In Profile: Conversations with ESMT Berlin Alumni
Junior Alumni Relations Manager Franziska Neugebauer speaks here with alumna Melissa Hara, who shares her story of the journey that carried her from a career in Brazil, to school and career in Germany, and back again.
Tell us about yourself and your role at Bayer.
My name is Melissa Hara. I am Brazilian, but I have lived almost 14 years outside of the country. Before moving to Berlin to study at ESMT, I lived for six years in Mexico. I am married to a very nice Mexican gentleman that I met during the time that I was living there, and he was very courageous to move with me here to Berlin. We have been here for six years now, with a dog that is precious to our hearts.
I started at Schering in Brazil. When Bayer AG bought Schering I continued in the company, working now in the corporate strategy department in the headquarters in Leverkusen as a senior strategist. Currently, I am working 100% in the Monsanto Integration Planning Project. As you may know, Bayer has confirmed the offer to buy Monsanto for $66 billion, which would be the largest acquisition ever undertaken by a German company. It is quite a challenge to take on a very large American company, so I am working as the PMO (Project Management Office) lead for two parts of that: one part is culture and change management, the other part is communication and public and government affairs. Soon, however, I will change roles again. I am moving to Brazil, where I will become the PMO lead for the local integration of Monsanto. It is the second largest country for Monsanto, with almost $2 billion in sales and 2,400 employees. This integration will double the size of Bayer in Brazil.
I will return to Berlin soon, however - even here for the alumni meeting - because another initiative is also in the works at Bayer. The company is implementing an innovation agenda, and one of the activities is to create an informal innovation network of innovation coaches and innovation ambassadors - a grassroots community that is spread throughout the whole company. I am an innovation ambassador for the strategy group, and our global ambassador innovation meeting will be held in Berlin in late June.
What drew you to the Executive MBA program at ESMT Berlin? How did it later affect your work at Bayer?
In the past, Bayer had a program that recruited, tracked, and trained people who have worked and were working in emerging markets, placing them in the headquarters in Berlin. Because Schering was one of ESMT Berlin's founding companies, it was a natural fit for Bayer to choose ESMT as a partner for the program. I was among the first employees selected to participate in 2010, the year it started. Each following year, they selected an additional two people to go through the program. I moved from Mexico, where I was working at that time, to Berlin to do the program for the Executive MBA while also working in headquarters.
My background is marketing. In the job I was doing in Berlin, I had to do a lot of commercial valuation of potential in-license products, work that was mostly based on business cases. Before studying at ESMT, I had no idea how to run an NPV [net present value] model. ESMT courses helped me to understand what I was seeing in these humongous Excel sheets. Before, I was always more on the qualitative side; I knew why it had to be a certain percentage and knew what numbers were there. But I did not understand the mechanism of the model. After doing the finance model and learning how finance calculations worked, I could really understand the numbers and then talk at eye level with the financial staff and the controllers.
How does this year's Annual Forum topic, agility, play a role in your everyday work?
Sometimes, our buzzwords mean different things. For example, the terms "agile organization" or "agile project management" will mean something different to our IT community than to the rest of the organization. Yet Bayer has corporate values that are the basis of the organization and that all of the employees know and share. The acronym for it is LIFE, which stands for leadership, integrity, flexibility, and efficiency. We consider flexibility to be part of being an innovative company.
Within that, we are currently focusing on four behaviors: collaboration, experimentation, customer focus, and trust. With so many different businesses within the company, these are important to an agile organization. We have Pharmaceuticals, we have Crop Science, we have Consumer Health, Animal Health and - because of our history of working as a holding - we still have all the silos. So collaboration is very important. But so is experimentation - we want people to take a lot more risks and to dare a little bit more in the company.
How are you engaging with ESMT as an alumna? How would you advise current students to stay connected to the school?
There are 13 ESMT alumni that work for Bayer around the world. I regularly bring together the company alumni group via video conferencing. We managed last year to get together face-to-face to exchange ideas about what we can do as a group to enhance the relationship of the company with the school. I am also in contact with my classmates; one of them, Ulrike Helbig, was a member of ESMT's Alumni Council, for example. It is a few people, but we see the value of both the Bayer professional network and the broader one, by participating in chapter activities. To current students: Regardless of what courses you are taking, take advantage of this wide network it creates. Your classmates come from different countries and companies, and they can be valuable network assets as you move forward. The relationships with faculty are also important - nurture these as much as possible in the time that you are with them at the school.
Published in ESMT Update 06/17