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An exclusive interview with GENEWIZ’s Cofounder Dr. Liao Guojuan

time:02/22/2018 page views: resource:BioBAY

With the construction of an innovative country and the growing popularity of mass entrepreneurship concept, a number of start-ups have emerged in China over the recent past. However, these new businesses are often unsure of how to guarantee sustainable growth while boasting efficiency and a cohesive culture. Over the past 18 years GENEWIZ, an enterprise engaging in gene sequencing, has been self-reliant in promoting sound development in strategic investment while maintaining its pole position in the industry. During the Spring Festival,

Dr. Liao Guojuan, cofounder of GENEWIZ, shared her experiences in building GENEWIZ in an interview in Biodiscover. 

In late 2015, GENEWIZ, acquired the genomic service business of Beckman Coulter Beckman, (a renowned life science company), further improving its comprehensive capacity in genomic services. Coupled with steady growth and continuous investment, GENEWIZ received the 2016 North America Life Science Research Services Company of the Year Award by Forest & Sulliva, a renowned consulting company.

In 2017, GENEWIZ established laboratories in Guangzhou and Nanjing respectively. To date, it boasts of 15 genomics laboratories and has been strategic in its global layout.  Dr. Liao, heading more than 1,000 employees, noted the key to starting a business is in creating value for customers and doing it right. An enterprise can only be great if it focuses on providing a platform benefiting customers, employees and enterprise. 

About Dr. Liao 

Dr. Liao is the cofounder and the CEO of GENEWIZ as well as one of the experts of National 1000 Talents Program. She gained her MS degree from Nankai University in Biochemistry and her BS degree from Tsinghua University in Biochemistry. She further received her doctorate in biochemistry and cell biology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, and completed her post doctoral research in biochemistry and cell biology at Columbia University. With the implementation of the human genome project (HGP), Dr. Liao and Dr. Sun Zhongping jointly founded GENEWIZ in the United States in 1999. Now, GENEWIZ is recognized among leading global companies in the field of global genomics technology service market, boasting 15 genomic laboratories globally while providing research services to tens of thousands of researchers including 30 Nobel Prize winners. 

People engaged in life sciences are considered conservatives and their earnings meager. What do you think? Why do you pursue life science?

Dr. Liao: to be honest, people engaged in life science do not make a fortune within a short period of time, and instead must work hard, enthusiastically and patiently.  I remember advising a friend's child studying biology that the key is in gaining a sense of satisfaction from exploring the miracle of life, and not pursuing wealth and other material things. 

In 1980s, students who excelled in school elected to major in sciences in universities. Compared with traditional subjects such as mathematics, physics and chemistry, life science was an emerging subject at that time,. Many unknown things remained unexplored, for example, the phenomenon of growth, metabolism, aging, disease and other challenges that were not well understood and unsolved. I was interested in the mechanism behind the complex life phenomenon, so I decided to major in life sciences. I witnessed many students abandoning this field out of various reasons, but my interest remained in related researches and never changed my major. 

Life science is an esteemed industry as it is likely to change our cognition for the world. The genetic technology development has leapfrogged over the recent past, for example, the noninvasive screening and cancer testing have raised people’s health awareness. However, if we consider these achievements with future view, we will find today’s genetic age is still at its infancy stage. Genetic technology is an indispensable tool for human beings, and plays a significant role in health, food, energy and even consumer products. Over the last 18 years, GENEWIZ has been strongly committed to providing efficient and high-quality services to researchers in the field of life science and help them do  further genomics research and application. I am proud of GENEWIZ’s growth, especially in its contribution to some major research breakthroughs. 

You started GENEWIZ soon after completing your education. Did you consider first working in institutions or enterprises like other entrepreneurs?

Dr Liao: During my studies in the United States, some students preferred to start in academic institutions or joined biotechnology companies or pharmaceutical companies. However, I decided to start my own business based on my interests and personality. It is well known that entrepreneurship faces a lot of uncertainties, but it is these uncertainties that impelled me to establish an enterprise. After 18-year, GENEWIZ is reaping dividends, boasting about 1,000 employees and establishing  several laboratories in North America, China, Japan and Europe. In addition, it has expanded from gene sequencing service to one-stop genome services including a series of gene synthesis and editing. However, biological technology is undergoing rapid development and we still face uncertainty in the new businesses and markets we target to develop in future. 

