Rainbow of innovation

Updated 2017-08-18 10:02:48 China Daily
Stefan Oschmann, chairman of the executive board and CEO at Merck Group. PROVIDED TO China Daily

Stefan Oschmann, chairman of the executive board and CEO at Merck Group. PROVIDED TO China Daily

The head of Merck Group has merged traditional values with a modern multinational company as it expands in China

Your senses are bombarded by a rainbow of colors when you click on to the Merck Group website.

Rolled out two years ago, this flamboyant online gateway is distinctly brash for a company which can trace its roots back to 1668.

After all, the descendants of Friedrich Jacob Merck, the man who founded the firm in Darmstadt, Germany, are still involved in this global juggernaut.

"Merck is a company driven by a passion for research and discovery," said Stefan Oschmann, chairman of the executive board and CEO at Merck Group.

The company's three business divisions, healthcare, life sciences and performance materials, have thrived after a string of mergers and acquisitions.

Annual revenue is about 15 billion euros (.58 billion), with 2 billion euros spent on R&D last year, according to Merck's website.

With up to 50,000 employees, the company operates in 66 countries, "working on breakthrough solutions and technologies", the conglomerate reported.

Merck might be old, but the group is quick to embrace change, such as e-commerce and artificial intelligence.

"Restructuring is now ancient history and we are harvesting the fruit from those efforts," said Oschmann. "We would not have survived nearly 350 years if we were not open to novel trends."

Merck is still about 70 percent owned by the descendants of the founder. Market investors hold the other 30 percent.

Naturally, Oschmann has to strike the right balance between long-term values and short-term gains.

But his feel for what is right has helped him as the company expands in the world's second largest economy.

In an in-depth interview with China Daily, the 60-year-old CEO talked about Merck's relentless drive for innovation, business opportunities in China and his view of globalization.

How do Merck's products relate to everyday life?

In healthcare, we work in oncology (cancer treatments), neurology and multiple sclerosis. In life science, when new drugs are being developed, scientists across the world will eventually be able to use our products.

We also make performance materials. These are used for display screens and chip making (for an array of electrical goods, such as smartphones, tablets and PCs).

How do the three businesses create synergy within the company?

The synergy exists mostly in new product development and research. When you look at precision gene-editing, there is a new technology where you can introduce and influence genetic material. We are a global leader in our life science division.

We can also use this in our healthcare operation.

We also see synergies in the digital world. For example, by acquiring Sigma-Aldrich Corp (a chemical, life science and biotechnology company), we are now one of the largest retailers of life sciences in the world. People say we are the Amazon of the lab.

How does China fit into your strategic plan?

China is a very important market for us. We are on track to complete a life science facility in Nantong, Jiangsu province.

Remember, this is a country that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and gave them access to healthcare. This achievement has "no parallel in world history".

As for Merck, we need to invest in infrastructure in the next five years. We are also considering how to further digitize our business as China is an important place for that.

We plan to open an innovation hub by working with Chinese startups and academic institutions.

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