INTERVIEW: ANDREAS BOHRER
GROUP GENERAL COUNSEL AND
COMPANY SECRETARY, LONZA GROUP
Swiss life sciences company Lonza’s Andreas Bohrer chats to GC about his career so far, his thoughts on operating as a GC in Switzerland, and the secrets of management success.
G C I N T E R V I E W
JUNIOR RESEARCH ANALYST
GC: Could you tell me why you decided to become a lawyer?
Andreas Bohrer (AB): The legal profession is interesting as it provides a broad range of options and topics professionally. It gives room to manoeuvre and freedom to operate, and touches the lives of everyone. It’s a very broad profession and it gives the opportunity to structure and to drive the agenda.
GC: How did you end up in the health care sector?
AB: I started out in private practice in New York and Zurich as an M&A lawyer. I then joined UBS and spent seven years in the financial industry; an interesting time that provided me plenty of experience – up until the moment the general counsel (at the time) of Novartis approached me to take over and structure the transactions area at Novartis legal. So that’s how I got into the healthcare sector, around five and a half years back. I then became the general counsel of Novartis Animal Health until it was sold to Eli Lilly. After that integration, I joined Lonza as group general counsel and company secretary. As is often the case in life, when you start out on a journey, you don’t know where it will take you.
GC: What have been the high points of working for Lonza?
AB: My role is a combination of being both the group general counsel and the company secretary. Working with a great and diverse legal and IP team across the globe, and being involved with the strategy both at board level and in the execution, is truly rewarding. It is a privilege to have one of these jobs, and working for Lonza provides me many highlights on almost a daily basis.
GC: What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
AB: A highlight for me is whenever we achieve a great outcome together as a team. Certainly one of those was the $50bn Alcon [an eyecare group] acquisition by Novartis. That was not only because of the amount at stake, but because we achieved an outstanding result with a high-performing team.
GC: What sorts of challenges are you facing, working for a company like Lonza?
AB: Even though Lonza is smaller compared to some other [pharmaceutical and biotech] companies, it is the same in regards to complexities – take, for example, our broad business portfolio or our dual listing. As a legal and IP team, we need to be pragmatic and involved from early on in the process.
GC: What are the biggest growth markets and drivers for growth in Switzerland at the moment?
AB: The biggest potential lies in industries where we have innovation and hi-tech as the main value drivers. Switzerland is a high-cost country, so success can only come from these areas. If a company’s culture is about continuous innovation, production remains economically viable even in Switzerland. Look at Lonza – our biggest production site worldwide is in the middle of the Swiss mountains. That’s probably something you wouldn’t expect.
With innovation as key driver, comes the need for Switzerland to have a flexible legal framework, sufficient access to a qualified workforce, and a high quality infrastructure. These factors are the basis for the success of the country.
GC: What are the main legal and compliance challenges for GCs operating across Switzerland?
AB: We are a global firm and have to be up-to-date on global topics. In fact, a big portion of my work is how to ensure compliance in countries outside of Switzerland and Europe, across the globe. The group general counsel of a multinational firm based in Switzerland has to think and act not only locally, but truly globally.
To run an operation in Switzerland, it’s important to know the law and to keep in mind that Switzerland is not part of the European Union. While our laws may be similar, to a large extent, to most of Europe, they are not necessarily the same. Secondly, it’s about understanding the culture in Switzerland. The Swiss culture is still to some extent different from many other countries. I think whoever wants to be successful needs to understand these differences. The third area is to get to understand the people that are working here in the Swiss market, and also the consumers. It’s about understanding that Switzerland, even though it is in the middle of Europe, has some aspects and features that are fundamentally different. Cultural sensitivity helps.
GC: What’s a typical day in the life for you?
AB: Every day is unlike every other day; that’s the beauty of the job. The only continuum is that I try to provide solutions and to create opportunities for the firm every day.
GC: How big is your legal team?
AB: Between 45 and 50 people. The team is spread among the Switzerland headquarters, the US, the UK and China.
GC: How would you describe your management style?
AB: My success is based on the success of my team. Therefore, I try to get the best out of my people. I’m not going to micromanage my team, but I try to provide my colleagues with the room to manoeuvre and to be successful, and to remove any obstacle that’s in their way. Talent development is key.
GC: What do you think is the secret to being a good legal manager?
AB: For legal managers to be successful, they need to follow five steps: first is to listen, second is to think, third is to decide, fourth is to implement, fifth is to control implementation. If you leave out one or the other, you risk getting to suboptimal results. Also, it is important to involve the team and to secure the diversity of its knowhow.
GC: What made you decide on these five specific skills?
AB: It is a reflection of experience and trial and error. You can read books, but I’ve always found that I got most insight by observing the examples of others who have been in the profession. Over time, everyone will develop their own style and will know what works and what doesn’t. I do think it’s really about experience.
GC: If you could go back in time and give your junior self some careers advice, what would you say?
AB: The first key point is to go for quality – quality in education, and quality when it comes to professional choices. It is important to go for an employer with a high reputation and a well-led legal department, as lawyers learn from their professional experience. The second key point is to always keep options open. Life will come with surprises, and then it’s important to be ready and to have options. This requires us to build up professional experience and competencies – any new learning is an asset that will help in the future.
GC: If for some reason you weren’t a lawyer anymore, what would you do instead?
AB: I am fascinated by the role that board members play. It is both demanding and rewarding, and provides the chance to shape the company’s present and future. The role is both on a strategic and an execution level, and involves taking responsibility and ownership for the entire firm. It’s also a nice way of giving back and of contributing to society. If the board manages a corporation well, the board members can create wealth and jobs for many people.
GC: What do you do in your spare time?
AB: Time permitting, I like to participate in culture and arts activities. I’m also on the foundation board of the Basel University Institute for European Global Studies, and a titular professor at the University of Zurich Faculty of Law – which is my modest contribution to society. My favourite sports are fencing and alpinism [a style of mountaineering], but above all I value the time I spend with my family.