A year in management overwhelmed microbiologist Dennis J. Henner, and he retreated to the bench. The time was the mid-1980s. The company: Genentech Inc. in South San Francisco, a biotechnology pioneer that had vowed to make recombinant DNA technology a commercial success. The young bench scientist scaled the career ladder by steering a team of company scientists.

But after only a year as a department manager, he decided he had his fill of leadership. "One, I wasn't ready. I was more focused on the science," says Henner, who would eventually re-enter management and, in the1990s, become the company's senior vice president of research. "And two, I had not really had much exposure to management, especially managing peers, other scientists. It was not a simple transition."

Courtesy of Dennis Henner

Dennis Henner

The transition took Henner about five years. In that time, he says, he learned to look beyond his...

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