As the organisation transforms into a more agile one, HR plays a key role by recruiting the best talent, providing development opportunities, and shaping a culture that fosters collaboration, entrepreneurship, and patient-centricity, affirms Rachel Frizberg, APAC Head at Roche Pharma. 

Q How did you get to where you are at Roche?

I started my career with Bayer in the chemical industry. I then switched focus to the healthcare sector because I wanted to have a more meaningful impact on people’s lives. After having worked at different healthcare companies including GSK, Ferring and Sanofi, I joined Roche almost 14 years ago, where I’ve had the opportunity to work across a range of disease areas and continuously diversify my expertise.

I’ve also had the privilege of working with talented, driven colleagues who have an unwavering focus on providing solutions for patients. As I grew into leadership roles, I discovered a passion for talent development and helping people achieve their full potential. In my current role as Roche’s Area Head for Asia Pacific, I am able to pursue that passion by supporting and developing the leaders of tomorrow, in addition to overseeing business operations.

Q Tell us why you’re so passionate about this sector.

I’m inspired to come to work every day because I have the opportunity to impact patients’ lives. This mission is personal for me. Cancer has affected my family and friends and I have experienced firsthand both the positive impact of innovative medicines and the need for improvement in areas such as access to testing. These experiences have strengthened my commitment to make a difference through my work at Roche. We aim to improve patient experiences by providing the right therapy for the right group of people at the right time, ultimately bringing about better healthcare outcomes.

Q How would you define your leadership style?

My approach has always been to lead inclusively and authentically, while keeping patients at the heart of everything we do. I’m extremely passionate about developing and empowering our employees to create a community of future leaders who have a shared vision and can positively influence the wider society. When employees feel connected and passionate about their organisation’s purpose, they bring a different energy to the table.

Roche is currently undergoing a transformation journey. We all know organisational transformation is never an easy task and I’ve learnt that in any change effort, transparency of communication is critical throughout the process - especially when making bold moves where we must provide a stronger focus on the ‘why’.

Q How has your experience varied across Asia, the US and Europe?

At Roche, we adopt approaches that are tailored, to the unique healthcare landscapes and challenges across different regions. What particularly strikes me about Asia Pacific is the speed of innovation and the fact that everything moves at a much faster pace.

Given the diversity of the Asia Pacific region, however, there is a need to align our approach to the unique local context. We have a diverse talent pool, with each person bringing their own unique expertise, culture and thinking styles to the table, which can result in more creative approaches and innovative solutions.

Q Talk us through your journey at Roche. What changes have you overseen?

The biggest shift I have seen has been our ongoing transformation into a more agile organisation. To effectively deliver medicines and better outcomes for patients, we have realised the need to keep a stronger pace with a rapidly changing healthcare environment shaped by digital disruption and a rising burden of disease.

One of the key mandates in my role as Area Head for Asia Pacific is to drive this transformation journey in the region. We are transitioning our culture from a traditional ‘top-down’ structure to one that empowers nimble decision-making, fosters entrepreneurialism and celebrates innovation and experimentation.

I believe that evolving how we do business in this way will have a positive impact for patients around the region, and I’m excited to support this transformation.

Q What are your biggest success factors?

I’m proudest when I see the impact that can be delivered when we unlock the full potential of our people. We have the best and the brightest in our teams throughout the region. When we empower them to focus first and foremost on patients, families and healthcare professionals, we see real impact. It has strengthened my belief that this is the right thing to do!

Q How can the HR function contribute better to organisational goals? How closely do you work with your HR leader on initiatives for employees?

The HR function - or the People and Culture function at Roche - is critical to our transformation journey. They help to recruit the best talent with diverse skillsets, provide our people with development opportunities and shape a workplace culture that fosters collaboration, entrepreneurship and patient-centricity.

We are currently in the midst of a true transformation globally: changing the way we operate and empowering our people to drive greater impact for patients. Our employees now work collaboratively in small, cross-functional teams that are accountable for their own goals. This allows them to make quick decisions in the service of patients. As leaders, we no longer tell them what to do but empower them through coaching. To further help our people deliver on our company vision, we have reduced hierarchical layers, simplified our processes and streamlined our structures to increase the impact every employee can have every day.

Across the world, we are seeing great success stories where our new structure and mindset are already making a difference for our people and patients.

As you can imagine, this requires a mindset shift for our people - an appetite to experiment, be bold, to reflect and learn, to take accountability and decisions. Our People and Culture function helps us with this mindset shift.

Q What is one HR initiative you’re most proud of and why?

I’m most proud of how we’ve approached our current transformation and mindset shift within the organisation. We are moving towards an environment where leaders are the enablers – focused on coaching and empowering people to make decisions.

In our collective efforts to enable transformation, we conducted pilot programs of an Enabling Team Forum. The forum focuses on the power of Collective Leadership in the context of transformation and is designed to complement existing transformation and leadership programs. It empowers our leaders across affiliates to steer our shift to an agile culture in pursuit of our North Star of ‘Delivering better outcomes for more patients faster’.

Q If not this career, what path would you have taken?

I grew up wanting to be a teacher like my mum! Since then I wanted to be in the hotel industry and aspired to have my own hotel. While I ‘fell’ into a job in the chemical industry, it in turn provided the opportunity to shift into healthcare of which I am grateful. To this day, I remain passionate to do more and have a bigger impact on patients each day.

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