Why work culture matters…

David Carlile from Roche spoke to workingwise.co.uk about how work culture assumes more importance as you get older.

Why work culture matters.


In this article, David Carlile outlines why work culture matters, it is clear that work is about more than just earning a good salary or climbing the career ladder. The environment you work in, how you feel about your employer and whether you are prepared to go the extra mile for them in crises such as the current one are often more important, perhaps even more so for older workers who understand the impact of empathy, flexibility and care during some of the kind of experiences most of us go through in life.

David Carlile knows this only too well. He has just returned to the pharmaceutical company Roche after four years away and is very clear that it is Roche’s culture that drew him back.

David first joined Roche in 2005 when he was in his mid-30s and worked there until 2015. Initially, he was a clinical pharmacologist, working on diabetes research and running clinical trials to see whether the drugs the company was developing were suitable for patients. It was his first step outside a junior role and he loved it.

He was then promoted to the post of senior pharmacologist and moved into oncology, managing development programs for cancer drugs such as Avastin. From there he moved back into a scientific leadership role, taking on more of a mentoring and strategic role. “We were doing a lot of work on immunotherapies. It was still a very hands-on scientific role, but thinking in a more strategic way, working on a lot of different drugs and projects,” he says. He stayed in that role until 2015.

Leaving Roche

David says it was a hard decision to leave Roche. For family reasons, he had been unable to take an international role which would have required a lot of time at the company’s Basle headquarters, but when his children were finishing school the possibility to move to another similar senior advisory role at another global biotech company which had its headquarters nearer came up.

The experience of working somewhere else with a different culture highlighted for him the open, flexible one that existed at Roche, including the ability to work from home on occasion – something that was very helpful when one of his children had a big medical operation. “At Roche, individuals and teams are very empowered and you feel there is a common goal. Roche also has very high values that it holds itself to. Working somewhere else with a different culture made me reflect more on this,” he says. “Having brought my two sons up when I was at Roche, I missed the values of Roche which were more closely aligned to mine.”

And coming back

David was approached by Roche last year to come back. They knew he was not enjoying his new role. At the time, David was thinking of starting up a new company. He spoke to UK Head of Talent Acquisition Andrew Armes and said the conversation was refreshing given it focused mainly on his values. David decided to return and came back in July last year as a Distinguished Scientist working on a follow-on blood cancer drug to one he had worked at Roche on before.

His new role is flexible, allowing him to work a few days from home a week if he needs to. “As you get older the last thing you want to do is waste a lot of your life sitting in the car,” he says. He also travels a lot and works in different time zones so is able to flex his hours to suit. “The flexibility I have gives me the mental space and time to reflect about what I am doing and my goals.  That is really important and it makes me give more to Roche than I did to my previous employer. That culture is a two-way process,” he says. “Part of it is because Roche is still primarily a family firm. Its business criteria is different. It’s something of a different dynamic to other pharmaceutical companies. You do not hit your 50s without having had some sort of personal experience that makes you appreciate the importance of a company’s values.”

David is very much motivated by legacy issues, the importance of making an impact, and he says his role allows him the freedom to use his skills around drug development to the best of his ability. It also gives him the flexibility to develop other interests.

David does dog training on the side of his regular job. “It’s something completely different from my work. It gives me a focus and enables me to do things that I enjoy. None of us is going to live forever. You have to make the most of the time you have while you are fit and healthy. Culture and values may not be clearly visible, but they are so important. It is all about how you want to live.”

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