Roche Diagnostics China’s Accelerator Program Journey with Duke

Many healthcare companies in China are facing a number of complexities. Among the questions that need to be addressed are:

  1. How to prepare leaders to lead with purpose and to put patients at the forefront of their thinking in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?
  2. How to prepare the workforce to tackle local challenges with a global perspective?
  3. How to deal with intense competition while grappling with the pressure of healthcare budgets?
  4. How to create new opportunities with digitalization and improve access to care?

Roche Diagnostics China, a diagnostic division of Roche Group, the Swiss-headquartered, global largest Biotech company, provides a great example on how to tackle these topics.

Roche Diagnostics is committed to developing and providing innovative and cost-effective diagnostic systems and solutions for early detection, prevention, diagnosis and monitoring of diseases so as to help healthcare professionals increase treatment outcome, improve people’s life and reduce medical costs. Roche Diagnostics China was established in 2000. Back in 2012, stakeholders from Roche Diagnostics China aligned on the key skills middle managers needed to develop:

  1. Enhance business acumen
  2. Develop a global vision with a deeper understanding of the Chinese market context
  3. Boost agility and cross-function collaboration
  4. Link strategy to execution

Developing these skills would help Roche Diagnostics China to live out its purpose of “doing now what patients need next.” It would play a pivotal role in propelling the organization to experience further growth (Roche Diagnostics China is the second largest market in Roche’s Diagnostics Division worldwide). Middle managers in the organization were strategically targeted.

“We were in a period of rapid growth and we had bold ambitions to accelerate this further,” explained Helen Zhang, Vice President, People & Culture (former HR) at Roche Diagnostics China. “From a people strategy perspective, we needed to develop middle-level management to drive this business ambition. It was important that we attract and develop internal talents, help them understand how to translate our business strategy into execution and provide knowledge on how future trends will impact the company.”


Helen and her colleagues knew that they would need to bring on external leadership development expertise to help middle managers enhance their capabilities and be more strategic, innovative, entrepreneurial and agile in a rapidly changing Chinese market. After a robust selection process, Duke University / Duke Kunshan University was selected because of its brand reputation, expertise in the health care industry, a wide network of global faculty and unique pedagogy to customization, among other factors.

Duke and Roche Diagnostics China aligned on a unique program experience called the Accelerator Program. The program was positioned internally as a mini-MBA and involved a rigorous selection process for about 30 participants per cohort. The experience consisted of five modules, each lasting approximately three days and spread out over 15-18 months.

“Every module topic of this program is co-created by Roche and Duke,” explained Helen Zhang. “Based on our strategic analysis of business and leaders’ capability needs, we provided our insights to Duke. Then Duke leveraged its global faculty network to connect the topic to the best-fit expert who would deliver this topic for us. The design of the program is truly tailor-made for Roche Diagnostics China. Thus, the outcome of the program is highly recognized.”

The Duke Executive Education Pedagogy

  “We incorporate the right balance of content, context, and experiences into our design,” said Liang Yu, Director of Executive Education at Duke Kunshan University. “We spend a lot of time doing research and talking to key program sponsors trying to understand the client business context. This practice is always the starting point for a successful leadership program. It leads to highly relevant experiences in which participants are actively engaged and emotionally hooked; it not only results in an increase in knowledge, but also has the power to shift patterns of thinking and change behavior.”

Ricky He and Andy He were among the individuals selected to take part in the first cohort back in 2013. “I was excited about being selected as I knew it was like a mini-MBA program,” said Ricky He. “I had a master’s degree but hadn’t done an MBA. Duke University is well-known for its MBA programs and its leadership development offerings. I had big expectations and was also a bit nervous knowing that there was a certain degree of pressure to perform at a higher level in front of senior leaders.”

“I had a master’s degree from a Chinese University, but having the opportunity to study with a prestigious international university is quite different,” added Andy He. “Being nominated for this program means that management recognized us and gave us a unique opportunity to grow, develop connections and build our skills as global leaders.”


Three iterations of the program have taken place since 2013, supporting the development over 100 individuals at Roche Diagnostics China. In 2019, the third cohort was kicked off on the campus of Duke Kunshan University.

“In 2013, I was supporting the Accelerator Program together with my colleagues from our Durham, North Carolina, USA office,” said Yu. “In 2019, I was again managing the program in China. We are bringing the best global resources that Duke University has to offer to help Roche Diagnostics to address their local leadership development challenges.”

The experience concludes with a project presentation in which participants present to senior leaders ideas for new innovations aligned to the company’s business strategy. Participants’ project presentations have often been the springboard for new opportunities. Case in point is Ricky He. Working together with six other participants, Ricky He and his colleagues introduced to senior management a new approach to key account management.

