And Finally

Only the healthy need apply

BGI boss runs into trouble with revelation of questionable company policies


Wang: heading for a hundred?

Companies often consider their staff as brand ambassadors, making expectations of their behaviour or appearance. However, Wang Jian, chairman of BGI, might have taken the idea too far when he revealed that all his employees were required to live a 100 years or more.

Wang didn’t mention the punishments for falling short but he highlighted the three major demands that his company makes of its staff to help them reach the benchmark.

It was here that Wang’s broader audience switched to angry from amused. “One,” he began, “none of our employees can give birth to a child with birth defects. If a birth defect appears, that is a humiliation to the whole 7,000 of us.”

To understand his reasoning, it helps to know that BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) specialises in genome sequencing. Founded in 1999 as an NGO to help complete the Human Genome Project, it turned commercially-minded and now claims to be the “largest genomic organisation” in the world.

Sixth Tone highlights that when Wang said a birth defect would be a “humiliation”, he meant to underscore that the company offers prenatal check-ups on genetics. The flipside is that Wang was advocating eugenics, a controversial area of genetic testing. He didn’t allay those concerns with his follow-up soundbite, stating, “If you are behind at birth, you’ll be behind for life”.

The other company disciplines weren’t much better. The second states that staff shouldn’t choose hospital checks for cancerous tumours ahead of BGI’s in-house testing and the third – which Wang admits is “a little mean” – is that staff aren’t allowed to die from heart attacks or undergo bypass surgery.

The policies are designed to demonstrate confidence that his team won’t need heart surgery if they follow BGI’s genetic testing and healthy living practices. To this end, reports, BGI has also introduced “intelligent eating” in its canteens and disabled the elevators in its offices so that staff have to climb the stairs.

Wang has provoked controversy in the past by promoting BGI’s home testing kits over vaccinations for HPV (see WiC393). But in the latest instance the Shenzhen stock exchange got involved, sending a please-explain note about his comments. The company defended them, claiming expectations of long life are based on predictions of average life expectancy from the scientific community and that Wang wasn’t using the point to sell company products.

Of course, now that Wang has set the rules for his staff, many will be watching to see if the 64 year-old hits the longevity target.

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