Selamat siang! Hi there! I’m Felix Rösicke, a trainee enrolled in the Future Leadership Program in Product Supply with a focus on Quality Management at Bayer Consumer Health and I’m currently based in Cimanggis, Indonesia. The title might be a bit of a mouthful, but here I will share a brief insight into this varied and challenging program so that you can gain a good idea of its content.
I had spent most of my life in Berlin before becoming a trainee at Bayer. I went to school there, gained my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in chemistry at the Humboldt University of Berlin and ultimately received my doctorate in physical chemistry. This was the first time I came into contact with Bayer because a lecturer at the university worked full-time for Bayer in Berlin. I was originally pursuing a career in academia, but I abandoned this when my doctorate came to an end. I may have been highly qualified at that stage, but I had no clue about the “real” working world and also no idea about the direction my career should take. That’s why I specifically looked for jobs that would give me a broad overview of the chemical or pharmaceutical industry. During this search, I became aware of the Future Leadership Program in Product Supply at Bayer Pharma, which takes on trainees for two years at various points in the value chain. But, wait! That’s the title for another story, not the one in the introduction above! The journey from this opportunity to the path I eventually went down has already taught me an important lesson, but I’ll come to that.
If at first you don’t succeed…
I went for this position and applying was a four-stage process. I had a telephone interview with two members of HR from Leverkusen in October 2017 after successfully applying online via the careers portal the previous month. This was followed another month later by a one-hour personal interview in Berlin with a total of six Bayer managers whose expertise covered an extremely wide variety of sectors. Shortly afterwards I received an invitation to a one-day assessment center in Berlin. Here I worked together with three other applicants on various tasks in a process that was highly strenuous and demanding, yet very transparent and fair. I received the feedback on very same evening – I wouldn’t get that job, more’s the pity.
And now to the lesson learned – there are opportunities everywhere at Bayer if you are willing to seize them. No sooner had I been turned down for the place on the Pharma program did I receive an offer for a similar Quality Management program at Consumer Health that had just been launched. Although this required another day for me to go to the Consumer Health headquarters in Basel to introduce myself and be confirmed there, this involved interviews rather than assessment in a center. After I received the final offer, we agreed upon a start date of April 2018. My first assignment led me to Grenzach-Wyhlen on the German-Swiss border close to France.
Contrast program #1 – Dropped into a small town
I wanted to find a job where I could stay in Berlin as far as possible. Well, that obviously didn’t work out so well. But what should be clear to anyone applying to join these trainee programs is that flexibility, both intellectual and geographical, is crucial. I worked on a project in quality control at the Grenzach plant. It was a highly intensive dive into the confusing depths of “regulated industry”. Throughout my project, I was able to draw extensively from the analytical expertise gained during my studies. I was very warmly welcomed to my department in Grenzach and I also managed to very quickly make productive contributions throughout the plant. It was a pleasant experience to be considered as support staff, rather than a newbie, from my first day. I gained the impression that the projects are selected really carefully, even from the short time I’ve spent on this trainee program. On the one hand, to utilize the strengths of the trainees and, on the other hand, to tap their existing potential to develop. It is important to emphasize here that highly extensive legislation concerning quality, and quality control in particular, is in force that somewhat restricts the ability to assume overall responsibility within the daily routine for trainees, unlike the trainee programs for supply chain management or operations.
Interlude at HQ
My assignment in Grenzach lasted five months – five months in which I got to know an entire site and made many new friends among my co-workers. As Consumer Health division headquarters were a stone’s throw away in Basel, I was then transferred there for six weeks. I was not assigned a dedicated project during this period. Instead, my time was spent doing a stint at every production-relevant department. I therefore got to know new co-workers and their fields of activity every week and forged many valuable contacts. Despite the short duration, this was certainly one of the most important stops on my program because it helped me to grasp the scale of the requirements for this multi-billion-dollar business, at least to some extent. The constantly new topics being thrown at you made the weeks fly by and the next assignment was always lined up.
The overseas STA (short term assignment) that lasts five or six months is a key part of the trainee program. My journey then led me from the rather quiet small town of Grenzach-Wyhlen with 15,000 inhabitants to the pulsating metropolis Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia that boasts around 26 million inhabitants. Bayer operates a plant south of Jakarta from which production is carried out for Indonesia, other Southeast Asian countries, and worldwide. Right now, I am currently the acting manager for a small team that is responsible for coordinating the validation of cleaning activities at the site. The actual team manager has her hands full with further training at another department.
In addition to quickly establishing a large network, this introductory program also aims to prepare trainees to take on management duties. This is something I greatly appreciate about Bayer as an employer: Further training and development are not only expected, but very actively encouraged by line managers wherever possible. In addition to further specialist training, my stay in Indonesia is of course also an incredible opportunity for me to personally broaden my own horizons and continually put my own conduct to the test, as well as practices that are foreign to me. Even though the cultures might not always gel, I feel like I have been very positively accepted as part of the team here! The opportunity to travel to wonderful destinations such as Bali, Lombok and Singapore for the weekend is pretty nice as well and a real perk of the site’s location!
I am going to stay in Indonesia until the end of March. Two more six-month assignments are scheduled at the two major German plants in Bitterfeld and Leverkusen upon my return to Germany. Further lean management or personnel management training is also scheduled in addition to acquiring more basic pharmaceutical knowledge. The variety on offer is enormous. You quickly discover many different sites and get to know an extremely wide range of quality assurance, control and management aspects, building up a vast network all the while. As I have already mentioned, we trainees are “thrown in at the deep end” now and again; a stopover in production is also planned. However, I can always firmly rely on the backing of my line managers, even now, far away in Indonesia.
Achieving the target of attaining a management position within one of the many Bayer Group quality departments is not out of the question. It’s still impossible to predict what position and at which department though. As I am the first participant on this program at Consumer Health, some of the planning steps are and were a bit bumpy. However, thanks to the commitment shown back home and by the respective sites, everything I needed and much of what I had hoped for on this program have been made possible for me so far. As a result, as a “pioneer”, my experiences have been positive rather than negative. The special requirements placed on projects for trainees obviously also mean that not every individual wish can be catered for when assignments are planned. However, a fair balance between the trainee’s requirements – i.e. mine – and those of the specialist departments is usually struck. Someone is always on hand to listen to insights, even on matters peripheral to your own activities.
This post is also available in: German