My International Career at Roche

Patients and people are at the center
I started my career at Roche more than 35 years ago, as a student of a bachelor’s program in business administration at Cooperative State University Baden-Wuerttemberg, the first higher education institution in Germany to combine on-the-job-training and academic studies. I would spend three months learning new theory at school, and then three months working. My placement was with Roche Germany and part of my extended program was a rotation to the UK – my first international experience, and this should have long term implications.

This early experience was formative for me. I felt immense pride and energy to be working for the benefit of patients, I was curious and positive about the rapid advances being made in science and medicine, and, above all, I realised I loved working with people. Based on this understanding, I decided to pursue a career in medical sales, as it would help me learn more, first-hand, about patients and customer needs. I truly enjoyed working with stakeholders in the healthcare system and felt convinced that the work we were doing at Roche made a difference to patients’ lives.

A career journey spanning seven countries and four continents
After two years in sales, I had the opportunity to move into Product Management, focusing on Infectious Diseases. This was in the early 1990s, when HIV/AIDS was a health crisis all across the world. Availability and access to new and innovative medicines was a question of life and death.

My four years in this position were incredibly rewarding. We launched three new products that made a significant difference to the lives of patients. I learned quickly to listen to understand what is truly needed by patients, nurses, and physicians, and how collaboration can accelerate finding solutions. Given this experience and the focus on patient outcomes, it was crystal clear for me that I was in the right place to further my career.

Then, the opportunity of an assignment in Israel came up. Curious and adventurous, I decided to move. I started off by working for the local Roche distributor. Shortly, after the business case was ready, we moved to establish one of the first affiliates of a multinational pharmaceutical company in the country. I received incredible support from the global organization and I enjoyed the learnings and the experience of building the company. Many of my coworkers are still around. Finding the best people and having a shared vision proved to be a key success factor. After four years as the General Manager, I looked for a new challenge and was selected for the position of GM in South Africa in 2000.

South Africa proved to be a very different challenge – an organization well established over decades, in a country going through massive political and social change. Access to healthcare and medicine was a key challenge for the majority of the population in South Africa, while others had access to first’class healthcare. I fondly remember my time in South Africa, a nation where I truly learned to recognize and believe in the power of diversity.

And I can’t speak about South Africa without mentioning a project close to my heart: the Phelophepa trains, a mobile healthcare clinic providing primary healthcare to the rural population. Phelophepa (pronounced pay-lo-pe-pa) means “good, clean health” and, with the Roche support provided, the trains have touched the lives of approximately 14 million people. The support of the project from the entire Roche C-suite management team was one of the “aha” moments in my professional journey, which reconfirmed and strengthened my trust and commitment to the organization.

For the following four years, I served as GM of Roche in Greece, also contributing as the leader of a pan-European Roche team to establish a new customer engagement approach. Focusing on disease areas and building the supporting capabilities allowed us to bring many innovative treatment options to patients across Europe.

This experience provoked a deep interest in improving cancer care and, when an opportunity to lead the Global Avastin Franchise from Basel came up, I jumped. The broad responsibility of this role, from late-stage development to global commercialization, expanded my horizon, helping me to better understand the entire value chain. While I was sceptical about my “value add” in the beginning, today I can only recommend a career path covering a broad experience, including country and global roles.

The next opportunity led me to head the Latin American organization – a fascinating part of the world characterized by political and economic volatility. Over the eight years, I appreciated the opportunity to work across very different healthcare systems – public and private – to improve access to innovative treatments. Working in countries that ranged from low-income to upper-middle-income in a VUCA environment is a tremendous learning experience in terms of managing uncertainties with limited resources.

In 2018, Roche Pharma started a transformation, strengthening our focus on meaningful patient outcomes and using the principle of agile working to help us to realise it. The transformation included a new approach to the commercial structure. Today, I am Head of the I7 regions in Pharma International (ex-US Commercial Organisation), which is a network of over 100 small and medium-sized countries.

International experience a catalyst for growth
I believe international experience gives a broader perspective and can be a catalyst for career development – as an immediate next step or in the future. Working in different systems and cultures widens our horizon and opens the mind to fresh ideas, strengthening our ability to collaborate with people from all backgrounds.

A recent PWC survey stated “Global mobility will grow in importance, particularly for large firms with more than 100,000 employees1. And I fully agree. Today’s organizations are more global than ever, technology allows us to connect easily, and teams form with experts from different parts of the world working towards a common goal. Proven experience of having worked and lived in another culture can be an important stepping stone if you want to be considered for a senior role in a large, global organization.

