Roche leaders, however, found a way to work with government officials in Pudong, Shanghai and Beijing on this idea. First and foremost, Roche executives realized they needed a person on the ground who had credibility, was well connected, spoke Mandarin fluently, and was very trustworthy and ethical. "In China, it's all about relationships," says Lee Babiss, vice president, preclinical R&D for Roche in Nutley, New Jersey, who is responsible for oversight of the China R&D center. "You need local advocates who will work with and for you, and that's about building relationships."
Nurturing relationships over time allowed the Roche team to establish the necessary win-win approach to negotiations with Chinese officials. "The beauty in China is that you negotiate with both perspectives in mind," says Babiss. "Whereas in the West you might benefit from a win-lose situation, you will not benefit from that negotiating style in China."
"I can tell you that over the last five or six months the recruiting salary costs in China have gone up dramatically. We are also finding that the best talent is considering multiple offers in parallel. These are the people we would call MVPs [most valuable performers]. So, we have to sell ourselves to them," says Babiss.
Roche's story illustrates that the international pharmaceutical industry is not immune to the competitive wars for top talent—not just in China, but in continents around the world. This talent war is intensifying as premier international executive search firms, such as Heidrick & Struggles, expand their social networks and databases hoping to poach a dissatisfied MVP from a client's competitor. "The main challenge is that there aren't that many multicultural MVPs, so it's very competitive—a lot of companies want to go after them," says industry analyst Zhu Shen, CEO of BioForesight. As pharmaceutical executives face growing competitive pressures in global business environments, there is an increasingly strong need to identify, develop, and retain the MVPs who are critical to future business successes.