innovative new therapies to improve and save lives," says Genentech's Scheller. "Art Levinson, our CEO, and the executive committee like to think in the long term" where the company will be in seven to 10 years" and to set very clear goals. Then we aim to explain those goals in a clear and logical way that makes sense to our scientists."

Equally important, the company offers its scientists serious challenges. "It really started 30 years ago with our emphasis on high quality, innovative science," Scheller says. "We have retained that as a mantra and it hasn't wavered as we've grown. Possibly, other companies have lost their focus on science and have become more focused on other issues rather than the real mission of developing innovative therapies." How do scientists contribute to the company? "We want to relate new science to new therapies," he continues. "Many of us in research have moved from academia as we see an opportunity to apply our biological insights to helping patients."

Genentech does not expect its employees to be single-minded, however. "We give our scientists a lot of freedom," Scheller says. "They have discretionary time for independent research. We encourage publishing. We have a science track that rewards our scientists at the same level as administrative people such as directors and vice presidents. We also have a very strong postdoctoral program so that our scientists mentor the scientists of the future. That adds a dimension to the lives of our scientists."

Mission and values

Perlmutter at Amgen points to the value of the company's basic mission. "We have a very clear aspiration to be the best biopharma company. We have a set of values; we have a mission to save people's lives," he says. "We also have a leadership group that works very effectively. So we are able to translate aspiration, mission, and value into concrete plans and tactics." The company's scientists buy into that philosophy. "One thing that comes through loud and clear in the employee surveys we take every two years is appreciation for our values” values that are viewed as exceedingly important," Perlmutter continues. "Our focus on grievous illness and our mission to serve patients are very important to our employees. When I speak to our scientists about what led them to come here, they say the important thing is the chance to make a difference."

Weisman sees the use of various ways to attack medical problems as critical to Johnson & Johnson's success. "Our ‘many bets' approach allows us to be at the cutting edge," he explains. "We recognize that there are a lot of great ideas generated outside the company. So we ensure that our employees and managers are aware of what ideas are on the outside and are ready to bring them in. Another factor that distinguishes us from other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies is that we are not just a pharma company. We're part of a comprehensive health care company that is strong across the board. We’re working on personalized medical care, and have an advantage there because we can combine our expertise in diagnostics and devices with our expertise in discovering and developing drugs."

The company's credo, which outlines Johnson & Johnson's responsibilities to its customers, employees, communities, and shareholders, has its own impact. "It frames who we are," Weisman says. "People on the outside know that. It's also important to people on the inside. The way that this decentralized company works is that we all share the same values. So we can trust people to do the right thing even if it means going out on a limb." Weisman also makes a point about employee loyalty: "Our attrition rate for people regrettably leaving' is about 1 percent to 3 percent," he says. "And people who leave for great opportunities often come back to us."

Investment and recognition

AstraZeneca maintains its key driving characteristics through investment and recognition. "Because we are very much an R&D- and science-led organization, we are very future orientated and pay a lot of attention to the health of the pipeline for the future," says human resources vice president for discovery Jenni Hardy. "Employees see that we invest in them for the future; that engenders individuals' willingness to go the extra mile."

Beyond that, says her colleague Tetrault, "We have tried to recognize and reward scientists. We have a "science ladder" to reward individual scientists who are not interested in the management track. We also have achievement rewards to recognize scientific and technological excellence throughout the R&D organization."

Novartis regards the quality of its scientists as the key to its high ranking. "I believe that we have a high degree of significant talent here," Cannon says. "It starts at the top. Mark Fishman [head of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research] is a physician-scientist and [company chairman] Dan Vasella is a physician. Talent breeds talent."

Recognition and opportunity also help to attract scientists. "One very key element is a level of independence afforded individuals, at the same time as a balance of team effort," Cannon adds. "Our career ladder and recognition systems ensure that scientists are recognized for their contributions. So they are highly engaged and highly motivated; we don't see them stopping their thinking when they walk out the door. And in our surveys, employees valued the research institute highly because it has nonbureaucratic governance."

History of benevolence

Boehringer Ingelheim has a long history of benevolence toward its employees. "In the early decades of the 20th century, employees received company-paid recreation holidays," Geppert points out. "Fringe benefits always stayed at a high level." Employees have consistently shown their appreciation. "They have a strong sense of belonging to Boehringer Ingelheim," Geppert continues. "Sometimes families work at the company for generations."

In recent years the company has undergone significant growth. "The approximately 1,300 new jobs we created last year included highly qualified job opportunities at our biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and chemical sites, as well as in our field force," Geppert says. "We provide challenging and rewarding jobs for those who are motivated and qualified, and fit well with the company and our corporate culture."

