Saskia Steinacker’s career in life sciences began on the marketing side at Bayer’s Leverkusen, Germany, offices. Now, in addition to leading a transformation team of 10, she heads Bayer’s digital excellence council, which includes representatives from the pharmaceutical, consumer health, and crop science divisions, relevant corporate functions, and country organizations. She is also an appointed member of the EU High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence.

Steinacker doesn’t see digital as a noun. Nor is it relegated to marketing. “We are past that first stage,” she says. Rather than focusing on the tech, she proposes starting with customer needs. “Digital is a means to the end. It’s capturing the entire value chain,” which for her means considering a world where we identify disease at an earlier stage and bring better solutions to market faster. “We can use digital solutions to create added value for our patients and customers beyond the product or existing business model.”

Through the digital excellence council, Bayer seeks to digitize customer experiences, digitize operations — from supply chain management to recruiting — and drive new business models. Steinacker brings cross-unit and cross-border collaboration — in real time — from Bayer’s respective business units. To effect change across the organization, Bayer strives to “develop an attitude about work and thinking that more closely resembles the culture of startups: approaches such as design thinking, trial and error, and rapid prototyping,” says Steinacker.

Bayer offers training programs to help employees ramp up on topics such as AI or blockchain, masterclasses for more experienced employees, and a reverse-mentoring program for managers to learn new tech from digital-native employees.

Partnerships are also part of Bayer’s new way of working. Globally, its G4A programs create opportunities to engage more deeply with startups. For example, Budapest-based AI startup Turbine has collaborated with Bayer since 2016.