Roche boss’ baptism of fire

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Industry, People
  • 3 years ago

19 March 2021

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose…”

Allison Rossiter recites with ease the words of a popular children’s book*, adding she gave a copy to all 200 of her Australian staff last year and now routinely hands a personally inscribed copy to each new employee in inviting them to join a culture of courage and passion.

The managing director of Roche Diagnostics Australia, who arrived in the country just 18 months ago to take on her “dream job”, describes herself as “courageously authentic” and says she always tries to just be herself.

The slightly built Brit has now been with the Swiss company for almost two decades, working her way up from a pharmaceutical sales rep role in the UK through to head of sales for Roche Diagnostics in Canada, followed by a global Vice President based in California. In each case, she was invited to apply for the position, said yes and just threw herself in.

“Every job has been a stretch but that’s what makes working with Roche so fabulous,” she says, adding she always had “all these doubts” and “felt like a fraud” in taking on a new role, but “just did my best in every job I did, recognising you can’t be everything to everyone all the time”.

By the time Ms Rossiter, her husband and three sons had spent two years in the US, life seemed to be perfect. She loved the job, her boys were in good schools, and the Californian lifestyle was fabulous.

Roche Diagnostics MD Allison Rossiter

“Everything was going swimmingly; we had the best life,” she says. “Then this job became vacant.”

Ms Rossiter had always dreamed of being a managing director and a chance to head up the Australian diagnostics operation was one she couldn’t overlook. She did, however, deliberately overlook the job requirement that she have ‘head of country’ experience, and less than two weeks later was advised she was moving to Sydney.

Once she landed in Australia, Ms Rossiter organised to meet as many of her 200 employees as possible. She soon found her predecessor, who held the role for 17 years, had entrenched a more traditional management culture in the company which she was neither comfortable with, nor willing to leave alone.

She took notes from Roche Australia colleague Stuart Knight, who heads up the pharmaceutical arm of the business, implementing aspects of the ‘agile transformation’ workplace model Mr Knight has championed, while her team also identified the need for a change in culture for the diagnostics business.

But just seven months after Ms Rossiter set foot in Australia, Covid struck and her phone didn’t stop ringing.

Health Minister Greg Hunt was on the line and he wanted to buy as many Covid tests as she could provide. Roche Diagnostics had just had one of the first two tests for Covid approved in the US in March – and Mr Hunt wanted to personally ensure Australia received its share.

“The first kits to leave the US came to Australia,” Ms Rossiter says proudly. “Minister Hunt wanted 200,000 kits a week. We didn’t have any drugs to treat the virus so it was all about the testing.”

At the start of the pandemic, almost three in four Covid tests used in Australia were from Roche. Over the course of 2020, Ms Rossiter’s team imported and distributed two million tests. Their courageous effort saw them named overall winner at the Swiss Australian Business Awards for 2020 in February**, with Swiss Ambassador Pedro Zwahlen presenting the prestigious award to Ms Rossiter.

Roche staff ‘heroes’

In her acceptance speech, she described her team as “my heroes”, saying they were both heroic in bringing tests into Australia and in distributing to hospitals and sites around the country. But, she says, Covid also provided lessons for industry which must now guide how it moves forward into a post-pandemic Australia.

“The success of managing Covid in Australia was due to collaboration,” she says. “It was the combined efforts of industry, of government, of healthcare professionals and of laboratories. We all came together and no one was in it for themselves.

“It was about saying when you couldn’t do everything yourself. We just couldn’t provide enough tests for 25 million people, so we had to ask other companies for help.

“And it was about pharmaceuticals and diagnostics working together.

“In the past diagnostics was often seen as the poor cousin of pharma but following the pandemic we have very much earned our seat at the table. Now we can sit at that table as equals in the health industry.”

It is this spirit of collaboration, of having all aspects of the healthcare system coming together as equals for the benefit of patients, that Ms Rossiter hopes will be the legacy of Covid in Australia. Her company mission is ‘better outcomes for everyone’, and Ms Rossiter says this can only be achieved if everyone puts aside their differences and works together for a common goal.

With airlines now interested in a Roche Diagnostics point-of-care Covid test which provides a result in just 20 minutes, the importance of testing is likely to continue to be a feature of the pandemic and, along with vaccines, a significant contributor to the world once again opening up.

“Be passionately curious about everything you do,” is the attitude Ms Rossiter applies to every aspect of her job and of her life. Already it has made a big difference to Roche Diagnostics in Australia, contributing to the “heroic attitude” that enabled this team to play its part in the country’s Covid success story.

* Quote from ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’ by Dr. Seuss. Published in 1990, the popular book is not on the recently-released list of controversial books from the same author and does not containĀ any content considered racial or controversial.

** MedNews attended the Swiss Australian Business Awards as a guest of His Excellency, Ambassador Pedro Zwahlen.

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