Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Right At Home

Right At Home
Genentech's Vacaville Chief Is Back On Familiar Ground
By Shelly Meron/Business Writer

Charles Calderaro, vice president and general manager of product operations at Genentech's Vacaville facility, stands among the plant's 25,000 liter fermentation production system. Calderaro became the new leader of Genentech Vacaville in July. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

It may surprise some to learn that Charles Calderaro, the new head of Genentech's Vacaville manufacturing plant, is in familiar territory. Calderaro, who has been working for Genentech for five years, began his career with the company as head of manufacturing in Vacaville in 2002 under Frank Jackson - the same man he has now replaced. He moved to the company's South San Francisco office in 2005, where he served for two years as vice president of corporate engineering. Now he's back in Vacaville, filling the shoes of his old boss.

"It's great to be following him," Calderaro said of Jackson. "He's been the face of the Vacaville plant to Solano County. To be able to follow him is a privilege."

But Calderaro doesn't have much time to dwell on the past. In his seven weeks as head of Genentech's Vacaville manufacturing plant, he has been busy overseeing the continuing expansion of that plant, a project known as CCP2, which is expected to complete the testing and validation process in March of 2008, and hopefully get FDA approval in the second quarter of 2009. He's also been keeping an eye on Genentech's latest expansion in the area - a new research lab in Dixon, where construction is expected to begin this month.

Calderaro says his first five years with the company prepared him well for his current role. He says balancing what he learned from his first job in Vacaville with his more corporate responsibilities in South San Francisco taught him connect the Vacaville plant back to corporate headquarters, and vice versa.

"It helped me hit the ground running," he said. "I learned a lot at corporate. Coming back now, I have the best of both worlds."

When it comes to running this plant, though, Calderaro tries to keep things operating smoothly by communicating with workers of every level on a regular basis, and keeping people passionate and motivated about their work. He does this by holding regular "town hall" meetings with hundreds of employees, and keeping a dialogue open with those working on the floor.

"I have to stay connected to reality, and reality to me is the people on the floor doing the work," he said.

Walking through the Vacaville plant, it's easy to see why Calderaro is so enthusiastic about his job. Large, complicated systems of pipes and vats fill a huge portion of the building, and Calderaro excitedly explains the process by which employees create the proteins used to make Genentech's drugs. Calderaro proudly says Genentech has about 50 products in its pipeline currently, while the Vacaville plant continues to produce some of Genentech's most popular drugs - Rituxan, Herceptin and Avastin. (The plant is also licensed to produce Genentech's asthma drug, Xolair, but is not currently doing so.)

"When we launch a new drug, we change the way medicine is practiced," he said. The new drugs "rewrite medical textbooks. They change the way medicine is being taught in college."

This "casual intensity" attitude is what Calderaro says attracted him to working at Genentech, after four years in the Navy and 12 years working at companies like Aventis Behring, Alcon Laboratories, and Ethicon (owned by Johnson & Johnson).

"When I walked through this plant for the first time, I felt like I was walking through the Starship Enterprise," Calderaro said jokingly.

"All the companies I've worked for have been good experiences," he added. "What makes Genentech special for me is the technology. This is the most technically challenging business I've been part of."

Staying on top of the technology, and helping Genentech continue to dominate the biotechnology field, is what Calderaro said is his biggest challenge and his focus in the coming months.

"This has been a very successful plant," he said of Vacaville's manufacturing facility. "The focus for me is, what's the next chapter going to look like, and not being complacent. What does the future hold for us, what are the expectations, and how do we change to be more competitive? If we are the benchmark, let's not wait for someone to pass us before we change."

Contact Shelly Meron at business@thereporter.com.

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