April 22nd 2021

Severin Schwan, CEO of Roche Group, on digitalization & innovation as success factors for the future.

Severin Schwan, CEO of Roche Gruppe, as Distinguished Guest Online at the Entrepreneurial School®.


Severin Schwan, CEO of Roche Group, about digitalization & innovation as success factors for the future. Foto: MCI
Severin Schwan, CEO der Roche Group, über Digitalisierung & Innovation als Erfolgsfaktoren für die Zukunft. Foto: MCI


Tyrolean-born Severin Schwan has been with the global player Roche Group since 1993. Roche's core strategy is based on two elements: Pharmaceutical products and commerce as well as diagnostics. Therefore, Roche focuses on personalized medicine and treatment in order to keep side effects as low as possible.

Although digitalization has already led to many positive results, the healthcare industry is still lagging behind in this area. COVID-19 has highlighted this in particular. The solution to this, according to Schwan, is "Real World Data in clinical trials."

To understand Real World Data in the pharmaceutical industry, it is essential to differentiate between identifiable data and non-identifiable data:

A) Identifiable Data: Real World Data that is collected can be traced back to a specific individual. This is important in online commerce to target advertising campaigns.
B) Non-identifiable Data: Real World Data cannot be traced back to an individual. This is used in the pharmaceutical industry because it is the data that is important for clinical trials, not the individual.

For Schwan, the public's emotional perception of Real World Data in the pharmaceutical industry is difficult to comprehend. In online retail, of course, data collection is a completely different situation, as it involves targeted ads, which in no way compares to the process within pharmaceutical industry. "Data protection is so much more regulated in this area than in the consumer area," Schwan explains.

Schwan believes Austria is in a good position when it comes to the digitization of the healthcare system. As an example, Schwan cites the Electronic Health Record (ELGA), which brought massive benefits during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, as centrally accessible data could be used to identify and notify at-risk groups and also eased the administration for prioritized vaccinations. Few countries in Europe were able to act so quickly in this regard. On the other hand, he sees potential for improvement in the administrative handling of data.

Schwan also highlights the prevailing motivation in Austria to continuously improve in this area. Here, he recommends distinguishing between basic research and specialized research for future investments.

It is in the area of basic research that Schwan sees the most potential for investment. Specialization is mostly done in private industry, but it is colleges and universities that have the potential to set up research projects over a long time frame. Basic knowledge is what interests and attracts the top researchers. Furthermore, hubs are emerging around academia where industry finds their talent. Today, these hubs are mainly located around Boston in the USA and in Asia, while Europe is still lagging behind. Yet it would be important for Europe in particular to jump on this bandwagon so that, unlike with global tech companies such as Google or Alibaba, European ethical values can be incorporated.

The successful CEO has another tip up his sleeve for students and young professionals. “Be curious and open to new things”, are Schwan's tips for those who want to succeed in an international company. "Stay curious and have the courage to make your dreams come true," so Schwan.


Dr Severin Schwan was born and raised in Tyrol.

After studying economics and law at the Universities of Innsbruck, York and Oxford and research stays in Leuven, Severin Schwan, who holds a doctorate in law, began his professional career in the Finance Department at Roche in 1993.

In 2004 he was appointed Regional Head in Singapore for the Diagnostics Division for Asia-Pacific and returned to Switzerland in 2006. There he assumed global responsibility for the Diagnostics business and was appointed CEO of the entire Roche Group in 2008.

In addition, Dr Schwan serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Credit Suisse AG, as Vice-President of the International Pharmaceutical IFPMA and on the advisory board of the mayor of Shanghai. Dr Schwan is married, has three children and lives with his family in Basel.


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