"The crucial factor to be innovative is the people, not the money."
Generating scientific and technological expertise and transforming it into industrial products are of crucial importance for Sartorius. In this interview, Oscar-Werner Reif, Head of Corporate Research and Chief Technology Officer, explains why it needs the right people to be innovative, how he wins over talent to work for the company, and why experts in Corporate Research often possess knowledge that makes them unique at Sartorius.
This article is posted on Sartorius Blog.
About Corporate Research
Corporate Research is a department of about 70 experts with diverse and broad scientific backgrounds. The team identifies relevant developments in life sciences and – with a network of internal and external collaborators – creates the technical and scientific base for the commercial use of technologies. Promising approaches are developed into a prototype before being passed on to Product Development and Marketing for further industrialization and commercialization.
Mr. Reif, let’s talk about resources. What does a company need to be innovative?
I have been with Sartorius for more than 25 years now, and in my experience, there is a clear answer to this question: we need the right people! If we want to identify and position ourselves in future areas of research, if we want to develop the right products, then we need to find creative thinkers who have expertise in these areas. At the same time, our people need to be able to cultivate our research network, collaborate on projects, and advance new technologies. Obviously, it is quite challenging to fulfill all these requirements.
Are you still able to find people with this profile?
Yes, absolutely. Luckily, over the past few years we have been able to attract the right talent and specialists to Sartorius. They are a crucial success factor for us. We are certainly also benefiting from the fact that Sartorius has become better known and more attractive as an employer, thanks to its dynamic development and market position. And this is also the case for areas that people probably would not have associated with us in the past, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, or gene editing and microsystems.
Our team includes some very bright, young colleagues. They want to further develop their skills and stay with the company for the long term, and we definitely want them to do that.
Head of Corporate Research, CTO
So, your experience with finding employees was not the same in the past?
Definitely not, no. Ten years ago we often had to explain who we are and what we actually do – in terms of both our economic and technological positions. This is typical for companies that are focused on a specific market segment, even when they are highly successful. But compared to today, the difference is like night and day. We still actively look for the right candidates, of course, but now most people working in science and technology know about us. And the people that do not know about us immediately, find out pretty quickly through their contacts. We have significantly improved our positioning. Now most applications we receive are unsolicited, so people are applying out of genuine interest in the research topics and the company.
How do you convince talented people to work for Sartorius?
There are several factors that make Sartorius an attractive employer: our reputation as an innovator, our company culture, the width of our technology portfolio or our market position in Life Sciences and the growth potential, just to name a few. And in Corporate Research specifically, we pursue research topics that have not traditionally been among the company’s core competencies. This means that the people we hire often possess knowledge that makes them unique in the company. For example, we have just hired a specialist in simulating inter and intra cellular interactions. These kinds of roles carry a certain responsibility, but they also offer exciting creative opportunities – you can directly influence the orientation of our products or even shape the company’s strategy in different fields of technology. So, you can truly work at the conceptual level and have the necessary intellectual freedom to do so. On the other hand, you can also experience and help translating your idea into a real product that solves an existing problem for the benefit of users and patients. In addition, you can work with different experts in an interdisciplinary environment and further develop your technical skills and knowledge in your research area. Many people find this profile very attractive.
What kind of international opportunities are there?
Today Sartorius has more than 60 locations worldwide – in Europe, in the United States, and in Asia. Operating on this kind of global scale is not typical for a company of our size, and even some of our larger competitors cannot offer that. In our research, and especially when it comes to new research areas, we take a decentralized approach and go to the places where things are happening. The United States is a case in point, but our focus is increasingly shifting to Asia. And you will also find international partners in almost all our projects. So, yes, it is possible to get a lot of international experience with us.
Money is important, no question about it. But the way I see it, there is no linear relationship between money and innovation. If anything, my experience has shown that a relatively limited budget often leads to success, because the restriction of resources forces you to find clever and creative solutions.
Are there also opportunities for further professional development at Sartorius?
Not only are there opportunities, but it is something that everyone should do. Our team includes some very bright, young colleagues. They want to further develop their skills and stay with the company for the long term, and we definitely want them to do that. We give them the chance and actively support them to take the next steps on a management or expert career path outside the research department – for example by offering them opportunities in other parts and functions of the company.
So, does Corporate Research provide a springboard into the company?
You could say that, yes. As the head of the department, I actively support this trajectory even it means a challenge for the research group. We deliberately chose to have a small, very flexible team. For that to be effective, we need a certain dynamic. We are constantly taking on new research topics and letting go of others. When a capable and experienced employee moves up to further develop his or her career, that is a good thing for Sartorius – but for our team it also means a loss of expertise. At the same time, it shows that we are apparently focusing on the right research topics. And adding a new team member also gives us the opportunity to move in new directions and position ourselves in new research areas. Corporate Research is not a static department. It is constantly evolving. I think Sartorius benefits greatly from this approach.
What role does money play in research?
Money is important, no question about it. But the way I see it, there is no linear relationship between money and innovation. If anything, my experience has shown that a relatively limited budget often leads to success, because the restriction of resources forces you to find clever and creative solutions. Having a lot of money and large research domains can also be a hindrance and even slow down the pace of innovation. When you have the money, it is more convenient to buy everything instead of asking: can we possibly do it better or differently? Is there a faster, cheaper solution? This is one of the reasons why we have kept our research department relatively lean. I would even go so far as to say: the crucial factor is the people, not the money.