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PROFILE: How Bayer UK chief Alex Moscho pairs romanticism with realism

This article was originally published in Scrip

Executive Summary

Dr Alexander Moscho's LinkedIn summary does a good job of fitting his ambitious but realist qualities into one sentence: "Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground."

Dr Alexander Moscho

Bayer UK's CEO, who is based in Newbury, has been a part of the company since 2006 but only took on the role as British chief in February 2014. Prior to that he spent time at the Bayer Business Services and CropScience units, and was also head of corporate development for Bayer AG.

He sat down with Scrip recently to chat about how a family illness inspired him to work in the healthcare industry, romantic notions of changing the world one step at a time, and his passion for British fantasy literature – of course including J K Rowling's bestselling series about schoolboy wizard, Harry Potter.

Scrip: You have risen to a leadership position in your field. What aspects of your personality got you there?

Alex Moscho: I would hope that some of the strengths I have acquired throughout my career are still contributing to where I am today.

To talk about a couple of characteristics, firstly what is required in a position like this is being able to see the big picture, having a strategic or visionary view. Secondly, it is key to have some analytical skills. You should be able to drive and detect challenges on the numerical side. Thirdly, a lot of leadership skill is dependent on communication. If you want to run an organization like this successfully, you need to engage the people, you need to make sure they find purpose in what they do.

Scrip: What are the key things that shaped you when growing up?

AM: There is one example I always cite that influenced me getting into the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry. When I was around nine-years-old my younger brother was diagnosed with diabetes. As a family we had never been confronted with a chronic illness amongst the kids or parents. This had a huge impact on our lifestyle. At that time the condition wasn't as sophisticated to manage as diabetes is now. It really made me think about whether there was an opportunity to contribute to really helping people in similar situations. This was a big influence on my deciding where to work later on in life.

Another thing I would mention is my grandfather. He died when I was around 16 but he had developed an impressive career. He started as a mail delivery boy in one of the huge zinc plants in Germany. He worked his way up and in the end he was director of two of those plants, one in Germany and one in Spain. As a small child I always admired him. He taught me that if you have dreams and direction, and you believe in them, you can make anything happen.

Scrip: What are your own long term aspirations?

AM: It might sound romantic, but what really drives me is that I want to contribute to making the world a bit better. I don't really believe in the big, one-time actions but I think everybody has an opportunity to contribute small steps for progress. What I have learned throughout my career is if you rise to higher managerial levels in the industry, or responsibility levels in other areas, you have the opportunity to influence more of the environment. I would definitely like to get the opportunity to do this on a higher level, say through a board level position at a global company: it would be really fun to use that position to contribute more.

Scrip: If you were starting over what's the best bit of advice you would give to your younger self?

AM: I would probably say to my younger self, "Have less respect for authority that just comes on the sheer base of authority and not on content or wisdom."

At some points in my life I was quite impressed by authority without merit. The learning I took from that is you should always question whether there is something behind the words. I am really happy with how things worked out for me overall, but if there is one thing I would do differently that would be it.

Scrip: Who do you admire in the industry, and why?

AM: I do not need to look very far. I have had the privilege of working with two really impressive CEOs within Bayer during the last nine years of my career. First was Werner Wenning. He turned Bayer completely around after the fundamental crisis we had in 2001-02. He used this hard time to start a new phase for the company and he managed this extremely well. At the same time he was able to preserve some of the central, cultural aspects of the company. That's really admirable, to succeed with a change like that but maintain the ethos of the value base – that's fantastic, he is really impressive.

However Marijn Dekkers, equally as impressive, came to Bayer as somebody who had worked in the US for most of his professional life. Obviously he has a completely different perspective on many things but the way he built on what was already there and then accelerated the company up to where we are today (focusing on life sciences) was really exciting. I have learnt a lot working with both of these men.

Scrip: Tell us something surprising about you.

AM: I play the clarinet, but many people know this so it's not very surprising. If there is one thing not many people know it's that I love British fantasy literature, like Lord of the Rings, and I got to love Harry Potter too through my kids. We said always, my wife and I, we should read what the kids read. I started reading the Harry Potter books and the style evolves quite a bit over the series and I really grew to like them. I read them in English too, not German.

Scrip: What has your proudest moment been?

AM: One thing that always makes me feel extremely proud is when things I believe in and initiated reach a point where they become self-sustaining. For example: when building an internal consultancy for Bayer I started with 30 people who had never done consulting, I changed the whole set up, got new people on board and helped with integration. Then I realized, after a lot of work, in a certain moment that it didn't need me anymore. That was a great moment.

There are those moments where you just stand back and realize you started something that people are now really on-board with and carrying forward themselves. Those are my proudest moments in my professional life.

