For a Chinese Drugmaker, Team Building Means Military-Style Drills

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We're all familiar with American team building. Perhaps you go on a ropes course or do some trust falls. Or everyone happily participates in an "icebreaker" during which you reveal what kind of kitchen utensil you would be, if you were, in fact, a sentient kitchen utensil. (I would be a microplane.) It all feels a little bit silly, but perhaps, at the end of the day, you know your coworkers a little better and that's fine.

Take a look at the video above, which Chemical and Engineering News posted this week. It takes you inside the Chinese drug R&D lab run by HEC Pharm just outside Hong Kong. At about the 1:30 mark, C&EN's reporter spies some HEC employees doing the kind of left-right-left drilling that we associate with the military. That's the HEC sales force, it turns out. Call it team building with Chinese characteristics

More generally, this video is an unusual peek into yet another arena -- pharmaceuticals -- where Chinese companies are moving up the value chain from production to research and branding. 45 seconds in, there is a "forest" of high-pressure liquid chromatographs, which help scientists identify what's actually in a chemical mixture. The scale of the facility, which already employs 1200, is impressive.

Companies like Lenovo and ZTE have already shown that Chinese outfits can be competitive globally, even though pharma continues to be dominated by American and European concerns. What's fascinating is that as these companies compete on a technological level, they bring their cultural weight and norms with them. That is to say, just as European drug salesman had to get used to American companies' icebreakers, our sales people better polish up their boots if Chinese corporations end up dominating pharma.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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