Dr Marijn Dekkers

Marijn Dekkers
Chairman

Bayer AG

Marijn Dekkers joined Bayer as a member of the Board of Management in 2010. Prior to that he was the CEO and President of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc and has held senior management positions in Honeywell International Inc. He is also the Vice President of the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI), Frankfurt, and a member of the Presidium of the Federation of German Industry (BDI). He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering.

 

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A view from the top

In this short video, Dr Marijn Dekkers shares his view on today's key business issues: risk, volatility, innovation, talent, and growth

Quotes

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

The business case for innovation is increasing, but as I often say, the easy stuff has been done. For innovations to be meaningfully better requires more insight into the fundamentals of science. Take the example of blood thinning. Relatively early on, products like aspirin were used as a blood thinning drug. But in order to have a really sophisticated blood thinning treatment, a whole new level of chemistry is required. So moving from relatively straight forward chemistry to very complex chemistry is a difficult transition.

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

What sometimes gets underestimated in terms of innovation is the importance of “marketing”. And by that I’m not referring to clever TV commercials – but really explaining to end-users the benefits of a given product so that the optimal application of these products are achieved.

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

In countries that have particular medical requirements, one must find innovations that are customised for those countries. For example, in China and India, you have, respectively, two hundred million and one hundred million farmers cultivating small plots. By way of contrast, in Brazil, farms, on average, are more than a thousand times larger than those in China. The product requirements of a small farmer versus a large farmer are very different, so we have to customise our product development to meet the needs of each. The lesson here is that in order to bring products to market that meet the exacting needs of the consumer. One must be very close to the consumer.

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

People have become much more comfortable in acquiring innovation from where they can find it.

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

But what is interesting and what is changing is that among Western companies, the ability to hire, develop, and retain talent in the developing economies has become a major point of competitive differentiation.

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

The average age of our workforce in China is 31; in most Western countries, it’s around 45. So you see there’s a tremendous experience gap with respect to our employees in developing economies.

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

There are always talent gaps around the world. In some cases – where we cannot find the right people locally – we have the flexibility of addressing those gaps by tapping our talent pool in Europe or the US. We send expats these expats overseas for 3 or 4 years to fill management gaps in developing economies and they eventually move back to their home country. This represents a great developmental opportunity for our people and we often encourage these moves because of that. We try to avoid overseas assignments just to fill a gap, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it.

Marijn Dekkers

Dr Marijn Dekkers

Chairman, Bayer AG

We try to avoid overseas assignments just to fill a gap, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it.

 

Read interview transcript

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In what ways has your strategy changed over the past year?

Our strategy has not significantly changed. In our healthcare business, Bayer is focused on improving public health, which is very relevant to an aging world population. In our crop sciences business, we’re focused on nutrition and helping farmers around the world get better yields and higher quality crops. And in our materials science business, we develop and market materials that are used particularly for resource- and energy-efficiency purposes. So our focus on healthcare, nutrition, and resource efficiency has really been a steady theme for Bayer.

What role does innovation play in your business?

The business case for innovation is increasing, but as I often say, the easy stuff has been done. For innovations to be meaningfully better requires more insight into the fundamentals of science. Take the example of blood thinning. Relatively early on, products like aspirin were used as a blood thinning drug. But in order to have a really sophisticated blood thinning treatment, a whole new level of chemistry is required. So moving from relatively straight forward chemistry to very complex chemistry is a difficult transition. But that is the nature of breakthrough innovations.

What’s more important: introducing a greater number of innovations, generating better innovations, or bring innovations to market faster?

All are important, of course. But what’s most important is that you really come up with great innovations that truly benefit your customers - whether they are for patients, farmers, or automotive manufacturers. What sometimes gets underestimated in terms of innovation is the importance of “marketing”. And by that I’m not referring to clever TV commercials - but really explaining to end-users the benefits of a given product so that the optimal application of these products are achieved. And by fully understanding a product’s benefits, end-users become more willing to accept the premium pricing that is often associated with a breakthrough, innovative product.

Within Bayer’s “business ecosystem”, where do innovations tend to originate?