Scrip: And what about your most difficult moment?

AM: You might deduct this from my "less respect for authority" comment. It's always those moments when you know there are no rational arguments in the world that can change a situation. These are situations where people have made up opinions or perspectives and you sense that you have hit a wall every time you try to change that or have them see something differently. Or circumstances where there are limitations given that just don't make sense. All these things get me really frustrated.

Scrip: Tell us about one change you effected in your organization that you believe was invaluable.

AM: The biggest change we saw in the past year was the development of a joint vision and strategy that gives a purpose to what we do and to what people want to contribute towards.

So at the beginning of last year, shortly after I joined here in the UK, I sat together with the management team and discussed what is important to us and we developed three elements that are really key to our success. They might be quite generic but they have a very special meaning for us.

Number one is passion for patients: thinking back to the motive I shared about my brother, this is the wish to contribute more. In the pharma industry we are contributing innovative products. We at Bayer have this stream of impressive innovation across our history. In the end it's patients that benefit from what we do. This passion for helping patients is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It motivates me and we found that this is true for most of our people. We don't believe in just having financial success, we believe in making a difference with the products we bring to the market.

The second element is passion for people, because we believe you need to build and foster an inspirational and rewarding environment for workers in order to deliver against that first passion of brining innovation to market for patients.

The third element is passion for performance: I always emphasize that performance is a result of doing the right stuff for patients and making sure people are empowered and inspired. The performance then will always be great.

Developing this vision, sharing it with the organization and seeing what it has done to our performance in the last year – that has been an invaluable experience.

Scrip: What was your first ever job?

AM: I distributed newspapers as a small boy but I wouldn't call that a proper job. The first real job I had, I should have done for eight weeks over a summer vacation. I was around 16 and I accepted a role helping within an organization checking people's credit worthiness. They had this huge archive and I didn't know at first what I would be doing there. I was recruited with a couple of other students and I thought I would work in an office environment. But on the first day they brought us to this basement, a very dusty, dark place full of huge shelves of papers that had been accumulating over decades. Our job was to sort them all. I did it for one day and then I said to my father "Either they pay me more or I will quit because it's not what I was expecting." He told me to sort it out. I spoke to the people that hired me and told them it was not what I expected and could we reconsider my payment for it. They didn't reconsider and I left after two days. That was my first experience in the work place, but it did teach me a couple of things.

Scrip: How did you get into the industry?

AM: I was very interested in science throughout school and back then I had the ambition to contribute more on the scientific side. Then it was one step after the other. After being at Stanford University as a visiting scholar I basically decided that science was not what I wanted to do in the long term. It is still intriguing to me and obviously I'm at a company built on science but I couldn't see myself in the lab. So I wanted to find a way I could get into managerial roles. That's where McKinsey & Co really helped me.

Scrip: What did you learn at McKinsey & Company that you have brought with you?

AM: McKinsey was a very fun place for me. It took me two years to realize I was at work and no longer at university because I was exposed to so many new things. The learning curve was steep and it was just fascinating to get insights into top management decision making. The skills I brought with me are around strategic work, analytics and communication.

Scrip: What is at the top of your bucket list?

AM: I would love to have a family vacation in Australia, combined with some diving. I would love to experience that fascinating country. It's one of the few places I still haven't been to.

Scrip: What is your lucky charm?

AM: I have two things: one would be my trust in God and the second is the love of my wife.

Scrip: Tell us one myth about the industry that you'd like to set straight.

AM: What really hurts me in many discussions at events or in the media is this image the industry is all about financial return. I think it takes away from what we are really about. I would not have stayed in the industry if money was the only motivation. We want to make a difference for people and patients. In many discussions this gets lost and the pharma industry is reduced to something that is a cost item. We have more to offer.

Take a look at the current NHS discussion in the UK.It's always about saving on drug spend and so on. It's very rarely a discussion about the real value the industry brings. I would hope that over time we succeed in convincing people, through behaviors and openness, that we are about much more than the financial aspects of our business. That is there of course but it's not all we are.

To change this opinion we will need to show we are reliable partners able to help organizations face the challenges of their various health systems. As a pharma company you always end up in a certain spot in discussion and people don't look to us for comments say on how to create a sustainable NHS, and I think we would have a lot to contribute there. The challenges the NHS faces are ones we have faced ourselves. The crisis we tackled in 2001-02, it was so bad that nobody wanted to buy our business and people suspected Bayer's 100+ year history would be over soon. But with the right measures and leadership we were able to change that. The NHS is fundamentally a great institution, built on a great idea. It just needs some gardening to create space for new flowers to blossom. The industry has insight to add in these types of discussions.

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