Roche takes an equally inclusive attitude to its employees. "One of our core values has been that all people in the company be treated well and treated with respect," Smith says. "Beyond words, it translates into actions. People feel supported. They have the resources they need to be able to grow and develop successfully. At the core of that is open, two-way communication. We routinely survey our employees to understand how they feel about the management of the company, our vision, our strategy, and whether or not they have what they need to be successful."

Those surveys have obvious results. "What Roche does particularly well is aligning people to strategy," Smith says. "Wherever you are in the company, you have a clear idea of what you need to do to be successful and how it contributes to the company's success."

Pride in the work force

Companies in the 11th to 20th tranche had their own high grades on the driving characteristics. Monsanto at number 13, for example, scored consistently well on all six characteristics. "We have a vision that the work we do is vital for the health and well-being of others and offers a better quality of life for a global population," explains executive vice president and chief technology officer Robert Fraley. "We maintain those characteristics through our people's commitment to this vision."

As with other top companies, Monsanto takes pride in its scientific work force. "I think our reputation has a lot to do with the quality of people we hire here, which includes a diverse group of dedicated, world-class scientists," Fraley continues. "Monsanto conducts leading edge, innovative scientific research to improve agriculture, and we offer a great work culture in which to conduct that science. In my experience, leading scientists are usually attracted to that kind of environment. We also have several programs that support our efforts to recruit and retain the best, including market-competitive compensation, opportunities for personal and professional growth, and a team-oriented culture that encourages creativity, decision making, and entrepreneurial spirit." Those qualities helped the company to earn a place this year in Fortune magazine's list of "100 Best Places to Work"

Abbott meanwhile, in 15th place, scored particularly well on the characteristics "having a clear vision of where it is headed." and "having loyal employees." "We had a family-friendly workplace ahead of the times," recalls HR group vice president of the global pharmaceutical products group, Jill Mueller. "Our child care center became a wonderful asset for us when the idea of dual working partners became the norm."

Teamwork also plays a large role in the company. "Teamwork is not a 'trite word' at Abbott," Mueller says. "I'ts how we do business. Discovery scientists are on teams that cover cross-functional areas and divisions. In addition to working in their discovery labs, scientists also interact with their therapeutic area commercial and marketing counterparts, talking about the needs of the marketplace even before they start research projects. And we really try to get the accountability and decision making into the levels where they should be."

Impact of the negatives

For all the positive feelings that the survey's results instill in them, executives at top companies face the task of overcoming the negative views of the biopharmaceutical industry expressed by both the general public and respondents to the survey. Those negatives came through strongly in both the number and the nature of comments that respondents made. "Vioxx history equals bad publicity," stated one. "It seriously hurt industry," said another. Yet others referred to the recalls of Vioxx and other drugs as "a fiasco," "a scandal," and "an affair for ill." In general, respondents expressed a concern that the perceived ills of the industry will have an effect on public perceptions of their own scientific reputations.

So far, however, top employers have not felt any impact of the problems on their own recruitment of scientists. "All of us have felt the effects of the recent unfortunate events in the pharmaceutical industry," admits Perlmutter, while pointing out that, as a biotechnology company, Amgen has suffered little direct effect. "We feel it," adds Novartis’s Cannon. "But it hasn't affected our recruiting." Other top companies say that they have seen no impact of the problems on their recruitment of first-class scientists.

Boehringer Ingelheim's Geppert argues that such problems are almost inevitable, but that the best companies can reduce the risk. "Product recalls in the light of new information can never be excluded for any company, and the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry has sometimes suffered even though so much high-class work is being done," he says. "Applicants interested in the pharmaceutical industry are aware of the risk. Therefore it is important to them how reliably a company is focusing its efforts on ethical responsibility to ensure product quality and patient safety." That doesn't imply a continuation of the same old approaches. "We have to adapt to the changing world," says AstraZeneca's Hardy. "We also have belief in our ability to offer different medicines; that continues to attract employees."

Positive prescriptions

Respondents to the survey came up with their own prescriptions for ways in which the industry can improve its bespoiled image. They suggest two particular, related actions for companies involved in recalls and other problems: Be open and honest with information, and practice integrity and high ethics. "Show openness about internal processes," one individual states. "Have honesty and forthrightness," adds another. "Disclose more information," says a third. One pithy comment outlines specific tasks for the industry: "Educate, educate, educate."

Genentech's Scheller summarizes the mixture of distress and hope that the industry faces in the wake of the past year's disturbing news items. "It's a bit painful for medicine that this cloud is over the industry now, as it's the most exciting time the industry has ever experienced," he says. "I'm confident that in the next decade there will be breakthrough therapies the likes of which you have never seen before."

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