“Previously, we were decentralized in our sales approach and this sometimes led to frustration from customers who often heard from different colleagues,” he said. “There wasn’t synergy around the ‘one Roche’ philosophy. Our team introduced a key account management approach in which one person would represent our entire portfolio and manage a client.”


It was an intensive time period preparing for the presentation to the senior management, involving countless hours of developing the idea and practicing the pitch. It turned out that the presentation was a tremendous success, particularly because the general manager at the same time had actually been thinking of making this shift to key account management, unbeknownst to the participants. In  2015,  the company decided Seems different font is used here to make the transition and Ricky He was asked to lead this operation, taking on the role of National Sales Director–Corporate Accounts (he would go on to assume even bigger responsibilities after this promotion).

“The actual implementation of the program was almost exactly the way we presented our idea during the Accelerator Program,” he explained. “This change led to profound impact.  Our  collaboration increased dramatically and customers could see the difference as we were pioneers in our space to use this approach.”

This happened, according to Ricky He, because participants were continuously encouraged to think outside of the box while being guided by Roche Diagnostics China’s strategy.

“We received leadership coaching that instilled in us the importance of not pre-judging ideas with our own biases,” he said.  “We also were provided new understanding about  Roche  Diagnostics  China’s business strategy and what would be required for long-term success. We were therefore thinking outside the box in a strategic way.”

The faculty have been key. They often draw upon experts to provide perspective on the healthcare industry in China while also making connections to global trends.

Prof. Shenglan Tang
Deputy Director, Duke Global Health Institute, Mary D.B.T. and James Semans Professor, Duke University School of Medicine and of the faculty members involved in the Accelerator Program

“Rooted globalism is one of the hallmarks in our program design. In our session on the healthcare context, we not only shared with participants the mega-trends for healthcare in China, but also highlighted the pressing global health issues around the world. In that way, the Roche Diagnostics China managers would better comprehend and respond to the strategies and priorities both for Roche global and for Roche China.”

“It was obvious that the faculty did significant pre-work to align the program to our strategy ,” Ricky He noted. “They helped us to consider the strategy and operations around our core strategic pillars and how to translate them into our work. They truly developed the program around these pillars.  Now  when developing a business plan, our actions revolve  around  this  strategy,  how  to  package  it, and ultimately to win in the market.”

“Faculty don’t focus so much on the theory but seems to have different font here provide industrial application,” added Andy He. “It was evident that the Duke team has lots of experience working with multi-national corporations in China,  particularly in healthcare.   They gave me a new mindset on how to lead within a multi-national company.  They were always pushing us to think deeper and broader on different topics.”

As a result of the program, over 40% of senior leaders assuming critical roles at Roche Diagnostics China have gone through the Accelerator Program. The program has also been one of the catalysts for Roche Diagnostics China’s high employee engagement scores. The 2019 score is much higher than the healthcare industry’s benchmark.

“We set out for the program to better equip our managers with a global mindset, strategic thinking, develop an agile mindset for transformation, foster a coaching culture and succeed through innovation and technology,” added Helen Zhang. “It is evident through our key KPIs  and  many impactful examples that the program has been quite successful.”

The program experience has contributed to the company’s top-line sales revenue growth story. Since 2013, revenue has more than tripled.

Richard Yiu, general manager of Roche Diagnostics China

“Accelerator, our signature local Leadership Excellence Program, is an important talent development initiative,” said Richard Yiu, General Manager of Roche Diagnostics China. “I am glad to see our leaders have gained so much from this program and hence made a greater impact on the organization. This intensive and experiential program strengthened their overall leadership and business management capabilities, while providing our local leaders with great opportunities to experience an international context (such as global faculty and resources). I am proud to see our talents keep improving through this program and achieve a very high return on investment.”

Roche Diagnostics is committed to developing and providing innovative and cost-effective diagnostic systems and solutions for early detection, prevention, diagnosis and monitoring of diseases so as to help healthcare professionals increase treatment outcome, improve people’s life and reduce medical costs.

Roche is the one of the global innovative leaders with combined strengths of diagnostics and pharmaceuticals under one roof. This unique combination enables Roche to leverage breakthrough knowledge to develop innovative products, detect and monitor diseases and guide the medical decisions.

Roche Diagnostics (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. was established in August 2000 as an exclusively foreign-owned enterprise in Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone to develop business in mainland China.

Duke Kunshan University is a highly selective research-oriented, liberal arts and sciences university located in China, whose primary mission is to enable students from around the world to lead purposeful and productive lives. By delivering the highest quality undergraduate and graduate education that is truly interdisciplinary, we prepare students for professional, intellectual and societal leadership roles across the globe.

Duke Kunshan University Executive Education provides leadership solutions to future-proof businesses. The university’s global educator network, cutting-edge academic research and innovative pedagogical design will help organizations and leaders to transform in a responsible and meaningful way.





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