Personal and Career Development from then to now
I am a Boehringer Ingelheim associate. The herein described view expressed in this article is my own and not endorsed by Boehringer Ingelheim.
Applying the principle of ‘Aikido’ by turning weaknesses into strengths led me from ‘downs’ I had within my recent career into even more uplifting ‘ups’ within my personal career. Being ‘too energetic’ actually isn’t bad at all if applied to the right framework, particularly when resulting in a lifelong learning ambition purposing to serve as a role model for innovation and for people. Maybe due to growing up in the United States close to the campus of the Cornell University (because of my dad serving me as a scientific role model), I later had several stops at American universities, where I spent a year as an undergraduate student at the UT Texas at Austin or somewhat more time as a postdoc at the University of California in Berkeley after my PhD in Germany. However, I never made my way as a Professor to any university – not because I didn’t find the grit to undergo this journey, but rather because I still see myself in a different setup to date using the full potential of my strengths, I identified throughout my whole journey.
It all began after my second year at grad school during my PhD, seeing a huge poster from the ‘VWA University of Freiburg’ on my way to work saying ‘…study at the VWA University and become a real business economist’! Until I neither knew what a business economist did, nor did I ever arise to do anything else than chemistry. Moreover, I perceived myself as a chemist with an exclusive focus on lab work to publish the next fancy total synthesis or method that might change the faith of the (chemistry) landscape. Of course – dream big! However, this was the moment where I suddenly had this ‘weird’ and disruptive idea to look beyond the box and acquire a radical new set of theoretical skills.
Soaking up the essentials of corporate finance and thus, doing discounted cashflow calculations to valuate companies, studying the essentials of the contracting law or the theory of macroeconomics I am currently corroborating within my MBA studies was at that time as far away as a man could be from the moon on the day of the 19th of July 1969 from a point of utilizing these skills within my ‘daily work’ as ‘molecular architect’ during my PhD.
However, time remaining to the moon is sometimes closer as one initially assumed and as spending time in Berkeley as a postdoc, my journey brought me to industry without any other detours as a lab leader into a R&D lab in the ‘Division for Process Development for Chemicals and Intermediates’ to work for BASF in Ludwigshafen. As a scientist in the sacred halls of the famous ‘Ammonia Laboratory’ in the heart of the site where Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch invented the famous industrial process for the manufacturing of ammonia (resulting in a nobel prize) as bedrock to feed a quickly growing population earlier in the last century, my intrinsic curiosity and willingness to evolve and grow outside my comfort zone not only taught me how to develop and transfer robust new processes and products into present or newly designed assets of BASF, but also exposed me to many other activities for which the prior acquired knowledge suddenly served as my personal cornerstone.
Understanding the purpose and the necessity to frequently communicate aggregated information to the management to establish an efficient R&D controlling, my acquired knowledge also helped me on how to be persuasive within the pitch of new projects, to take over and lead effectively and efficiently projects, to calculate required project budgets and to valuate new projects for the sake of feasibility and portfolio fit or to monitor IP strategy by patenting own or entering a caveat against competitive patents. Other activities to forge external collaborations, or to develop the central R&D strategy within a great and extraordinary team within our research division were also of relevance, just to name a few more.
Eager to move even further outside my comfort zone, I got in touch with Boehringer Ingelheim by chance during one of my favorite activities – writing research and review articles to corroborate acquired process development knowledge for future generation of scientists. Having written an article about the famous ‘Buchwald-Hartwig-Amination’ from an industry point of view, I got in touch with my lab colleague back in my time at the University of Texas at Austin, who worked now in the division of ‘Chemical Development US’ for Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgefield. Joining and serving a great international team of scientists located in South Africa, Germany, USA and China, I not only drafted a book chapter, but at the same time fortuitously met my future colleagues. Fading into Boehringer Ingelheim as a principal scientist and joining the division for late-stage process development for pharmaceuticals in Ingelheim, I currently have the chance to not only lead but moreover, to serve my new team as a coach in my role as a ‘molecular architect’ and/or as a ‘master builder’ by developing not only innovative and processes for new chemical entities in order to supply clinical trials for the welfare of our patients, but also transfer those processes as routine production processes to a commercial site and thus perpetually meet new and extraordinary people working for this company all around the world.
My craving to refocus from the chemical to the pharmaceutical industry and to understand the entire clinical landscape, as well as to push forward innovations related to process chemistry with a pharmaceutical point of view together with a great team brought me as a product owner to my newest project ‘ASAP’ – a digital tool for ‘Augmented Synthesis and Analytical-Data based Process Development’ that for sure will result in a paradigm change in the light of how we nowadays approach process development: The way of performing an experiment was reapproached structurally and was dismantled in a planning phase, a data collecting phase and an analyzing phase and thus, brings together the analytical and chemical process development in a very close way to open radical new possibilities for interaction and communication as a real ‘tandem team’. This opportunity to drive new digital technologies and assess the digital needs of tomorrow for the benefit of Boehringer Ingelheim by serving a great and agile team aside to my regular job as a development chemist responsible for scale-up and launch is of utmost value for me and is personally perceived as a truly ambidextrous approach to drive innovation by my company day by day. I guess that makes me now not only a molecular, but also a digital and team architect!
