General, News

Oh To Be a Fly on the Wall at Bayer

I don’t know what it’s like to be a long-standing Bayer employee right now but I do know what it’s like to undergo an intense marketing procedure at the hands of CEO Bill Anderson with no anaesthetic.

Always engaging with the crowd, Anderson started out by accepting that there’s probably a better name out there for his strategy than the “Dynamic Shared Ownership” moniker he’s come up with. Suggestions on a postcard, he added.

The media webinar started on a high-octane note with Gary Hamel, Visiting Professor at the London Business School, and his “fundamentals of Humanocracy.” In a flurry, there were mentions of Space X, YouTube, yoga, “administrators on steroids” and corporates suffering from “Ambition Deficiency Disorder.” Basically, large organisations aren’t daring and “bureaucracy is a choice not a cosmological constant,” Hamel said.

I confess I rather enjoy the stories of the Bayer of old. There’s the one about the management board member who used to police whether workers at chemical parks were taking company bicycles home. He would go around at the end of the day, checking the identification numbers of each bike and who was responsible for the missing ones. There are plenty of others.

Anderson is operating at a higher altitude. Quoting Tolstoy, he introduced some of his core team at the coal-face of this rapid transformation of the German healthcare and agricultural products maker.

After Hamel, Michael Lurie, Chief Catalyst at Bayer, brought a more familiar tone with that calming lilt and accent some German executives have when they speak in English. He gave a nuts-and-bolts summary of the progress so far. Bayer is rebuilding around the customer and products. More than 100 “customer product” teams have been launched and there will be 1,000 by the end of the year. “In a short time from now, Bayer will be a very different organization.”

Sebastian Guth, President of Bayer US and US Pharmaceuticals talked about a “significantly flatter organisation.” Bayer is going from 3-5 colleagues per manager to a ratio of 15-20/manager. In pharma, some 40% of managers are being removed. There were references to “broken down silos” and being “laser focused on customer needs.”

Lisa Perez, US Consumer Health General Manager & VP of Marketing US Nutritionals, talked about fast tracking new products to market using Amazon, an example of decisions being “owned by the team” as people “worked through obstacles in the moment.”

In all her 30 years at Bayer, board member Heike Prinz said she’s never seen anything like it. There was …..”talent market platform”…..”peer accountability rather than to the boss,” and apparently a classic Anderson phrase: “You may be able to fool your boss but you can’t fool your peers.”

Finally, there was Kevin Nolan, CEO of GE Appliances. He drew parallels with what Bayer is going through now to what his appliance company went through years back. As part of GE, the unit always looked to HQ for what to do and it was too busy watching competitors and optimising products and price. It’s now the market leader in the US.

Fair play to Bayer for engaging in this way and it seemed generally well received by journalists. Unfortunately for the company, the shares haven’t reacted much and a lot of expectation hangs on the capital markets day in three weeks’ time.

Perhaps worth noting that, for all Nolan’s transformation of GE Appliances, his company did get acquired by Haier Co in the end.

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