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How to Develop a Nose for Innovation

Innovation-Reduce-RandD-CostsPhilip Blake, President & CEO, Bayer is giving an advice on how to develop a nose for innovation and talks specific experiences he has had that helped him on this journey.

You will find a number of people who’ve been in the industry, have lived in some ways through the golden age - the age where there’s been a willingness to pay and be able to clearly demonstrate the value the innovation machines delivered over the last few decades.

I had the good fortune to start out as a sales rep

That amazing time when you go from being in research, and you’re not really sure where the next grant is coming from, and suddenly, a company Bayer gave me £6,250 a year with a small bonus and a thing called Ford Cortina. It’s wonderful when you’re pretty young and start out as a salesperson, which helps understand a little bit about what is this unmet need in medical practice.

What do physicians really value

I found that it is increasingly valuable to know what physicians actually value. Something that helps me every day, particularly when the commercial people have a program. In the two or three minutes our consultants actually have with a physician, they can always link back to how this is actually going to work.

Learn how to play the “corporate piano”

I was fortunate to spend some time within the headquarters in Leverkusen. I always believe that’s really important to get to your corporate headquarters and figure out how to play the “corporate piano” as I call it – to learn how it actually works there.

I was very lucky because the visionary who was leading Bayer at the time, a guy called Professor Horst Meyer, he was trying hard because he thought the way you generate value is you generate value by shaping research and development. His view was that Bayer was all about innovation, that we do our best at the commercialization. We would never be as good as, as he used to call them, the American companies, but his view was if you get innovation right, then even if you have a commercial machine which is sort of average, you’ll be okay. His view was: without innovation, even with an extremely good commercial machine, you are not going to do well.

So his goal was to get valuable innovation. So Professor Meyer tried to transplant a few people like myself who came from a scientific background, had been product manager, brand manager, head of marketing in the United Kingdom. He tried to transplant us into the development organization. So I spent five or six years up in Wuppertal which was our research and development facility. It’s where we’ve had our researchers, our development was led out of there. I was in global development responsible for Phase III study design. I sat on the committee which approved study design; Phase II, Phase III. I sat on the committee with made all the phase change decisions. I was a complete fish out of water for a number of years.

It took me some time to figure out how the statistics worked, how you had to power the studies, the benefits of combining Phase II and Phase III studies together, the risk balance you took by doing that.

I was on the committee which was working out how much research we should do inside and how much we should do externally, the benefits of partnering and not partnering, the fact that partnering brings in fresh ideas but also how you deal with a not invented here syndrome within corporations. For me that was the most valuable part of my career. At the time I didn’t realize it.

I’m seeing my colleagues, they are now directors, senior directors, vice presidents… They didn’t have Ford Cortinas anymore. They had bigger cars, more money, big bonuses… You don’t get this sort of the financial stuff when you’re in research and development. Now I came out of that, and suddenly they’re looking for general managers who understand how to play the piano, who know how the corporate organization works but can make these links. I also had a phase when I was responsible for building a factory in Italy. I was useless at that, but project managing, building this pharmaceutical manufacturing place which had all this stainless steel and these machines spinning. We were trying to make solutions so that kids could take pharmaceuticals as opposed to crushing up tablets with applesauce and that sort of stuff. Fascinating time, absolutely fascinating.

When directors eventually come looking for people for general management roles who could assemble the value chain, suddenly for me my career takes off again. I’m now responsible for the Americas for Bayer. And I feel reasonably comfortable because I can converse with most of the people in Bayer and assemble a value chain, understand how the partnerships work when you’re trying to bring innovation in because when you’re running an Americas business you need to be able to do that.

(This article was originally published on September 22, 2016)

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