(Fortune Magazine) -- Genentech, the South San Francisco biotech company, has a long history of developing revolutionary drugs like cancer fighter Avastin. But such breakthroughs are no accident -- they're a result of a culture that puts a premium on curiosity and creativity.
Perhaps the best example: Genentech is the only pharmaceutical company to offer a postdoctoral program, where up to 120 Ph.D. holders are awarded fellowships for four years. Rather than work on drug-related projects, these brainiacs are encouraged to follow their interests and focus on fundamental research that could later apply to potential products.
Though the company was recently acquired by Swiss drugmaker Roche, its approach to fostering innovation hasn't changed. Richard Scheller, Genentech's head of research, explains how the company keeps innovation flowing.
Refresh talent often.
"The postdoc program keeps a constant flux of young people with different backgrounds and technologies moving through Genentech. This keeps the real innovative, entrepreneurial, creative spirit around Genentech research. It rubs off on everyone in the group."
Encourage risk taking.
"People are encouraged to work on projects that are high risk. We expect that the projects might not work -- in fact, most of them won't. But those that do work often end up being true breakthroughs."
Share your results.
"We always have a number of key papers in the top scientific journals every year, comparable to major institutions around the world, such as MIT, Stanford, and Harvard. So the outside world has a respect for Genentech that is quite different from that for other pharmaceutical companies."
Perks that work
As a result of the Roche merger, employees hired as of Aug. 18, 2008 who remained with the company received retention bonuses. Some 11,000 employees shared $182 million. A second round of retention bonuses is planned for March 2010, a year following the deal's completion.
A photo-of-the-week competition -- combined with creative costumes -- inspires a dose of frivolity. One group dressed up as the rock band Kiss for a corporate meeting.
A service is available to help employees secure dinner reservations or theater tickets, as well as run other errands. Spouses and partners can also use the benefit.