“It is about doing the right thing”

Strategic decisions demand great flexibility and courage from the people involved. When the Animal Health organisations of Boehringer Ingelheim and Sanofi merged, two corporate cultures and many different nationalities found their way into a single melting pot that is now Boehringer Ingelheim’s new Animal Health Business Unit. Rogier Biemans, Site Director in Pirbright (UK) and originally from the Boehringer Ingelheim organisation, and Vanessa Mariani, Global Commercial Operations Integration Lead and former Merial employee, discuss how they bring together the best of both worlds.

Rogier, you transferred from the Boehringer Ingelheim site in Weesp in the Netherlands to Pirbright in the UK. Vanessa, you left Atlanta in the USA and came to Ingelheim. How much courage did that take?

BIEMANS It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that. Saying goodbye to colleagues is hard. I would have really liked to take some of them with me. I try to stay in touch, but life is moving on. And the people in the UK have been treating me very well.

MARIANI For me the move was a game changer. In Atlanta I worked for Merial, now I’m part of Boehringer Ingelheim. I’ve been living in Ingelheim since March 2017 and will stay here until March 2018 on an extended business trip. My husband still lives in Atlanta, so I try to fly home every four weeks.

BIEMANS Our jobs also keep us very busy. There’s really no time to miss old ways.

MARIANI That’s true. And, after all, it’s really about the people, not the location. I’m still in touch with some colleagues I worked with in Atlanta. But the people here in Ingelheim have been so amazing and welcoming, there’s nothing that I’d change.

Vanessa, how is living in a rather rural area going for you so far?

MARIANI Originally I am from Mexico City and I lived in New York City for 15 years. Ingelheim is definitely a change – but I like it. I haven’t really suffered any cultural shock. The only thing that takes a little bit to get used to is Sundays when all the stores are closed in Germany.

Vanessa Mariani and Rogier Biemans met in October 2017 in Ingelheim. Both work for Boehringer Ingelheim’s new Animal Health Business Unit.
Over lunch together, Vanessa Mariani and Rogier Biemans exchanged views on Boehringer Ingelheim’s corporate culture.

Not only has the size of the town taken some time to get used to. The people are also different. What’s special about the Boehringer Ingelheim headquarters?

BIEMANS Whenever I visit Ingelheim I feel people are very correct and value rules. The dress code is stricter, the conversations are more formal. But, if you get to know the people, they loosen up.

MARIANI I noticed a certain formality here in Ingelheim as well – which I like. I appreciate having a framework and rules. But our lives are so different every day that we have to be flexible. So, despite the formality, we’ve created a space where we can be a lot more relaxed about how we interact with each other or how we approach different situations.

Vanessa, you have spent most of your life in North America. Is working in Germany challenging?

MARIANI We work in a global corporate world, so it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t interacted with other cultures. The most positive part about the move to Ingelheim is the culture: the way that I’ve felt welcomed in the Boehringer Ingelheim organisation, in the integration team, in Ingelheim in general. It’s a fantastic experience.

It’s not only a change for you personally, but also for Boehringer Ingelheim and Merial in general — two companies are trying to integrate two businesses and form a single entity, right?

BIEMANS This process is still ongoing and will continue throughout the upcoming months. The differences regarding the corporate structure are huge: Merial is a multinational public company, Boehringer Ingelheim is a privately held, global organisation.

MARIANI To combine the two businesses, we developed a new vision. We are driven by the conviction that animals enrich human life. It’s vital for the integration process to have a common set of beliefs.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Merial both have their own unique corporate culture. What does corporate culture mean to you?

BIEMANS For me it’s how people interact with each other. This relates to the underlying values. At Boehringer Ingelheim there is a structured way of working, people are always correct and respectful. This creates a certain atmosphere that determines how people interact with each other.

MARIANI Culture – whether it’s in society at large or in a corporation – is down to behaviour and everyday life. You can have a written code, but it’s really how you live the underlying values that build a culture.

VANESSA MARIANI


Vanessa Mariani moved to Ingelheim, Germany, last spring as Global Commercial Operations Integration Lead. She transferred to Boehringer Ingelheim from Merial where she was responsible for Strategic Planning and Marketing Excellence. Originally from Mexico City, Mariani lived much of her life in New York City before moving to Atlanta and then Ingelheim.

Rogier Biemans moved from the Boehringer Ingelheim site in Weesp in the Netherlands to Pirbright in the UK. Vanessa Mariani came from Atlanta in the USA to Ingelheim.

