CEO Dekkers' legacy at Bayer? Embracing risk, à la its American rivals

Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers

Marijn Dekkers' time in the Bayer CEO chair is winding down, and the Dutchman has a couple of big items left on his to-do list before he turns over the reins. But thanks to his penchant for risk-taking, in the 5-plus years he's been with the German pharma, he's gotten plenty done already.

When Dekkers, who came to Bayer after 25 years working in the U.S., joined Bayer in early 2010, he brought some ideas on how to inject the best of American corporate culture into the Leverkusen-based drugmaker, The Wall Street Journal reports. Increasing the company's speed and adaptability--and easing its aversion to risk--were high on his list.

Whereas U.S. companies often operate on an "80-20 rule"--meaning they start executing ideas with only 80% of the necessary data in hand--Bayer was nowhere close to that when he arrived. "Here, if I would be kind, in the beginning, we had a 99-1 rule. And I'm kind," he said in a recent interview, as quoted by the WSJ.

Piece by piece, Dekkers has been working to revamp the company, and now, it's right in the thick of some of its biggest changes. For one, it's gearing up to divest its plastics unit, which would have needed some hefty capital investments to stay competitive. "I said, 'We can just not do this anymore,'" Dekkers recounted.

Bayer is also chasing the consumer health crown, bolstering its business in that market with last year's $14.2 billion purchase of Merck's ($MRK) OTC unit. Dekkers--who has mandated that division heads have marketing backgrounds ever since he took over as chief--has been working to change the notion that Bayer only has its flagship aspirin brand to offer. American consumers "used to see 'Bayer' only on aspirin--the ugly yellow bottle," he told the WSJ.

If Bayer gets there, though, it may ultimately face less risk than ever before--for its revenues, that is. Even after the plastics unit departs and Bayer takes on a life-sciences-only identity, it'll have less risky, patent-dependent businesses to lean on than a "pure pharma company," Dekkers told Bloomberg Television last month.

- read the WSJ story (sub. req.)

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