In the first part, I already told you a lot about Bayer and digitalization. This May, I had the honor of being invited to Imperial College in London, where I gave a talk on the digital transformation at Bayer, titled “Hacking Corporate Culture.” And I am currently heading a PoC (proof of concept) project focused on quantum computing. I would never have dreamed of all this back when I was just starting out in my career. But how did I wind up here in the first place?
After high school I didn’t really have a sense of direction, probably like most of us. Back then I envied kids who had clear ideas of where they were headed. They wanted to become doctors, pilots, nurses, lawyers, or teachers … the most I could even vaguely imagine was to become a rock star, knowing full well that I wasn’t a good enough singer and couldn’t play guitar.
I worked a lot during my school years, but that only made me sure of what I didn’t want. I still had to fulfill my mandatory national service, either in the military or in a civilian capacity, so that gave me a little more time to reach a decision. Out of my preferred subjects—computer science, German studies and biology—biology won out in the end. As part of Generation X, we were shaped by recession, industrial restructuring, and major waves of layoffs; we had the baby boomers in our face and the feeling that no one would need us when we graduated from college.
After a brief foray in a planning office that prepared biological studies and environmental impact assessments, which I had founded together with fellow students (today we would call it a startup), my path led me to the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Terrestrial Microbiology (no, unfortunately there still isn’t an MPI for extraterrestrial microbiology). I was offered an opportunity to pursue a doctorate in what was then a brand new field—analysis of microbial communities, using molecular biology techniques that included genome sequencing.
Post-Doc by the New Economy
The processing and analysis of the data during the last third of the doctoral work required that I use powerful Unix computers for networking purposes at MPI. As it turned out, this knowledge was not widespread; however, with help from a colleague, we succeeded in planning the network. And as a postdoc I was responsible for training my colleagues to master the network. Then I threw myself into my professional life, applying for lots of jobs without much success. because at that time employers seemed to be interested only in 23-year-old specialists with five years of experience abroad. This was when the Internet was gaining momentum, and I decided to build on my expertise as a biologist and Unix freak by adding digital transformation to the mix. I also completed further training as a specialist editor for electronic media, which led me to one of the first internet search engines, where I fully immersed myself in the digital world as webmaster, internet developer, and operations manager, including duties related to the company’s IPO. Back then this was called the “new economy,” and it was booming like mad, at least for three years, until the internet bubble burst, after which I was suddenly “authorized” only to conduct employee exit interviews instead of being able to hire people. It became clear to me that we wouldn’t survive the coming “lean” years, so it was time to move on. After applying for loads of jobs, what happened was—exactly nothing. It took some time, but eventually I received several interesting job offers. This taught me that it pays to stay persistent and think positively.
After talking through it with my family, I decided in favor of Bayer, out of all the offers I had received. What appealed to me in particular was the attractive location of this successful globally operating company with such an interesting history. I started here in 2002, when it had become necessary to consolidate the global server landscape, which had grown—if not become “overgrown”—during the Sturm und Drang phase. On that project, I learned all about Bayer’s global IT landscape and got to know many great colleagues.
The next challenge called for me to work on the carve-out of our chemicals business. As the global project manager for application hosting, I (along with my fellow project managers for the skilled trades) was faced with the task of separating an ever-growing application landscape during ongoing operations and providing the best possible starting conditions for the new company Lanxess. That project especially taught me not only to trust my colleagues, but also myself. Even when everything has been logically thought through and analyzed, always listen to your gut feeling (but not solely to it).
We wanted to be finished in 12 months, but all the planning showed me that we were going to need more time than that, because all the project participants came up with different findings in our planning analyses. We had never before taken on such a large-scale project, and even consulting firms couldn’t provide us with a convincing blueprint for how best to proceed. When I studied my plan in greater detail, it became clear that I had planned in scenarios—best case, mid case, and worst case. I chose the mid case, because it had the greatest probability of occurrence. I was very pleasantly surprised that people were continually challenging me, wanting to know if the project couldn’t progress faster, but they listened to me and ultimately showed their trust in me. Then after 18 months, all the project participants were finished, and it was a really great feeling to be part of the successful launch of Lanxess!
Lifelong learning – more than a buzzword
I worked in various positions in the years that followed at Bayer, taking on project management, product management, program management and portfolio management. I’ve also provided bioinformatics support in the area of genome research for our cancer research and cardiovascular research, and since 2015 I have been a part of our emphasis on innovation.
Time and again I am fascinated by how multifaceted this company is, and by the range of opportunities that Bayer offers its employees. Technological development progresses faster all the time, and it is incredibly exciting to be part of this at Bayer, to play a part in shaping it.
Now sympathetic readers who have come this far might be asking themselves: Why has he recounted all of this in such epic scope?
Something close to my heart is to convince you that what Germans actually used to call a “gebrochener Lebenslauf” (literally translated as “broken” or “fragmented” resumé, the resumé of a “job hopper”), proved to be the prerequisite for the interesting work I do today in innovation—at the point where R&D in the worlds of IT, pharmaceuticals and crop science converge. Today, more than ever before, the term “lifelong learning” is anything but a hollow buzzword. We owe the rapid development of our society to this principle. So if you are asking yourselves what your education today will be good for tomorrow, Bayer has a good answer for you.
People from many different cultures work here. Their education and training backgrounds range across a broad spectrum, and they work in global and local teams on the greatest challenges of our times. Aging populations, exponential technology development, genomics, mobility, the internet of things, imaging, analytics, machine learning, AI, social media, cloud services, and much more.
It’s all waiting to be explored—by you! We can’t wait to hear about your ideas!
This post is also available in: German