To give insight into different career paths the BFB (Bonner Forum für Biomedizin organizes dinners with different guests from industry as well as academia. This time we met Prof. Dr Hanno Wild who works as a Senior Vice President for Bayer in a nice Italian restaurant.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, Bayer is well known to be a huge employer operating in crop science, animal health as well as in the pharmaceutical industry. Recently, Bayer has been in the news since the company aims to take over Monsanto, the huge US player in crop industry.
When we met Prof. Dr. Hanno Wild who has been working with Bayer for almost 30 years, we learned about Bayer’s strategy to stay one of the few players on the crop market and about how a takeover of Monsanto by Bayer would pose considerable financial, organizational and also communicational challenges. But, moreover, we also learned about possible career paths in a huge pharma company like Bayer… and were surprised to meet a very down-to-earth and personable Senior Vice President.
As the head of the Department for Candidate Generation, Wild is responsible for compound screenings to identify new small molecules for the different disease areas in which Bayer is operating. In his position at the Department for External Innovation, he coordinates the cooperations of Bayer with universities and research institutes, a task he is very enthusiastic about.
Therefore, we wondered: How does one get hold of such an exciting and diverse position?
Wild studied chemistry at the University of Bonn and did a postdoc in California before joining Bayer Health Care in 1987. At Bayer, Wild initially started as a Medical Chemist. He first worked on the identification of antibacterial and antiviral compounds and later on the development of small anticancer molecules, which at the end was a very successful project. During his time at Bayer, Wild spent time as a delegate in West Haven, US, for two years. Back in Wuppertal, Germany, he became responsible for the Medicinal Chemistry Department and is now responsible for several Departments based in Wuppertal as well as in Berlin.
“After studying, people rarely start their careers in leading positions. When I began working at Bayer I was not leading several Departments but was the head of a small research group. Initially, I thought leading a research group is already a big task to master, but over time I developed into further responsibilities”, Prof. Wild explained. “Furthermore, building a career is also about your personal engagement: One certainly has to be active and look for possibilities. And, at the end, luck is also a major part in this play: A suitable position has to be open at the right time and one has to be available to take it over.”
Retrospectively, when looking back on a very straightforward and successful career, I wondered: Does going to industry has opened up many possibilities for you?
”I sometimes regret to not work in academia. There is less freedom in industry when it comes to projects to work on. It actually happens quite often that a project is stopped and one cannot proceed working on it”, Prof. Wild remembered. At the time he went to industry, Wild had an offer from both academia and industry. But, since he already had two kids during his studies, going to industry was the more attractive choice offering considerably more security.
Finally, Prof. Wild shared some recommendations about what to consider if you want to enter industry:
“First, doing a PhD is definitely a good choice. Entering industry already after the Master bears fewer opportunities to develop in the company and there is the risk to get stuck in one position. Second, doing a postdoc before going to industry is a common and advisable path. But, when choosing a lab for a postdoc position one should become broader in the field of science by starting in a new lab, best abroad, and also switch the topic. Being broad is considered attractive in industry, as one will most likely work on different topics, and it shows your openness to start working on new things. Third, when choosing a company it is critical to ensure that the companies’ strategy focuses on a long term perspective. There always is a conflict between financial short term goals and long term R&D investments. Namely, the quarterly figures focused by the finance department and the ten years investment time lines in R&D. To figure out a company’s focus you should talk to alumni or to people working in the respective company.”
Altogether, we enjoyed a great evening getting insight into how life in industry is like as well as what opportunities and compromises it offers. Therefore, many thanks to the BFB and the evenings guest Prof. Hanno Wild.