Mr. Wenning, you started as an apprentice at Bayer in 1966. Tuesday is your last day as Chairman of the Supervisory Board. What is the pain of parting after 54 years?
There is already a portion of melancholy. Bayer has given me a lot over the years. When I look back now, I feel great satisfaction. I was allowed to go abroad early and take on increasing responsibility over the years. I am very grateful to the company for all of this and the many encounters and experiences.
What were your greatest moments, what were the worst neck blows in half a century of Bayer?
I don’t think in such superlatives. However, it was particularly important and formative that we repositioned the group in 2002/03 after the Lipobay crisis and brought it back on the road to success. We have significantly strengthened the life science businesses health and nutrition and separated from the chemicals and plastics businesses. These were the right steps.
Little was left of the old Bayer, you changed 80 percent of the business.
It’s hard to express in percent, but we’ve had a transaction volume of well over 100 billion euros over the years with purchases and sales.
This is how new companies with fancy names came into being.
Above all, leading, specialized and successful companies emerged in their respective industries. We put Lanxess and Covestro on the stock exchange. On the other hand, we took over Schering, bought Roche’s OTC business and Aventis crop protection. On top of that, we invested heavily in research. We see the fruits today at Xarelto, for example. The blood thinner is one of the most successful pharmaceutical products in the world.
How serious was it then, after the Lipobay deaths, about the company? Could the cholesterol drug cost Bayer its very existence?
It was definitely a difficult time. I can still remember the busy days and nights, the share price plummeted below 10 euros. Speculation rocketed when suddenly there was talk of $ 30-50 billion in damages – all sorts of dangers were conjured up.
A hostile takeover was a real threat and you were caught up in the clutches of the American judiciary.
It is important in such phases to have a very clear line and to keep it – step by step. It was important to keep your team informed and motivated. We were ready to fight for the future of Bayer and for the workforce. When the redemptive judgment arrived from the court in Corpus Christi, which must have been around 7:00 p.m. our time, the company cried out with joy. People came back to the office from home to be happy together.
Is the situation at that time comparable to the Monsanto lawsuits today? Again there are many billions, again Bayer’s fate is in the hands of American courts.
The situation is not comparable. Bayer has a completely different, much stronger position today. We have an excellent portfolio, our business is growing, we are innovative and profitable.
Nevertheless, the anger about the Monsanto takeover clouded your farewell.
No. The group is in excellent shape – that was also an important prerequisite for my decision to withdraw.
Wait, America is facing fines. It is questionable how Bayer will be able to handle this.
Let’s see how the legal issues end. I am optimistic that we will find a portable solution for Bayer.
Bayer shareholders rebelled over Monsanto at last year’s general meeting. Does investor pressure play a role in your withdrawal now?