What is our FOCUS at Boehringer Ingelheim
My guiding principles match in a perfect way with the corporate given strategy which triggered me to join this company. It strengthens our FOCUS and reveals our purposes that defines our approach, and thus, defines our daily tasks. Inspired by ‘The Golden Circle’ from Simon Sinek whom I once met at a TEDx conference back in my earlier time as a postdoc in Berkeley, gave me a clear answer to the WHY, the WHAT and the HOW with respect to the strategy approached by Boehringer Ingelheim.
Ambition 2025: As part of our ‘Ambition 2025’, we as Boehringer Ingelheim aim to serve humankind by becoming #1 in Animal Health, in Biopharmaceutical Contract Manufacturing, and in value share for our Human Pharma brands as an independent and family-owned company by continuing to nurture value through innovation, guided by our ‘Leitbild’.
Our ‘Leitbild’ for ‘Value-through-Innovation’: We develop breakthrough therapies and health care solutions in areas of unmet medical need. We aim to make significant contributions to human and animal health care. We focus on areas of high therapeutic need, and on diseases which have so far not been satisfactorily prevented or treated. Breakthrough therapies and solutions that improve patients’ lives will be made appropriately available to as many people as possible. Having experienced different points of guiding principles within shareholder-owned and family-owned companies, I personally see this as a great benefit for family-owned companies to plan in generations, which enables a long-lasting performance. I value most, that this is carried out in a diverse, collaborative, and open environment by working with passion and integrity and treating our colleagues with respect, having trust, showing empathy and most importantly by growing together.
How we work: We at Boehringer Ingelheim follow the principles of ‘AAI’, showing accountability for our results, being agile and an intrapreneur. Even in ambiguous circumstances, we always demonstrate ownership for our decisions and actions and are role models for Boehringer Ingelheim’s values, always doing what we say and saying what we think. Especially in my team, I perceive this narrative as very invigorating to provide feedback to and seek feedback from my team to leverage strengths, deliver results and most of all to develop my team members as good as possible. Boehringer Ingelheim is very good in quickly acting with an open mind to face internal and external transformation by searching and responding to drivers of changes, through active experimentation. I really enjoy to consistently challenge the status quo by the ‘exploit’ and ‘explore’ approach to foster ambidextrous innovation, both in an incremental and radical way such as emerging the vision for ‘ASAP’. All this is umbrellaed by a strong demand for intrapreneurship: Boehringer Ingelheim fosters this spirit and forges actively opportunities for us to seek for solutions and to serve the needs of our customers and patients by turning innovative ideas into business results. This is what brought me into my role as product owner for ‘ASAP’. Boehringer Ingelheim’s ‘Digital Innovation Unit’ supports new and innovative digital ideas, which are pitched 2-3 times a year in which the ‘intrapreneurs’ who have submitted ideas for digital innovation are invited by a leadership team to receive funding and support and the possibility to turn their ideas into realities in case a portfolio fit to our strategic areas is given. At this end, turning innovative ideas into practical solutions that have the potential to positively impact our value chain are the key for our future transformation within Boehringer Ingelheim.
At Boehringer Ingelheim I am an architect
There are numerous reasons why I am proud to not only work for Boehringer Ingelheim, but moreover, to be part of ‘the family’. It is the culture, the commitment to our employees and to have the ultimate freedom to lead and to take responsibility for a great team of coworkers in order to develop them with respect to their individual needs. Beyond that, modern and agile leadership methods and a felicitous communication is the key to attach and trigger allegiance interpersonally and to my company. I guess all this is what made us a global top employer two times in a row in 2021 and 2022!
If you seek an adventure and aim for a career full of discoveries, respect, trust, and teamwork and strive for innovative moonshots I can promise you that you’ll find all this at Boehringer Ingelheim. I did and I am very happy to be part of the family.
Based in Ingelheim (Germany), Alex is a Laboratory Head in the Department for Chemical Development and a Product Owner for the development of digital tools for process development. In his role of following the principles of ambidextry with ‘exploitation’ and ‘exploration’ as key strategies for innovation, Alex oversees and actively urges the development of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) for new therapeutic areas at Boehringer Ingelheim.
On the one hand, he is active scaling up complex chemical procedures including the transfer to commercial site, levers CDMO management and manages raw material procurement as well as supply chain strategies. On the other hand, as part of an agile team, he rethinks and remodels the paradigm of ‘analog’ process development, reframing it to a digital realm. Alex is happy to have the opportunity to serve as a coach and a role model being not only curious and innovative but also highly energetic and people centric. Aspired to inspire, he infects the teams and co-workers surrounding him with a high level of energy, optimism, trust, passion, and curiosity and furthermore manages a great triathlon between life, his career at Boehringer Ingelheim and his everlasting learning ambitions within his current project, pursuing an MBA at the Gutenberg Business School at the University of Mainz with the aid of Boehringer Ingelheim.
Alex is a Chemist and Business Economist by training. After his Post Doc at the University of California in Berkeley in the Group of Prof. John Hartwig on transition metal cross-coupling reactions, he started his career in the Department of Chemical Synthesis at BASF (Germany), working several years in R&D on some current major innovations which resulted in over 25 patents and about 15 publications. By chance, Alex migrated then in 2021 to another industry field, joining ‘The Boehringer Ingelheim Family’ in 2021 in the Department for Chemical Development Germany.