Four facets of sustainability ... in business

Sustainability is about more than protecting the environment. That’s only part of the equation. Sustainability is vital in how and where we do business, too.

Earth is a closed system. We have to work within the boundaries of Earth. But when you take that down to a common corporate or business level, strategies for many years have been based on a misaligned mantra: optimize to maximise shareholder value.

That’s an entirely wrong lens to put on business. Optimizing for all stakeholders in society is what’s really important. IT functions have typically outsourced a lot of jobs to far-flung parts of the world. We’ve seen companies across the Western world outsource more and more activities, whether it's manufacturing, IT or business process operations. But if we create a world where there isn't employment for all of the people all over the world, then I think ultimately you break your own system. 

Two of our biggest Roche IT workforce locations are still San Francisco and Basel. That defies logic if you put only a financial lens on it. Switzerland and San Francisco are expensive, right? 

Roche is one of the few big companies that has not outsourced all of its IT to a big vendor in India. As a company, you've got to think really long-term when it comes to these kinds of moves. When we created shared service centers within Roche, we've done so in places like Kuala Lumpur, Budapest and San Jose, but they're staffed with internal Roche employees, or small key partnerships. So we're developing talent locally in those countries. 

We also have people from those sites coming to Basel or going to San Francisco, seeding the organization with talent that comes from different parts of the world. Yes, we use vendors, but we use them in very targeted ways. Maybe they're more specialist in certain tasks than we are, and it makes sense for them to do it. 

Our strategy? Having the right people, in the right place, with the right skills, at the right time. Think about times zones, for instance. Putting everything on the other side of the world creates enormous challenges as a company. We have that challenge already between San Francisco and Basel, but many US companies outsource all of their IT to India. That's a 12-hour time difference. How do they make that work? They make all the Indian employees work the night shift!

That's not a sustainable model for people. So we built three centers, in three different time zones around the world. They hand over the work between each other, in a follow-the-sun type of model. Each employee works a normal business day, then hands over to their colleagues in Europe, they hand over to San Jose, and on it goes on. It's not the cheapest way of doing business, but I think long-term it's better for people and it’s better for us as a company.

They may start by answering the phone and solving technical questions, but there's a career path within the country to grow into higher level roles, perhaps in clinical operations as we're monitoring clinical trials in those locations. Real sustainability is when people feel invested in the mission, and they stay and grow and develop along with the company. 

Read Steve's other blogs on Four Facets of Sustainability, including in of theinand ofLearn how Roche colleagues are making our company and communities 

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