We like to work with a variety of partners within the pharmaceutical industry. Often, our partners are small start-up companies that have a very good idea for a new class of medicine. We have also gotten good results working in collaboration with universities that are doing original scientific research. In my experience, there is in business much less of a “not invented here” syndrome today than there used to be. People have become much more comfortable in acquiring innovation from where they can find it. In countries that have particular medical requirements, one must find innovations that are customised for those countries. For example, in China and India, you have, respectively, two hundred million and one hundred million farmers cultivating small plots. By way of contrast, in Brazil, farms, on average, are more than a thousand times larger than those in China. The product requirements of a small farmer versus a large farmer are very different, so we have to customise our product development to meet the needs of each. The lesson here is that in order to bring products to market that meet the exacting needs of the consumer. One must be very close to the consumer.

Have environmental or social concerns become an element of your corporate strategy?

Sustainability is a very important issue for pharmaceutical and chemical companies like Bayer. We are very focused on sustainability, not just with our products in order to ensure that they are safe and have no negative effect on the environment or on patients’ health - but also in terms of our own production capability. Over the last 20 to 30 years, the chemical industry has made excellent progress in terms of environmentally-conscious production processes. So it is important issue and we are very focused on it.

To what extent do you measure the connection between your sustainability efforts and corporate value?

Sustainability is fully integrated into the ethos of our company. Bayer’s mission is, “Science for a Better Life”. So science is our key capability - but science in the service of creating a better life. From a sustainability point of view, the products we make and the way we make them contributing to a better life for all of us on the planet.

In what ways has acquiring talent become a strategic issue for you?

Acquiring talent is, for any company a strategic priority. In the end, a company is only as good as its employees. But what is interesting and what is changing is that among Western companies, the ability to hire, develop, and retain talent in the developing economies has become a major point of competitive differentiation. There are years when we hire more than 1,500 people in China. Where can we find them? How do to train them? They are all very young and inexperienced. In terms of competitiveness, the capacity to recruit in developing economies wasn’t significant 10 – 20 years ago. But it is now.

How are talent challenges different in different markets where you do business?

In developing economies, it’s a challenge to recruit good talent and develop them to the level we require. The average age of our workforce in China is 31; in most Western countries, it’s around 45. So you see there’s a tremendous experience gap with respect to our employees in developing economies. But we’re working very hard to get those employees trained and developed as quickly as possible.

Are you confident that you will have the talent needed to deliver your strategy over the next few years?

We are very dependent on finding talented, innovation-oriented people - not just in R&D - but also in other areas of the business, like marketing, sales and administrative functions. So as I said, in Western Europe and in the US - given the Bayer name and brand - we’re successful in recruiting good people and retaining them. The tougher part is in finding the right people in the developing economies. But doing so is very important to our business because we need talented people in upper management in those growth countries.

1Have you had to reconsider some strategic objective because you couldn’t find the right people in the right place at the right time?

There are always talent gaps around the world. In some cases - where we cannot find the right people locally - we have the flexibility of addressing those gaps by tapping our talent pool in Europe or the US. We send expats overseas for 3 or 4 years to fill management gaps in developing economies and they eventually move back to their home country. This represents a great developmental opportunity for our people and we often encourage these moves because of that. We try to avoid overseas assignments just to fill a gap, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it.

In what areas do you risk falling short of fulfilling your talent needs?

We are very focused on being an attractive employer - an employer of choice around the world. And I think we have the benefit of being a very well-known brand and a well-known enterprise with a leading-edge competency in chemistry and biology that underpins our corporate mission, Science For a Better Life. And that attracts many recruits that have a background that fits with our mission. So in Western countries, we do not have to struggle to attract talent. But in developing economies, recruiting the right people is a challenge. In developing economies, competition for really good people is very high. And so with respect to training and creating exciting job opportunities for our employees there, we need to make an extra effort.

Are you finding that you need to move more personnel across borders to fill talent gaps?

Mostly for developmental reasons, we move quite a few expats around. We have many relatively young people who have grown up in one country and we encourage them to get some international experience for three or four years and then come back home. We do that a lot. But in certain cases, we simply have to have expats employees because the talent we need in a particular country is not otherwise available. That occurs most frequently with respect to administrative back-office functions.