FIBS alumni in the working field – Dirk Otto

It was early in 2008, when I had a very conscious moment of thinking, “my time at FIBS actually prepared me for what I am doing right here.” At that time I was in Japan, working on a business case for the local development of a new prescription drug: a huge Excel sheet, displaying predictions of future sales and costs, Internal Rates of Return and Net Present Values.

I am sure that this was neither the first, nor the last time during what I would describe as a quite typical career in the pharmaceutical industry, that I applied something I had leaned in Venlo.

In 2001, I started my international trainee programme at Bayer, which took me immediately to South Africa. A career on the commercial side of a pharma company typically starts in sales – and that’s what I did, too: I was a medical representative, explaining our products to medical doctors and pharmacists in Johannesburg. After a while, I moved to marketing, where I was in charge of adapting the global strategy of a drug against heartburn and stomach ulcers to the South African market. In my last year, I had the chance to work in the area of what we call “Market Access”. These are the people who keep in touch with the health insurance companies, making sure that the doctors’ prescriptions are reimbursed.

Learning all of these customer-facing roles in a local market was a great way to start. What I learned in Johannesburg helped me during my time in Japan – where I lead a marketing team for a group of products in a significantly larger market than South Africa – and later in Chile, where I was the country head of Bayer’s pharmaceutical division.

Between my years in Japan and Chile, I worked in a global marketing role at Bayer’s Pharma head office in Berlin, looking after the global strategy of a product. Since October of last year, I am doing something similar at Boehringer Ingelheim’s head office near Frankfurt. Such head office roles are a little bit further removed from countries and customers – but still, as a global marketing leader, one has to come up with strategies that can be implemented in the very different markets around the planet.

Thinking about how my four years at FIBS prepared me for all that, much more comes to mind than my revelation in Japan about how to calculate Net Present Values. Above all, it is the down-to-earth, practical approach to business, which has stuck with me during the past 15 years. How do we apply the science of marketing in the real word? How do we analyse a business problem and come to a good decision? At the end of the day, we do need to know

our stuff (after all there is a science to marketing and business), but as leaders in business, we have to make this practical.

Just as important, we have to be able to explain our strategy to diverse teams with different backgrounds, organise “buy-in” and achieve deep understanding. And that’s another area where I find, that the work in different teams and the frequent projects and presentations in Venlo prepared me well.

All in all, I think FIBS set me up with a very good, solid and practical base for what I have been doing during my career so far. During the “Intro Week” 1996, however, I would have never imagined that 20 years later, I would have gathered experience in South Africa, Japan, Germany and Chile.

I am very happy that the newsletter and the Alumni Day in May give me the opportunity to reconnect with the FIBS community. I am looking forward to meeting other alumni in Venlo – but if anyone has a comment or question already, I am always happy to exchange by mail:

Dirk Otto FIBS alumni

Picture: Multicultural Christmas party at Dirk’s apartment with his Japanese team and their families in 2008