However, I do recognize that this requires a high degree of commitment and flexibility from the family. In my case, it was not always easy, but, with the right mindset, this can be a rewarding experience for all.

Pursue your purpose and avoid the comfort zone
Roche is very purpose driven, to improve patient’s lives and to contribute to healthcare systems. We have been evolving our ways of working for several years, with a vision of agility, courage, fellowship and trust. We wish to foster a culture that inspires all employees on every level. Our culture is about values that permeate everything we do, towards our goal to deliver better outcomes to more patients faster.

Today, we work in agile and collaborative ways, allowing everybody to bring their whole self to work every day. Our agile way of working is defined by an external focus on patient and customers and enables us to “swarm” to projects of interest. Colleagues from the global Roche Pharma International network co-create solutions applicable in various communities and countries, and resources move fluidly across the organization to focus on priorities and tackle and overcome challenges.

From a career perspective, this agile way of working enables colleagues to build strong global networks across the entire organisation, gain new experiences, learn, grow, and also develop a better understanding of how the next career step could look. We encourage everybody to take responsibility for their career and to no longer think about it as “moving up the hierarchical ladder”, but as an opportunity to follow one’s passion, grow personally, and contribute to the organisation and society at large.

At Roche, we have a clear purpose – to serve patients with innovative medicines, contribute to the strengthening of healthcare systems, and partner with stakeholders to develop sustainable solutions. Marrying this purpose with a personal passion is, in my view, the best strategy for a fulfilling career.

That said, the pandemic and new virtual ways of working have impacted how we work. We experienced that physical presence and co-location is not always needed. In this new world, I would invite all of us to reimagine what career progression looks like. Each professional journey is personalized, and everyone is the captain of their journey. The right expertise and experience, combined with a growth mindset and behaviours that deliver true impact, mark the sweet spot where personal fulfillment meets the purpose of the company and creates value for patients and society.

Leadership = Vision, Architect, Catalyst and Coach
I consider myself very lucky to have spent all my professional life with Roche. And I can hardly believe that I’ve been with the company for over 35 years.

Being given the opportunity to pursue my personal purpose, being pushed outside my comfort zone and being able to grow and contribute led me to stay so many years.

Roche is a collaborative company and we nourish this culture with a deep, purposeful well to innovate and deliver new diagnostics and medicines to patients year after year. Roche’s pipeline is industry leading and this single-minded focus on innovative solutions for patients drives everybody in the organisation.

I’ve had incredible opportunities to grow, learn and develop as a person and as a leader. My career with Roche enabled me to work with amazing people – colleagues and stakeholders alike – in seven countries on four continents. And what I have learned is also one of the “secrets” of our culture: good leadership is to empower, constructively challenge and build others up so they can spread their wings and reach their potential.

In my current position, where I work with over 100 countries across the globe, I feel great pride. There are so many opportunities around the world to have an impact during the pandemic, driven by a collective calling and motivation to improve the lives and wellbeing of others. COVID-19 has been a wakeup call for us all – bringing into focus the importance of healthcare and the fragility and limitations of healthcare system at the same time.
It is on our generation to seize this opportunity – to see the pandemic as a catalyst for change – and to improve the wellbeing of people around the world.

I look forward to 2021 and beyond, to engaging and coaching my team to continue to succeed and have a positive impact on the lives of patients around the world.

And, as a leader at Roche, it is my mission to make sure everybody in my team can bring their best self to work and can sustainably perform, to deliver the very best to patients and healthcare systems wherever we operate.

1PWC – The Way We Work – in 2025 and beyond.

About the author

Jörg Rupp

Jörg Rupp

Roche, Head of Roche Pharma International (I7)

Jörg runs commercial operations in more than 100 countries across Roche's global markets. 

He has worked in the pharma sector across four continents in both emerging and developing markets as well as in Europe. 

Much of his work has involved working with governments to tackle health system challenges and strengthen collaboration between diverse stakeholders.  

Having worked with a wide variety of health systems, Joerg is particularly interested in the power of connectivity and collaboration to drive change, and in how stakeholders across the public and private sectors can work together to accelerate innovation. 

President of Interpharma, the association of Switzerland’s research-based pharmaceutical industry, committed to promote an environment that delivers best in class healthcare, rewards innovation and allows industry to contribute to the country’s prosperity, growth and competitiveness.
He is a member of the board of directors of the City Cancer Challenge, a multi-sectoral organisation working to drive forwards three of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): health, sustainable cities, and partnerships.

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