Corporate Insights: Alexander Ebner, Digital Lead for HR, Bayer

Many CEMS alumni have chosen to build their careers with CEMS Corporate Partners. In this interview series, we explore the diverse career paths CEMS alumni have embarked upon within CEMS Corporate Partners. Today we meet Alexander Ebner, who last year took up an exciting new role with German healthcare and agriculture giant, Bayer.
Alex Ebner

There is a digital revolution afoot that is transforming the way that organisations attract and recruit human talent, onboard and empower that talent, enable collaboration and create synergies to accelerate efficiency gains, save time and money. Technology is also exponentially facilitating things like learning, training, coaching and upskilling, while simultaneously making work itself easier. All of it just one click away. 

We had an exciting talk on this topic with Alex Ebner, Digital Lead for Employment Proposition, HR Foundations, Enabling & Insights with pharmaceuticals giant and CEMS Corporate Partner, Bayer. 

In his 18 months in this role, Alex has had ample opportunity to drive and to witness the transformational power of technology. And he’s achieved quite a change for the company already.

“We’re using exciting technologies like machine learning, conversational AI, automated multi language translation just to name a few. We leverage these technologies to reimagine people decision making at Bayer as well as transform HR in an employee-experience focused product organization. As the latter already suggests, next to technology, a big part of my remit is also challenging and transforming how HR is organized and works. So in my first year, for instance, I oversaw the formation of four virtual teams with ownership of different things: from payroll and time management over benefits to Data2Insights and Automation. What we are achieving is phenomenal in terms of saving time and reducing the need for calls and emails.”

Digital has always been a passion for Alex. And it’s a passion that has been encouraged to blossom and evolve with the Bayer organisation. He first encountered the company as a CEMS graduate in 2012, when he was offered a job as an in-house consultant. 

“I’d interviewed with a bunch of companies as I was finishing my CEMS Masters, and Bayer approached me with the offer of a great job that involved solving problems across the globe and across industries. From the get-go, this was an organisation that gave me the autonomy to do a bit of everything: consulting and advising, ideating and conceptualising digital products, even coding a largely automated segmentation & targeting tool for women’s health in Korea.” 

Changing tack

Making the pivot to HR after several years in strategy and digital innovation was a conscious decision along two dimensions, says Alex. 

“On the one hand, as a developmental step it was key that I marry my years of strategy work with exposure to a more operational side of Bayer’s business. On the other hand, in my years helping drive the digital transformation of Bayer I learned that the heart of digital transformation is really the soft side of transforming our talent, our mindset, the way we work, and the way that we hire, grow and retain our people. Hence, moving from strategy to transforming HR and thus ultimately transforming our talent base, is another avenue to Bayer’s digital transformation. And perhaps a much more promising one than high level strategy."

Enacting the shift to HR saw Alex experience two dimensions of Bayer’s approach to talent management. On the one hand, he personally was able to transition from one space to another with great ease and the support and encouragement of his employers. But it was also first-hand exposure to the operations of the very area that he was moving into: the company’s culture of employee reviews and tracking – a culture that moves the right people into the right jobs within the organisation, when those jobs and opportunities open up and the profile fits. 

This is a function of Bayer’s ”integrated talent management,” he says; capturing a sense of their critical positions as well as their employees’ aspirations and competencies and then to enable targetted talent development and movement around the organisation, simultaneously advancing careers while creating value for the company. It’s a win-win, Alex says. 

“In Bayer, talent is placed quite centrally. I’ve experienced this personally and in my own new role, I get to work on the digital solutions that safeguard this culture and help it evolve.” 


Working with other people 

Working at the cutting edge of digitally-enhanced HR at Bayer is as rewarding as it is challenging, says Alex. And no one day resembles another, although there are a “fair amount” of meetings to attend each week. 

“There’s a huge amount of variety in what I do and it’s gratifying to see things like our agile hubs come together and yield amazing results. Getting these things off the ground, creating accelerators, founding virtual teams and equipping them with the funds, skills and methodologies they need – from employee journey mapping and process mining over agile DevOps to success-tracking with Google Analytics and the like– all of this requires a lot of discussion with different people. There are lots of meetings, working sessions, sprint reviews and one-on-ones with product managers. Not to mention a fair bit of fire-fighting when systems crash,” he says with a laugh. 

Part of his ability to work with different people – to collaborate with others around new solutions, procedures and systems that facilitate their work – Alex credits to his experience as a CEMS student. 

A learning journey for life

At CEMS, he says, he had first-hand, early exposure to cultural diversity. Here he learned to examine, respect and integrate different perspectives. His capacity for teamwork too was developed as a CEMSie – teamwork with all of its ups and downs, he adds with a smile. 

“I have to really thank CEMS for setting me up at the very start of my career with the understanding and tools to manage diversity, to work with other people, to overcome conflict and to collaborate. I mastered a lot as a CEMSie that has stayed with me and informed my career over the years. One of the greatest benefits I think that CEMs has given me is a life-long confidence in my ability to stand up for my ideas and my vision – to be able to present and ‘sell’ the things that I believe to be right and relevant. CEMS is an amazing learning journey that sets you off on the right track for life.”