Oliver Rittgen has been a formidable powerhouse in Finland over the past six and a half years. During that time, as CEO of Bayer Nordic based out of Espoo, he’s grown the company to new heights. Bayer is now a central player in the aim to make Finland the life science hub of Europe, and much of this is due to Rittgen’s insights, determination and vision. Now, he is moving on to a new position. Congratulations!
Where are you headed?
I will go back to headquarters, with mixed feelings to be honest. On the one hand, I had a really great time here in Finland and I really enjoyed it professionally as well as privately, so leaving is not easy. On the other hand, I was offered a very interesting job at headquarters as the Head of Corporate Finance. Considering that Bayer has been in an acquisition process for Monsanto, amounting to 66 billion USD, I guess there will be sufficient work to do. On a more serious note, it is great timing to get into that position now, as all the financing activities that continue to be necessary for the deal offer a great and exciting challenge and an opportunity for me to contribute. I am therefore also really looking forward to my new job and my new team in Germany.
What are your main takeaways from your six and a half years in Finland? In other words, what are the lessons learned that you will hold onto?
1. Finland is a great place for innovation. I am still astonished by the incredible potential I have seen during my years here, culminating every year in Slush in which we also participated very actively. Over the years, we have set up several research collaboration projects with biobanks, startup companies and other pharma companies. Our Mirena product group in Turku is the greatest proof of the innovation power in Finland, where it all started for us.
2. Finland is a great place for a global company to do business. We have highly educated employees and collaboration with different players is easy. The healthcare ecosystem is unique and there is a lot to leverage on. We had the honor to participate in a joint vision initiative with Team Finland Health to define the way forward for the health ecosystem. The collaboration between government, academia and industry has been a unique experience. Once the recommendations are implemented, Finland could become a leading health hub in Europe.
3. Bayer in Finland has been a great place to work. We have a super organization and great people. It was an honor and also great fun to work with the team to further develop our operations in Finland and across the Nordics. We received very positive feedback in society for the work we have been doing, and, finally, I guess for increasing tax contributions every year. We doubled sales in the Nordics during the period. So in short, there are great business opportunities in Finland and the Nordics, if you have the right people and products. This is opposite to the “mature market’s” perception outside our region sometimes.
How, in your view, did the Finnish market change during your stay?
First, the Finnish health industry has developed a great deal over the past 5-6 years in terms of collaboration and innovation. For me, the biobanks are the perfect example of a unique Finnish asset that we should leverage on through collaboration. Also, there are quite promising Life Science related startup companies in Finland and the Nordics as well.
Second, from Bayer´s perspective, one significant accomplishment has been reaching blockbuster status with our hormonal contraceptive Mirena. That means sales of more than 1 billion euros a year. With that, Mirena is the first Finnish pharmaceutical product ever that has reached that level. Our export figures have grown 75% during the last six years. It proves that it is possible to develop, manufacture and export globally successful products also in Finland. And looking to the future, we also have other future success stories in the pipeline in Finland. I hope this encourages other companies to also invest here.
What would be the next development area for Finland?
1. Innovation is the key. Through innovations we can attract more investment in Finland and build a strong market. To accomplish this, we need to secure innovation funding and continue creating an innovation friendly climate in Finland. A lot has already been done, but we need to continue and find new ways to encourage business, such as tax incentives.
2. Collaboration in the health industry needs to intensify. Different players have come together to form a joint vision for the industry through Team Finland Health’s Way Forward project. The same collaborative spirit needs to continue and go to the next level now. If (when) we manage to strengthen Finland and make it the leading health hub of Europe, everyone will benefit.
3. Nordic perspective. Nordic countries have started to realize the size and potential of the region if it is considered as one market instead of several countries. Genuinely Nordic solutions for companies and organizations looking for expansion and investment opportunities could be offered.
In which ways has the Amcham community been part of your Finnish experience?
Amcham gave me a home as a new foreigner in Finland when I arrived six and a half years ago. The great team at Amcham has created a unique international business platform that makes entry for foreign leaders in Finland very efficient. So, first, I am thankful for what Amcham and the community have done for me and I can only recommend Amcham to any new leader coming to Finland as a great business network. Secondly, the Amcham team needs your innovation and your passion to grow and prosper. We have a unique ecosystem here and a lot can be done through collaboration. So, make the most of the opportunities this market and the community have to offer. More players can only add to the diversity of talent and we all benefit.
On a personal note, Finland is a country like no other. My family and I have really enjoyed our six and a half years here and will leave the country with a heavy heart. Fortunately, we have and will hold onto our mökki and will visit Finland frequently during our vacations.
The Amcham community has benefited from Rittgen in many ways: he’s been a board member since 2014, on the advisory board for the Global Investors Program since 2015, a member of the Regional Headquarters Project steering group since its inception in 2016, and a constant presence, voice and cheerleader at events. We will miss him! His generosity in spirit, time, advice and innovation will remain in our hearts as a shining example of what the Amcham community is all about. What he realized right from the start – and taught those around him – was that by joining together, we manage to do amazing things.