Mentoring as a Way of Being: Development of Biotech Talent at Roche

How do you define mentoring? What is the impact mentors at Roche have played on your career?
I have a very personal, intimate and powerful connection with mentoring. I learnt early on the powerful contribution a mentor provides to a mentee, I learnt this from my father. He was my first mentor as he naturally lived the principles of mentoring, shared them with others and taught me to be a good mentor. I learnt from him that mentors are generous human beings, who share their knowledge, skills and insights with love and an open heart in service of helping others fulfil their potential. That has shaped my view of what great mentors do and who they are. As a mentor and leader committed to healthcare transformation, I found myself living my learning and I didn’t appreciate that I learnt this from my father, until later in my career as an executive.

My definition of mentoring is the act of sharing my knowledge, insights, and experience, so as to support people and the organization to grow and realize its Purpose and live its Values. 

I also learned early, some essentials in the relationship between mentor and mentee: openness, trusting, generous, and supportive. This exchange must be characterized by mutual respect, integrity, and a shared commitment to learning and sharing wisdom.

At Roche I have been lucky to have several great mentors who have helped me build the skills-sets and mindset required for leadership and inspired me to be the best version of myself. I often think back to my time at Roche Canada and what I learnt there. These early mentors and relationships helped me understand the business, and were early influences who helped build my confidence, especially as a female leader. Thanks to their encouragement and support, I made the decision to move into my first global leadership role. I still remember a personal conversation where I was encouraged by my then sales manager and business head to take opportunities when they knock. Taking the leap of faith to move internationally was the first of many courageous decisions I will continue to take. Being mentored and supported early on was invaluable to my career growth.

Throughout my global roles I have had the opportunity to work with leaders who were exemplary role models. As I advance, and especially in my last global role as a global pipeline strategy leader, I learnt the importance of making hard decisions and trade-offs. I learnt to measure the importance of approaching those decisions with objectivity, fairness, positivity, respect for all involved, and unwavering commitment to your values and mission.

Some of my most memorable experiences happened during critical moments…I can recall an instance where a senior leader, mentor, and my boss at the time, gave me the nudge and courage I needed to take on smart business risks, pilot and prototype a series of important strategic changes. Given my commitment to business transformation, he taught me that in order to deliver on this intention, I will need to be bolder, and I needed to prepare for the inevitably of failures and setbacks along the way. I remember this conversation with him like it was yesterday, and as it shaped my leadership, teaching me how to become comfortable with that risk and reward of every decision. I still refer to this as my “growth edge”, and I will never forget his support when I did stumble. He helped me unpack learnings and quickly build back confidence. This skill and way of being, is extremely valuable and in many ways has been transformational for me. I believe we can’t encourage bold decision-making more than by making it safe for our people to be on the growth edge – decide, if you fail, learn from it, and make a new decision to forward your intention.

Paying it forward…
With the positive experiences and mentorship at Roche, I felt that it was necessary to “pay it forward”. I have started to mentor others, both in formal programs and informally. Given the power and importance of mentoring, I trained as a co-active coach and became certified in the Leadership Circle Profile. Being a mentor has become a passion of mine, and I believe mentoring others, sharing our knowledge, is a critical skill of future leaders.

How mentoring is used to develop biotech talent at Roche?
The historical role of mentor has changed. It is no longer the province of a senior, more experienced person ‘willing’ to share their knowledge with a junior, less experienced person or “fortunate” high potential talent. Knowledge is now much more readily available on the internet than it was in the earlier days of the inception of mentoring practices.

Formal mentorship programs do exist at Roche and are used to help accelerate talent. But there are a lot of informal mentoring relationships. I find that these informal mentoring moments are very positive contributors to increase employee engagement. We know that employees who have mentors at work are more satisfied with their jobs, more committed to their careers, and in turn more willing to mentor others.

I believe mentoring at Roche is an important contributor to human wellbeing at work as well as talent development. I further believe it may well be the key to the realization of our vision delivering at least double the innovation at a significantly lower cost to society. We all know a piece of the puzzle that will make this intention real. Being a mentor and mentee may be the vehicle to put the pieces together.

What opportunitities are available for mentorship at Roche?
Mentoring is part of many of our leadership and talent development programs where emerging leaders have the opportunity to get hands-on experience and access to senior mentors.

To provide a few examples, our Perspectives Program uniquely combines global reach, senior leadership exposure, and flexibility to provide participants with an outstanding foundation for leadership in Commercial, HR, Finance and Business Insights.

We also have some exciting stand-alone mentorship programs. For example, the GPS Women’s Professional Group (GPS WPG) has pioneered a mentorship program for women which I participated in as a mentor.

The power of Roche culture is the willingness to support one another, through formal and informal programs both inside and outside of Roche. We at Roche believe that developing and nurturing talent is a collective responsibly, and it does not matter if you are a direct report, formal mentee, Roche employee or a future employee. Investing in the development of people and leaders for the future is the most important. In the end we all have the same aim, to contribute to healthcare transformation and improving outcomes for patients. It makes me incredibly proud when people say they had their most impactful leadership development years while working at Roche. This is a contribution we make to society – growing leaders who have the skills and mindset to transform healthcare, wherever they go.

