Marijn Dekkers Riding High at Bayer

The Dutch manager has overcome a reputation for creating turmoil by leading German chemical and drugs giant Bayer to record growth. The chief executive wants to do more before he retires in 2016.
Marijn Dekkers did not cause havoc, but brought innovation and growth.

When Marijn Dekkers was appointed chief executive of Bayer more than five years ago, many greeted the news with great surprise and a dose of skepticism.

He was preceded by his reputation as a manager who loved wild acquisitions and brought turmoil to companies. And now he had been brought in to put Bayer, a large, old and somewhat long-in-the-tooth German pharmaceutical company, back on track. At first glance, it seemed a poor fit.

But that first impression soon changed. At Bayer, Mr. Dekkers revealed himself as a manager with a cautious and analytical side, who immediately devoted attention to innovation.

He has indeed led Bayer to unexpected heights.

Now shareholders are rewarding him for his achievements. With 5 percent sales growth, operating profit increased by more than 10 percent in 2014 to €5.5 billion ($6.16 billion).

Net income rose by 7 percent to a record €3.4 billion.

Bayer is paying the highest dividend in its history and is celebrating its share price reaching an all-time high. The share rose by 4 percent on Thursday alone.

Since Mr. Dekkers came into office, the value of the Leverkusen-based company has more than doubled.

For 2015, he held out the prospect of 9 percent growth in sales, to €46 billion. He also said he expects profit to increase by 10 to 15 percent.

 

037 -WTB 2014

 

Mr. Dekkers plans to complete his restructuring by mid-2016.

Bayer Material Science, a subsidiary that makes plastics, will be spun off as an independent company, and Bayer will focus on health and crop protection.

Mr. Dekker's rise, it appears, is far from over. The chief executive is convinced "Bayer has an excellent growth outlook" as a life sciences business, the current term for makers of drugs, pharmaceuticals and related chemicals.

As Mr. Dekkers, a chemist by profession, put it, the future business model will consist of "our inventing molecules and regulating processes in cells, be it in human beings, animals or plants."

He is a voracious consumer of information, someone who delves into the details and is determined to understand his company. At the press briefing on annual results, he rattled off two pages of a manuscript on how a new drug for pulmonary hypertension works.

It is clear that innovation is crucial for Mr. Dekkers.

The strategy is no accident. Pharmaceutical and agricultural chemistry are the driving forces behind Bayer's comeback. A series of new drugs will generate about €4 billion in revenues this year.

With 11 percent growth, Bayer ranked third in sales growth among all major pharmaceutical companies last year.

With 11 percent growth, Bayer ranked third in sales growth among all major pharmaceutical companies last year, behind Gilead and Johnson & Johnson. The agricultural chemistry subsidiary, Bayer Crop Science, is also growing at a faster pace than the market.

"Could someone else have been equally successful? Perhaps," says Gerhard Cromme, chairman of the non-executive board of Siemens. "But there are many indications that Dekkers brought along a combination of professional and personal traits that enabled him to make the right decisions."

Mr. Dekkers, 57, has two years to continue the transformation at Bayer.

He announced last year that he would retire early at the end of next year.

"A courageous step," said Chief Strategy Officer Werner Baumann, who is already being treated internally as Mr. Dekkers' likely successor.

Since making his announcement, Mr. Dekkers has had to avoid being treated as a lame-duck CEO with few decisions to make. "I still have two more years on board, if you don’t mind. And there is still plenty to do," he said.

In fact, there is no lack of tasks, including the spinoff of the plastics business Material Science, integrating a Merck division Bayer has acquired and reorganizing the company.

Mr. Dekkers intends to achieve all of these things before leaving. One can assume that he will complete his agenda.

 

Siegfried Hofmann and Maike Telgheder report on the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors for Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected].