The Odd Couple

April 3rd, 2009 | Sources: Wall Street Journal


rocheIt’s easy to understand Roche’s dogged persistence in hunting down and finally, all-but-clinching a deal to acquire the 44% of G-Tech it didn’t already own.

Last year, 65% of Roche’s revenue derived from Herceptin, Avastin and other drugs developed by G-Tech.

But it’s hard to fathom how the unholy alliance is going to work. Since Roche first bought into G-Tech in 1992, the buttoned-down Swiss company has maintained an arm’s length relationship with its quirky, open-collared California sidekick.

G-TechHeck, for years after the partial acquisition, Roche’s managers had to get special permission just to visit the G-Tech campus.

Roche’s chairman seems to understand the challenge. “We need to do everything in our power to make sure this innovative culture in Genentech gets maintained,” Franz Humer told the Wall Street Journal.

He may not get a chance. Many top G-Tech scientists will pocket millions when the deal closes, and they may decide it’s time to start that winery rather than deal with mishegas from the Swiss.

There’s speculation for example that G-Tech’s revered CEO Art Levinson and top cancer exec Susan Desmond-Hellmann might split.

In illustrating Roche’s challenge, Ronald Martell, a former Roche employee who now runs Poniard Pharmaceuticals recalled for the Journal his interregnum at G-Tech.

G-TechexecUpon showing up at the California HQ for his first day, he witnessed a man clad in a grass skirt and a coconut bra shouting, “Surf’s up!”

It turned out to be Bob Swanson, the G-Tech co-founder who was rounding up the troops for a weekly beer festival known as Ho-Ho.

Having just left Roche, Martell was wearing a necktie.

“I didn’t want to be embarrassed,” he told the Journal.

Martell stashed the tie in his pocket.


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