 

 

ROGIER BIEMANS


Rogier Biemans is currently Boehringer Ingelheim's Site Director in Pirbright, UK. Before moving to the Greater London area in August 2017, the Dutchman worked as a production manager at the Boehringer Ingelheim site in Weesp in the Netherlands. Biemans has 20 years of experience in life sciences, pharmaceutical research and development, and manufacturing.

What are the main differences in the cultures of Merial and Boehringer Ingelheim?

MARIANI I found that Merial was a lot more lax and more open about structuring the daily business, which probably had to do with the fact that it was previously a joint venture. This gave the organisation great freedom to operate.

BIEMANS I agree. At the beginning of this year, we had a global operations conference at the Merial headquarters in Lyon. It was a three-day conference and everybody was waiting for the agenda to be sent out. So we all arrived in Lyon still waiting for the agenda. It was certainly more informal and improvised than Boehringer Ingelheim people were used to.

MARIANI Yes, for many people coming from a more lax environment, a tight framework can be a little bit of a shock.

You’ve both worked in various locations. How does the culture differ in each place?

BIEMANS With Boehringer Ingelheim there’s a common corporate culture, but certain elements are unique for each location. The country hugely influences the way people interact. The type of location also plays a role, whether it’s a production site or an office.

MARIANI I feel that in Animal Health in general, people are very passionate about the industry, about the social purpose their work is fulfilling, about doing the right thing for animals and people. It’s an industry where people work really hard across all locations and countries.

Is doing the right thing specific to Animal Health?

MARIANI I’ve been working in the field for almost 20 years, so from my perspective, it was always very intrinsic for Animal Health. But I’ve found in the time I’ve been here in Ingelheim that it is intrinsic to the overall Boehringer Ingelheim culture. We always ask ourselves, is this the best approach? What is the long-term gain? How does it fit the overall strategy? We try to do the right thing for the right reasons – long-term. It’s refreshing that there’s a link from today to tomorrow, which you don’t always see in other companies.

BIEMANS Again, I agree with you. For example, the products we make in the UK are vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). We sell them to governments through the department of Veterinary Public Health in Lyon. These vaccines can change people’s lives. For many people, our products are fundamental – even more fundamental than we sometimes realise.

One of the main differences between English-speaking countries and Germany is how people who work together address each other. In German, we use last names and the more formal word for “you” to retain a certain distance. How do you find that?

BIEMANS In the UK, we hardly use people’s last name, the atmosphere is very relaxed. Animal Health is also a little bit more casual than other areas of the pharmaceutical industry. At production locations in particular it’s less formal. I like that. But in my opinion, boundaries are not established by first or last names. There are other underlying factors.

MARIANI Right. It’s more about creating respect between different parts of the team. My boss, for example, has a “Dr” before of his name. This usually establishes a certain distance, but he is the most approachable person you can find. He works in our team room with us. Whether he’s a doctor or not, an engineer or an architect – what really matters to us is that he’s got commitment. We respect him more for his work than for any title.

BIEMANS I also feel that things are changing in Germany. In the 1980s, it was more formal than today.

Combining two different corporate cultures isn’t easy. Have there been any teambuilding activities to make the transition easier?

MARIANI When the deal between Sanofi and Boehringer Ingelheim was concluded, different countries had “day one events” and integration workshops. In our team here in Ingelheim, we organise quarterly social activities, like going out for dinner.

BIEMANS When I transferred to the UK, the onboarding was good. People are very nice, open and really straightforward. At Pirbright, everyone gets a card for their birthday. We didn’t do that at my previous site in Weesp. I like new ideas, it’s always good to take the best of both worlds and use them.

Are there any stereotypes that arise when working with so many different cultures?

BIEMANS The British are strong on humour; I don’t think that’s a stereotype though. They appreciate a vigorous exchange of views which is sometimes enjoyable and sometimes a little bit too much.

MARIANI Ingelheim is a melting pot of so many different nationalities. You can’t have stereotypes when you work with so many different people; there is just no place for it.

BIEMANS Every individual is different. The fact that one comes from a certain country doesn’t pigeonhole them. There are very formal and informal Germans, there are heated and cool Mexicans.

MARIANI I work with people from Columbia, Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries and we joke about each other’s accents and colloquialisms. But it’s all in good humour.

BIEMANS If you can happily make jokes about each other, you’re communicating at the same level. What matters is the underlying respect.