Larger than Life

In early spring 1999, Genentech employees arrived on campus in South San Francisco to find a billboard-sized photo of a woman sitting cross-legged in a black turtleneck stretched across one of their research buildings. The photo was of Shirley Michaelsen, a local mother of two who benefitted from early access to Genentech’s first medicine for metastatic breast cancer.

Originally inspired by Apple’s Think Different campaign featuring historical figures, Shirley’s photo was a daily reminder for employees of the impact their work had on real people facing difficult-to-treat conditions. It prompted a tradition continued to this day of displaying large banners, spanning nearly 30 feet high and 15 feet wide, around campus featuring patients who have benefited from Genentech’s medicines.

“I love the banners because it puts a face on what we’re doing here,” says Lisa Nastari, global head of clinical coding strategies at Genentech. That sentiment is common among employees. Sean Johnston, senior vice president and general counsel, adds, “I’ve worked at Genentech for about 26 years and seeing a patient’s photo when I walk into work never gets old. It’s a clear reminder of why we come to work and what motivates us to make a difference every day.”

A photo of Hunter, who has a rare form of arthritis, appears on the front of Building 32 along with a caption saying he is a “Zealous Colts fan” and “Loves pizza and video games.” Photo from the Genentech archives.

Title Image: Genentech’s 1999 annual report cover photo featuring breast cancer patient Shirley Michaelsen.