What advice would you give someone looking for mentors to help their career grow?
My advice is not specific to Roche, it is more broadly applied to the industry. Today’s organizations are mostly less hierarchical. There is a growing commitment to ‘transformation’, and distributed leadership combined with autonomous decision-making in most organizations. It means more people, in more parts of the organization, have access to knowledge and experience which they need to find a way to share where it will make the biggest impact. Knowledge is no longer the sole province of ‘senior’ leaders

Knowledge sharing is built into the fabric of most organizations, and this is what we are trying to achieve as part of the business transformation here at Roche. Access to a host of platforms that give people access to data, projects, and performance outcomes.

Mentoring is not an event, or a program, or a set of steps encoded in an HR process. It is a “way of being”, an expression of a commitment to learn, share our learning to all who will find it useful, and to be a contributor.

If you are looking to join Roche, my advice is: “be a contributor, contribute to knowledge sharing, share what you know that others don’t know, be a teacher, and be a learner”. You will attract mentors and become a mentee in the process…all without a central formal process. In Roche especially, a highly networked organization, with a high degree of relatedness, mentoring is more part of the fabric of the organization than most people realize.

With brief reflection, most of us can think of people who have made huge contributions to our lives and careers. Often these people did not have the title ‘mentor’ and people who would not consider themselves to be mentors. It can be a parent, a sibling, a relative, a teacher, a boss, a peer, a direct report, or a friend. Equally, with brief reflection we can see instances when we have made contributions to others.

Take a brief moment to think of people who have contributed to your career, and how you think and behave day-to-day. Be as specific as you can say who they were, how did they contribute, what difference did that contribution make. You will discover you have had lots of mentors and lots of great mentoring.In this way, my advice and encouragement to is to be teachers (mentor) and curious learners (mentees)

For mentees:
Firstly, mentoring is not a one-to-one relationship. It is a one from many sets of relationships. I encourage mentees to build your own personal and diverse circle of multiple mentors that you can go to at different points in your career for advice. This informal network of mentors is an invaluable resource.

Secondly, an essential part of nurturing a mentoring culture is to acknowledge and appreciate those who have made a contribution to you. Be specific, what did they say or do, when, and how did it change the way you think, feel, act. Send an unexpected note to a mentor before the year ends, it means a lot to hear from mentees about the progress you’ve made.

For mentors:
Firstly, make a habit, a practice, a routine, of asking people the value you provided as a mentor, you will learn it was more than you thought. This will be an incentive to keep sharing our insights and knowledge.

Secondly, just because you are a mentor it does not disqualify you from having one. In your role, given the outcome you are accountable for, what do you need to know, what skills do you need to sharpen, be specific, and ask for peer-to-peer mentoring. Recently, I asked a Finance Leader if he would be a mentor. I felt I needed to better understand operational finance and the trade-offs to be successful in my job. I also really valued his leadership style so I approached him and he replied with “yes, and I want to learn from you too!”. We have recently kicked-off a new peer-to-peer mentoring and coaching relationship. So mentoring is for all phases of your career. What do you want to learn, who can provide you with the insights. Then go and ask.

In Conclusion…
My personal philosophy and the way I have experienced mentorship at Roche is best described by a quote from Michele Obama: “When you walk through that open door of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you. You hold it open.”

As a leader committed to innovation and transforming healthcare, I know I cannot do it alone, and will need to enlist the help of others along the way. My final encouragement is take full advantage of your ‘network of relationships’ and be willing to be vulnerable. I learnt that when we are willing to be vulnerable and expose, first to ourselves, where we need to learn and improve. Then we need to expand our willingness to ask for help, expand our openness to being contributed too.

About the author

Eva McLellan

Eva McLellan

Roche, Head of Business Strategy, Transformation & Innovation, Belgium

Eva McLellan is the Head of Business Strategy, Transformation & Innovation and a member of the Roche Belgium and Luxembourg leadership team. In her current role, Eva is responsible for the formulation and delivery of business strategy and transformation vision, with the ultimate goal of inspiring and enabling our people to deliver better outcomes for more patients faster. With high-impact product launches for the Roche product portfolio, Roche Belgium serves >13 000 patients.

Her experience in biotechnology spans across local, regional, and global roles living and working in three different countries, including roles in field sales, medical, access, strategic transformation, and leadership resulting in deep knowledge of the business and the ability to integrate diverse perspectives.

Prior to Belgium, she was serving as a global business leader in the pipeline product strategy organization leading teams commercializing innovative science in Oncology, Hematology and Rare Diseases. 

Eva is passionate about leading with purpose and values transparency, commitment to innovation, advanced of business results, and development of people. Eva earned a Master of Biotechnology and an Honors Bachelor of Science, with a focus on Life Sciences, Biotechnology and Business both from University of Toronto.

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter