• Innovation

Global Exposure

IESE’s Program for Boehringer Ingelheim Executives


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This long read was first published in Developing Leaders, Issue 23. Sign up for free with IEDP to receive future issues here.




“Rund is die Welt, drum Brüder lasst uns reisen.”
“The world is round, so let’s travel, brothers.” German Proverb




Big companies are like familiar proverbs. They have a unique origin as well as a ubiquitous presence. Much can be lost in translation. Maintaining integrity and meaning, while successfully spanning both the local and the global contexts, is not easy. It is not just about poise, it is about positioning for the changes and challenges that lie ahead.
Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) is named after its founder, Albert Boehringer, and the provincial town in which he built his first factory. The company remains proud of its 130 year history with the town of Ingelheim, which sits on the banks of the River Rhine some 45 kms west of Frankfurt. A stylized rendition of the Emperor Charlemagne’s imperial palace – a local landmark - is still a component of the group’s corporate logo. Today BI executives operate globally across 145 affiliate companies. With more than 47,500 fellow employees, they must be adept at embracing many cultures and diverse societies. To build on their native potential, and more effectively transition from promising individual into international leader, BI executives are able to participate in EXPOSURE, a custom program, developed with a team from IESE Business School.




"Maintaining integrity and meaning, while successfully spanning both the local and the global contexts, is not easy"




IESE is the graduate business school of the University of Navarra, with campuses in Barcelona, Madrid, and New York City - as well as teaching facilities in Munich and Sao Paulo. IESE was ranked 1st Worldwide in both Executive Education and custom programs by The Financial Times in 2015.




“EXPOSURE is one of the most global programs that I have managed. Having said that the participants were not complaining about jet-lag, they were always on time, constantly participating, and had gone through all the materials prior to the program. I think it’s the reason why they were so happy at the end of the program; because they had put so much into it.” Grettel Siegert, EXPOSURE Program Director




EXPOSURE is a six-month development journey consisting of a variety of learning components. The program includes classroom training, virtual one-on-one coaching sessions and virtual peer group meetings, as well as the use of advanced learning tools. EXPOSURE aims to enhance participants’ self-awareness and helps them refine their personal leadership skills. More specifically, the program aims to:


• Widen participants’ focus to obtain a more global perspective on business
• Reassess their views on current management issues
• Identify and analyze the roles of senior executives in managing people and leading companies more effectively
• Understand participants’ leadership styles and their team working skills
• Promote an exchange of views among peers and senior faculty
• Develop a personal action plan for improvement


During the program, participants attend a one-week intensive residential training course at the IESE campus in Barcelona. This part of the experience consists of five full days of learning with the objective of developing the skills and personal confidence required to be successful in a constantly changing global business environment. During the week participants meet with senior leaders from BI and freely discuss a variety of issues with them. The program is aimed at developing BI’s future international leaders, thus helping the group to further globalize. For EXPOSURE’s Academic Director, Professor Sebastian Reiche, holding the program outside of Germany “sends a signal that this program is really international in reach.”


“Why IESE? That’s easy. They offered the best approach content wise. The methodology they proposed, their diverse international faculty, and our wish for a learning journey of a longer period fitted together well.” Kathrin Hassemer, Program Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim’s Global Leadership Development Unit







The client side was managed by Kathrin Hassemer, Program Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim’s Global Leadership Development Unit. Hassemer describes herself as “a home-grown child of BI” having been with the group’s HR function for over 15 years. Whereas the creation of most custom programs is overseen by a single individual from
start to finish, Hassemer joined after much of the early progress, and key decisions had already been made. Reflecting on the experience, Hassemer suggests others with a similar challenge: “Try to learn about the history of the project as much as they can. Experience the program, how it’s delivered, what kind of methodology they are using. Listen to the participants. Find out what is good, what works and what should be improved. Really the close contact is what I would highlight.” The success of Hassemer’s late entry is an object lesson for anyone else tasked with successfully finishing what someone else has started. “The biggest element in any relationship is trust”, reflects IESE’s Grettel Siegert, the EXPOSURE Program Director. “Although Kathrin came later into the picture, she took an attitude of: ‘I know this has been set up correctly because I trust my predecessor and I trust this school.’ There’s a lot of affinity. I have other programs that work perfectly, but I wouldn’t always say that my client is part of the team in the same way or as actively.”


EXPOSURE replaced a previous, project-based exec-ed program. Kathrin Hassemer describes how, “participants were moving away from their current positions, not doing their day-to-day job for nearly six months, because they were concentrating fully on that project. Although it’s probably a very good idea to take someone out for development, participants’ supervisors were not fully ready to lose someone for so long because they
had to find someone else to take over that person’s functions.” Hassemer’s advice to prospective EXPOSURE participants is simple, “Be really open. Open-minded to learn and take the most out of the program. Really concentrate on the learning. It’s intensive. It’s a six month journey don’t just concentrate on that one (residential) week. During the training week concentrate exclusively on the learning. Do not expect to do day-to-day work. The days are long (and for some, so is the travelling involved). There is only one free evening. Concentrate on your development.”







Participants’ EXPOSURE journey begins with a web conference call (webinar) in which they are introduced to their peers and the IESE team. They are walked through the detailed curriculum of the program, and their questions are answered. Professor Reiche remarks: “It is nice to have a first touch point before the program, as the participants feel they know the program faculty already by the time they come to Barcelona. We don’t see them and they don’t see each other during the kick-off but it eases the program’s beginning having that first virtual contact.” When participants finally meet face-to-face the ice is broken at a cocktail dinner. For many, EXPOSURE presents a rare opportunity to be away from the demands of their day to- day work, an inspiring, energizing, and rigorous learning experience which aims to get them thinking differently both about their role as a manager and how they can continue to grow at BI.


“The program made me feel like I stepped back in time and was back in college. It was wonderful to be at the university for a full week immersed on learning, developing, and growing.” Samantha Schwall, PharmD, RPh, Director Prescription Medicine Product Training & Curriculum Development


The first part of the face to face journey, Placing Oneself, seeks to give participants a base and an overall understanding of the world they are in and of themselves. Participants begin by preparing to open their thinking in order to embrace new ideas and new ways of meeting the opportunities and challenges ahead. Then they are offered an insight into the context in which they do business, going from the current economic environment
to a more specific view of current affairs in the pharmaceutical sector. The afternoon session of the first day digs into the concept of strategy and what it means for middle management. The content of the second day dives into the world of the ‘self’, providing a framework for improving self-knowledge and self-leadership attitudes. Participants discover the key sources of self-knowledge, as well as how to improve and grow, personally and
professionally, in order to become a better leader. Through role play and feedback exercises the complexity of life in organizations, the management of organizational complexity, and the question of how to conduct difficult conversations are tackled. 


The second part of the journey, Application: Boosting your Performance, focuses on management knowledge and the necessary skills required to oversee day-to-day operations.




"Participants reflect on the unique circumstances of teams that are both dispersed and culturally diverse, and develop the capabilities that are required to be effective in such a context"




The morning of the third day is dedicated to leading and developing others. The challenges and key competencies for leading change as well as motivating people in organizations are also discussed in depth. More specifically, participants concentrate on leading in a cross-cultural and diverse context. The third afternoon is dedicated to the
complexity associated with working virtually and across geographies. Participants reflect on the unique circumstances of teams that are both dispersed and culturally diverse, and develop the capabilities that are required to be effective in such a context. The fourth day focuses on decision-making under uncertainty, offering a practical conceptual framework to structure decisions in a way that accounts for the uncertainty that surrounds many, if not most, business decisions. Participants and faculty then examine how to encourage and execute successful growth initiatives in mature companies in a context of rapid change by embracing intrapreneurship and innovation as key to high growth, sustained performance and continued rejuvenation of business. On the program’s fifth and last day, participants leverage the experience gained over the course of the journey by focusing on “getting things done”. Together with the faculty they discuss how to identify and manage informal networks inside complex organizations so as to achieve impactful change. This may involve overcoming implementation obstacles,
or situations with multiple decision-makers. Participants are expected to come away with a greater understanding of the challenges of execution and how developing an accurate picture of the political landscape inside the organization is critical if support is to be mobilized, consensus achieved, and the initiative implemented.
The academic part of the face-to-face module concludes with a reflection on each participant’s learnings throughout the journey thus far and how this can be utilized with action in the future. The last day ends with a special group dinner. During the course of the week, participants also take part in one of the several one-on-one executive coaching sessions included in the programme.