When I undertook postdoctoral researches at Columbia University, Dr. Sun Zhongping, my classmate at Tsinghua University (co-founder of GENEWIZ), was also studying in the same institution on a PhD program. We often discussed future development trends during our spare time. One day, Dr. Sun suggested we start a company. This came at a time when the HGP was nearing completion and we felt it would inspire further researches on many biological phenomena. In other words, HGP would open a new world of opportunities for life sciences. Therefore, we decided to establish GENEWIZ, a company engaged in genome services.

At the end of the 1990s, despite growth in application of sequencing technology, challenges emerged that were difficult to solve.  Biologists know that one cannot proceed unless the previous step is completed. That’s to say, if the sequencing results cannot be gained within the scheduled time, the follow-up experiments cannot be conducted thus disrupting the progress of the whole experiment. However, given the deficit in efficient laboratories, it was uncertain when result of the samples sent to laboratories could be gained. The challenge became common in molecular biology experiments.

As a result, since the establishment of GENEWIZ, we have strived to overcome various difficulties and guarantee clients certainty in getting samples results within scheduled time. We have pioneered the service of “Gaining Sequencing Results within 7 Hours”, helping clients cut waiting time and significantly improving their project progress. Wielding such an advantage, a number of world’s first-class research institutions and colleges including Rockefeller University, Princeton University, Columbia University and Harvard University prefer to partner with us in genetic sequencing.  

Over the years, the numbers of employees has grown from two to more than 1,000. What strategic management decisions did you make? 

Dr. Liao: The demands for talent vary depending on the company’s development phase. In the beginning leaders need strong capacity to handle operations by themselves. In the growth phase, the human resource scale is small and its leaders are capable of managing teams efficiently. Because various company departments are set and sound, its leaders need to establish a good communication platform with its employees, uniting different departments towards a unified goal.

Since our establishment, we have been following a common set of values to unify our ideals while industriously working towards a common goal. First, every staff is competent in addition to having a positive work attitude.  Second, a strong commitment to the customer-intrinsic principle, every staff must proactively offer solutions to customers and create new value for them. Third, the staff must be a good team player. In addition, every employee must think of how to improve, innovate and enhance the company’s competitiveness. Above all, staff must have a sense of social responsibility to ensure our work has a positive global impact.

When it comes to talent training, it is very similar to enterprise development. Employees need to pursue self-growth. By improving our career options and training systems, we encourage our employees to experiment with different positions based on their interests, achieving the co-development of both employees and enterprise. 

Take the eight-member team in gene synthesis for example. They are drawn from different areas of China and joined GENEWIZ in 2010. They have been working here for the past eight years and settled down in Suzhou. However during this period, some of them have maintained their original research direction, while others have chosen to undertake various assignments such as company’s management, IT, sales and quality safety. However, with support from GENEWIZ, they have finally settled on their preferred jobs and are growing well together with company. The win-win situation is what we are striving for. 

With the development of an innovative country and the rising popularity of mass entrepreneurship concept, several start-ups have emerged in China and they are all concerned about sustainability and growth.  In your view, what are the key factors to achieve long-term sustainable development?  

Dr Liao: All companies should give priority to creating value for customers, which is inherently important for their development. We need to dedicate ourselves to offering solutions to customers as well as enhancing good experience. For example, biotech companies need to assist researchers speed up their project progress and make greater discoveries. This is the only strategy that guarantees their sustainable growth.   

The value of GENEWIZ is in providing an amiable platform for consumers and employees. When the company fails to offer value to consumers, it handicaps its survival and expansion chances. In addition, it is vital for the company to encourage its employees to improve and explore other appropriate assignments.  As long as the company meets consumers and employees needs, it will be on the right path of long-term development. The key principle followed by GENEWIZ is its commitment to achieve a win-win situation among consumers, employees and company.   

Besides, GENEWIZ pursues seemingly contradictory aspects, such as ideal and reality, rapid growth and ample benefit, quality and efficiency, inheritance and change, long-term potential and low-term achievement as well as work and life. Apparently, these aspects contain key factors of companies’ development and many renowned enterprises have been pursuing them. In short, I believe as long as we adhere to the above principles, we will continue to play a significant role in genetic age and assist researchers complete their work with an easier, more convenient and more efficient way.