Johannes Dietsch is now Bayer’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) but he originally joined the company as a commercial trainee on the predecessor of today’s MIBS program. In this interview Dietsch talks about how he got to Bayer and how the combined training program facilitated his impressive career.
It was essentially a coincidence that I took a training course at Bayer – thanks to a schoolmate of mine. She told me that Bayer had a very special training program which combined a practical apprenticeship with theoretical training. I was so fascinated by the concept that I applied for the program and was accepted six months before I even took my final school exams (laughs).
So why Bayer?
To be perfectly honest, at the start of my training I didn’t have any particular affinity to Bayer. As I said, I applied to the company on the recommendation of a friend. Bayer sounded like a great adventure so I decided to try my luck.
What did the training program involve and how exactly did Bayer offer you employment?
At the time, the program comprised an apprenticeship as a commercial clerk combined with more academic training in business administration. It was a three-year program taken by everyone in the class – a bit like the Management and International Business Studies (MIBS) program that replaced it a few years ago.
In the third year, we were asked to decide which part of the company we would eventually like to work for. Our training mainly focused on marketing & sales, but my motto was always that I should be open to anything new, so I opted for Accounting. Basically I’m fascinated by numbers. So, unlike many of my colleagues and other apprentices, I started to work in Bayer’s administrative organization.
What was the next step after joining Accounting?
My next step was quite a surprise. And that’s something that I still find striking at Bayer: I often come across people who are able to open up completely new and unexpected career paths. Bayer’s managers are unbelievably good at spotting, fostering and encouraging talent.
I have to say that when I joined the Accounting department, I expected I would stay in Leverkusen. However, during the onboarding process I was asked whether I would be prepared to work abroad. My manager therefore offered me the opportunity to work in Tokyo for several years, and I quickly agreed. I was just 24 when I went to Japan.
That is one of the big advantages of a combined vocational training and degree program: You qualify young, are familiar with the company and are offered opportunities to develop and change within the organization from a very early stage. So that was how I came to spend four and a half years as assistant to the Head of Finance in Japan.
That sounds really exciting! Especially the way interesting opportunities can arise unexpectedly.
The next unexpected opportunity for me came in 1996, when the person appointed to head Bayer’s Finance department in Japan withdrew shortly before he was due to take up the position. Someone remembered me because I had worked in the Finance department in Tokyo a few years previously – so I went back again, this time as CFO for Bayer in Japan. That was quite a thing because I was only 34 years old and Japanese culture was strongly geared to seniority. In other words, age and experience were very important for managers there. I spent another five exciting years in Japan, where I was able to drive forward many things.
Looking back at your own career, how do you rate the development opportunities at Bayer? For example, how important has continuous professional development been or have other factors been equally important?
I always say you shouldn’t leave Bayer if you’re interested in ongoing development because we offer our employees so many opportunities for development within the Group. You need to be flexible, have an appetite for exploring things that are new and unfamiliar, and be prepared to work abroad. My career was driven forward tremendously by my international experience.
I had the opportunity to attend some seminars and there were intercultural training sessions to prepare myself for my foreign assignments and Japanese culture. But what Bayer employees are offered today is really amazing. I think it’s great that there are so many courses they can select for themselves from our comprehensive training catalog. Not just because of the content, but because courses like these are also an opportunity to meet people from all over the Group.
What message do you have for young people just starting out?
In my experience, there are two really important aspects. Firstly, performance and commitment. At Bayer we recognize, reward and encourage performance. If you apply at Bayer, you will receive support and permanent opportunities for development.
Secondly – and this is something that was always extremely important to me – values like transparency, openness and integrity are crucial. They are reflected in Bayer’s corporate culture. I believe we have a culture that is almost unique in Germany.
This post is also available in: German