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Maria Tereno, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, discusses Boehringer Ingelheim’s corporate culture with her colleague Shawn Liu, Global Head of Human Resources (HR) Strategy & Transformation: what it takes to motivate top, young talent, the role that leaders play, and the limits of individuality and diversity.

Ms Tereno, Mr Liu, why are employees so crucial to the success of Boehringer Ingelheim?

TERENO Quite simply because this company has always been driven by its capacity for innovation. The pharmaceutical industry is an increasingly competitive business. So it’s more important than ever to remain innovative on a longterm basis – and that’s only possible with dedicated, motivated employees.

LIU True. Successful companies focus particularly on people and on taking their well-being and engagement very seriously. We’re proud that this has been part of who we are as a company for a long time. Across businesses, no matter whether in Human Pharma or Animal Health, and across countries, no matter whether in Europe, America or Asia, employees are at the very heart of our company worldwide.

So everything is perfect?

TERENO (laughs) Well, we do have a great corporate culture. But what’s decisive is not our current success but that we continue to be successful in the coming years. As a company that operates worldwide, Boehringer Ingelheim has a highly diverse workforce. We’ve people from a wide range of nationalities in our organisation, with very different cultural backgrounds, from every age group and with different experiences. We can leverage this diversity to drive innovation and business growth.


has been in charge of Boehringer Ingelheim’s global Diversity & Inclusion Office since March 2016.

Brazilian by birth and with Japanese and Portuguese roots, she has a Master of Business Administration from the University of Toronto. She joined Boehringer Ingelheim in Brazil in 2001; her roles included Brand Management and Head of Marketing for various products globally and locally. In October 2013, she was appointed Regional Business Head for Human Pharma for Japan and Australia. In this role, she was part of the team that developed the “People Strategy”, which is one of the company’s core priorities.

What do you mean by that?

TERENO Strong, diverse teams are our most important resource, as they in particular can generate good ideas. Studies show that many companies discourage difference in their workforce: around 40 per cent of all marketable ideas are left on the table, mainly due to lack of endorsement. Diversity of thinking ensures a pipeline always filled with good ideas. This ultimately also leads to market share growth.

LIU Diversity of society and the workforce is simply a fact that cannot be ignored. To respond to diversity, we need to embrace inclusion in our culture as, without inclusion, diversity doesn’t contribute all that much. In the worst case, it may even lead to chaos. We need a working environment that values partnership and diversity of thought in which colleagues trust one another and don’t need to watch out for everything they say.


TERENO Exactly. Diversity is the mix and inclusion is making the mix work. Everybody needs to feel valued. We require an inclusive leadership culture where leaders can provide honest, constructive feedback and recognition on achievements. This can be as simple as, “Thank you, that was great work.”

LIU This leads to another important topic – “moments that matter”. Boehringer Ingelheim employees have numerous interactions with the company and other colleagues within the company. Supervisor and employee performance feedback is one obvious example. As an organisation, we need to identify those critical moments that matter to employees and deal with them extremely well. To respond to the diversity of our workforce, we need to provide customised employee experience at those moments that matter. By doing so, we have the chance to engage each and everyone in the organisation to be the best they can.

What does that mean precisely?

TERENO People work in very different ways and are driven by different goals and ambitions. As a company, we must learn to enable our diverse employees to achieve their best performance. Naturally, it wouldn’t be realistic to create individualised approaches to our about 50,000 employees. With our customised employee experience we aim to look at the different needs of different groups of employees and create tailored approaches about how each group works and performs at its best.

Let’s talk more about inclusion. How can you successfully establish an inclusive culture?

TERENO First, leaders and teams need to consciously demonstrate inclusive behaviours aiming to foster innovative ideas. Secondly, our organisation needs to continuously create the right framework and infrastructure so that people with different personal and family backgrounds can make their best contribution to the company. Simple examples that are in place in Germany are childcare or flexible working hours. Another possibility could be by allowing time for special “innovation labs” where people meet in order to work together creatively on projects. This is, by the way, one of the key projects in development by the global Diversity & Inclusion Office.


has been Global Head of HR Strategy & Transformation at Boehringer Ingelheim since January 2016. Before, the Chinese manager held several leadership roles at Boehringer Ingelheim both at country and corporate level.

Previously, he worked in several consulting and industrial Fortune 500 organisations. He has been with Boehringer Ingelheim for more than six years. In his new role, he works with his colleagues to achieve greater effectiveness and efficiency in the work of HR and to secure a strategic role in the company.

Let’s turn to one of the challenges in today’s HR work. Is Boehringer Ingelheim finding enough young talent? After all, the company does have an excellent reputation.

LIU Very true. However, that alone is not enough, unfortunately. We’re in a “war for talent”, and we have to accept that genuine talents are now able to choose their ideal employer. So we can’t simply sit back and “recruit” employees in the traditional way. Instead, we need to think about how we “sell” our jobs and opportunities to talented people. It’s increasingly important, particularly in emerging markets. To achieve this, we need to underline what we are offering: a working environment that values diversity, with challenging and interesting roles, and development and career opportunities. And, above all, the fact that we treat our employees with respect.

The “best employer” awards that Boehringer Ingelheim regularly picks up must surely help?

LIU They’re certainly helpful, particularly from a branding perspective. However, we don’t see it just as a “brand” thing, it’s actually an accumulation of many good efforts to treat employees well at Boehringer Ingelheim, like the few aspects I’ve just mentioned.

What about gender diversity and female leadership?

TERENO First of all, diversity is not just about gender, although, however, gender is the most visible diversity dimension to be leveraged. We should increase the gender balance in our leadership to reflect our diverse markets and customers: 80 per cent of all healthcare decisions in the family are taken by women. We’ve great female leadership talents, we need to continue to foster their development, but most important, develop our female talent pipeline. Another diversity opportunity is leveraging the different generations, ranging from the baby boomers, now around the age of 60, who are very fit and have an enormous amount of knowledge and experience, to the “millennials”, now around the age of 30, who are developing in their career and are the potential talent of the future.


Where are the limits of diversity then? Surely, not everyone can do and get whatever they want?

TERENO No, of course not. That would produce the chaos which Shawn previously mentioned. First of all, everyone has to understand and strive for achieving the same goals. Everyone has to accept that we need results. And lastly, we need to make sure that our colleagues all enjoy working together in teams.

LIU There are also our company values, which we’ll not give up under any circumstances. We’ve colleagues from many different countries and with many different nationalities, and we treat cultural background, age and gender, etc. all equally. But we don’t have any room for anyone who opposes our values – respect, trust, empathy and passion.

TERENO We aim to set a good example on the Human Resources team …

LIU (laughs) Exactly. Some of our meetings involve passionate debates. But we always benefit from the exchanges.

Where are the big challenges for HR strategy?

LIU Primarily, we’re concentrating strategically on those areas in which we can actually create a competitive advantage for Boehringer Ingelheim: effective leadership, customised employee experience and a diverse and inclusive organisation. At the same time, we need to run HR like a business – the day-today activities that are similar in most companies: staff records, recruitment or staff IT, just to name a few. It’s about customer satisfaction, continuous improvement and professionalism.


Thank you both. One last question: What would you like to have achieved in five years’ time?

TERENO I hope that in five years’ time, Boehringer Ingelheim continues to be as competitive as it is today. For that we need our best talents. Leveraging diversity and inclusion is one way to attract and retain them.

LIU In five years’ time, I’d really like to see Boehringer Ingelheim become a true pioneer and innovator, not only in business, but also in people management. And as long as we keep marching on both the effectiveness and efficiency fronts of human resource management, we’ll get there.