• Innovation

Entrepreneurial Mindset at Bayer

How Bayer Pharma is walking the talk of innovative ideas and faster/better commercial decisions

Saturday 01 September 2018


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When Bayer approached IMD the objective was challenging and inspiring: help them become more entrepreneurial. More specifically, help them make faster and better commercial decisions, and get more new and innovative ideas from the markets. The way of getting there, was also challenging, and we also had some doubts it would have a big impact. But the Bayer team was open to hearing possible solutions to their challenges.

This would be our first clue that we really were dealing with a group of people who wanted to change the way they worked, especially the leader, Reinhard Franzen, Head of Commercial Operations Europe, Middle East Africa (CO EMEA), Member of the Executive Committee of the Pharmaceuticals Division of Bayer. Bayer PH CO EMEA has about €6bn in revenue and thousands of employees, so we knew that a small positive inflection could have a major impact.

Likewise, the initial interviews with managers in different countries and functions of Bayer EMEA were both hopeful and worrisome. Many desired an environment that was more entrepreneurial, where they did more than follow orders from headquarters and fill in business case templates. And it was obvious that they loved their work, the company and their industry. But we also discovered that this was an organization that prided itself on accuracy and strong processes, where hierarchy was respected, and learning from and for the customer was not always part of the equation.

Often heard was: “Yes, we want to be more entrepreneurial, but the context doesn’t allow it.” Added to our worries was the fact that the company was doing well, enjoying double-digit growth. Why bother to change?

The IMD experience we created was composed of pre-work, including a survey to sensitize the participants to the issues we’d be working on together, a two-day module in Lausanne with the EMEA leadership team and the heads of key markets and supporting functions, and a follow-up questionnaire and readings to sustain the momentum. The workshop in Lausanne was a combination of practical tools and inspirational examples, exposing the Bayer managers to the biases they were entertaining, but also having them themselves find solutions to the issues they wanted to resolve. We explored whether they could experiment like Amazon and accept to learn from failure. We dove deep into tools to better understand the benefits and value that customers were seeking and prototyped how Bayer might deliver this. We examined how entrepreneurs look at the challenges they face, and debated how opportunity engineering might help to better identify risks and eventually model better business cases. We ended with each participant developing his or her personal “commander’s intent”, the inspirational and directional pitch that they would each give to the troops the following morning. 

Having multiple cohorts, with different levels of seniority and responsibility, enabled us to both spread the word about entrepreneurial mindset within Bayer PH CO EMEA, but also to unburden top management: making better, faster decisions that are infused with customer insights and that might touch new areas and require different business models isn’t only the domain of senior management. It requires everyone in the organization to be more entrepreneurially minded, to constantly ask, when presented with a new opportunity or difficult decision, “How would an entrepreneur handle this?

But Bayer did not stop with the programs at IMD. A group of Enablers from dozens of countries was established to keep the journey alive, a toolkit was developed and rapidly the ‘Be Entrepreneur’ campaign spread across the EMEA region. An integral part of that was an idea that was first surfaced in Lausanne: create in the countries a local commercial incubator, the so-called inc.ubator, to evaluate entrepreneurial go-to-market ideas. The local inc.ubators also select which proposals are forwarded to the region EMEA Venture Board in Berlin to apply for regional funding. If chosen by the EMEA Venture Board, the region would cover the bulk of the required investment. The first regional Venture Board meeting approved 14 projects for funding, coming from a pool of over 100 ideas generated in the countries, 61 of which were submitted to the EMEA Venture Board.

Reinhard Franzen stated: “It’s not only the volume, quality and diversity of the ideas that were put forward to the Venture Board that is significant and encouraging, but also who is behind these ideas. Not only our commercial folks, but all parts of the organization and the hierarchy felt empowered to make proposals, and that’s precisely what we need to move faster, develop new ways of reaching our customers and patients, improve lives and continue to reinvent how we go to market…..And it all started in Lausanne!

But it’s important to know that though the Venture Board and inc.ubator concepts were born in Lausanne, the entrepreneurial effort didn’t only happen in Lausanne. Bayer successfully runs its Grants4Apps program which brings selected healthcare entrepreneurs and startups working on digital health innovations into Bayer’s facilities in Berlin, to interact with staff and top management, and of which Reinhard Franzen is a mentor since the start of the program in 2012. In addition, Bayer PH CO EMEA runs a talent program called Club Europe, where each year a group of high potentials work with senior management on a business challenge for the region, bringing together youth and enthusiasm, with experience and wisdom.

One of the most interesting outcomes from the most recent Club Europe is a digital platform pioneering a new way for women to interact with healthcare professionals on Women’s Health and contraception-related questions. One of the participants, Vanessa Lemarié, was so excited about testing the idea in the markets that she offered to resign her normal Bayer job to head up this new initiative. 

Many companies talk about becoming more entrepreneurial. The Bayer Pharmaceuticals division is doing it.

IMD is a top-ranked business school, expert in developing leaders, transforming organizations and creating immediate and long-term positive impact.

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