“Discussions with my coach helped me to successfully address a leadership issue I was facing at the time of the program last year.” Dr Lutz Aye, Head of Legal Therapeutic Area Biosimilars


An Application Phase follows the intense face-to-face module of EXPOSURE. Like the preparation phase it is delivered virtually. It includes coaching sessions, peer group meetings and IESE webinar courses that support improved learning and application. In the final Follow Up Phase participants meet with their supervisor, team and HR Business Partner to share the key learnings from the experience. Following a 2015 pilot, EXPOSURE is delivered in two annual cohorts of 35 participants. Out of these 35, around half are likely to reunite and participate in IESE’s Fast Forward Program. This open add-on allows EXPOSURE participants to mix with employees of other companies, to step back, gain perspective and develop a new vision for their own employer’s future in an energizing and interactive learning forum. They can tailor the program to their needs and learning goals by choosing one of three themed tracks, which can vary year-to-year depending on current market issues:




"Their ability to have constructive conversations, rather than defensive monologues, is of paramount importance for their company’s future prospects"




Leadership Track: Explores the tenets of positive leadership, enables employees to flourish in a mission-driven work environment, and examines proven strategies to help participants revitalize their leadership style, encourage employee engagement, and stimulate organizational growth.


Innovation Track: Outlines how participants can drive innovation throughout their organization, from marketing and operations, to finance and human resource management. Concepts and strategies to foster an innovation-friendly culture are discussed


Managing Complexity Track: Focuses on the longer-term challenges and opportunities facing strategic decision-makers. It examines the four key forces that are making the business landscape increasingly complex: globalization, technological disruption, the power of social media, and the politicization of corporations.


EXPOSURE alumni come from all over the world so they are unlikely to see each other again regularly. Although on the client side, Kathrin Hassemer conducts informal enquiries into the on-going relationships between participants, no formal process is in place to monitor their bonding long-term. The opportunity provided by Fast Forward for personal reconnection and message reinforcement is delivered in three unique sessions in which BI employees can bond, share and reflect on their learnings away from the other participants from other companies.


“Participants (of both EXPOSURE and Fast Forward) told me that they appreciated the opportunity to hear opinions from people of other international companies and see that what happens at Boehringer Ingelheim happens in other places as well.” Grettel Siegert, EXPOSURE Program Director


A two-step approach is taken to measure the impact of EXPOSURE. Detailed feedback is collected following the residency week. After that, feedback is also collected at the end of the entire six-month program. The success of EXPOSURE was also evident to Hassemer and her team from the many enquiries made by supervisors looking to place their people on the program.






Among the quiet yet crucial threads running through EXPOSURE’s carefully tailored narrative are a couple of key questions. How can executives get buy-in from managers and decision-makers? And how do they turn ideas into reality while dealing with the world as it is? This skill set, as Professor Reiche points out, is vastly different from, and more creative than, the less noble art of micro-office politics. The big pharma sector consists of highly motivated, highly skilled scientific and technical experts sharing a corporate and creative space. Their ability to have constructive conversations, rather than defensive monologues, is of paramount importance for their company’s future prospects. Those who can speak clearly across cultural, social and technical boundaries, while retaining their native qualities, will naturally go further than those who cannot. Schooling and tooling their best and brightest with the knowledge and insight needed to ‘think global and act local’ is a logical step for a research-driven company with a long and successful history; a company that has always been reaching for
the future with the vision ‘value through innovation’.

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