A Conversation With New SBI Chairman Reinhard Vogt
Reinhard Vogt joined Scientific Bioprocessing Inc. (SBI) as Chairman in mid-July 2020 after a storied 35-year career at Sartorius, a global leader in bioprocessing solutions and lab services for life science companies.
During his time at Sartorius, Vogt held various roles of increasing responsibility, including Group Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Executive VP and member of the Board of Sartorius-Stedim Biotech SA, and Executive VP and member of the Board of Sartorius AG.
During his tenure at Sartorius, Vogt founded multiple Sartorius affiliates and built new markets in Turkey, India, Korea, China and Australia. He also played a critical role in building Sartorius’ filtration business into a leading global supplier to the biotech industry. While at Sartorius, he was heavily involved in numerous mergers and acquisitions and led Sartorius’ strategic shift to single use bioprocessing technologies, helping the company increase its market capitalization from below $100M to approximately $24B. Most recently, Vogt joined the venture capital firm Dynamk Capital as a Venture Partner.
As SBI’s new Chairman, Vogt is poised for another challenge: formalizing the company’s vision and mission and executing a pragmatic, agile and ambitious growth strategy that will foster new innovation and deliver sustained, meaningful value to SBI’s life science customers.
We caught up with Vogt in mid-August for a conversation about his path to SBI and his vision for the company’s future.
Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming SBI’s new Chairman.
I was given the unique chance by Sartorius in the beginning of the nineties to strategically develop their filtration business into today’s Bioprocess Business that meant a complete transition of the company and growth from approx $25M to $1.8B. An important strategic part of the transition and growth were numerous acquisitions and their integration. Most of the companies we acquired had smaller teams of 20 to 70 people and I always enjoyed very much to work with entrepreneurs and helping them to quickly grow their business.
After 35 very successful years at Sartorius, which from a career perspective is not the normal case staying with one company, and after 12 years on its executive board, you have to decide when is the right time to leave. I thought it was the right time when at the same time I had the chance to join Dynamk, a venture capital company in the U.S. focused on small life science tools startup companies that need not only capital but also advice and support for commercialization of their innovative technologies.
What I’ve learned over the years is that the small companies and startups have a lot of technical and scientific expertise, but when it comes to commercialization, they are struggling, and this is where Dynamk and I fit perfectly.
I had the chance to experience what it takes to build up and grow small businesses, including Sartorius itself in the beginning and the numerous acquisitions of small companies we made during more than 2 decades. During that time, I built a wide, global network that is of huge value to any startup or small company in this conservative market.
I’ve always enjoyed not only working strategically but also playing an important operational role in respect to execution and building up organizations. The other important points for me are trust and the people I´m working with. All that came together when I was offered the Chairman role at SBI and particularly the relationship I had with John Moore, SBI’s President, in the past.
How would you characterize your leadership style, and what other leaders have inspired you across your career?
When I took over the responsibility for Sales & Marketing of the filtration business at Sartorius in 1991, I had the privilege and the chance to grow the company from the beginning. We had to face all the challenges of small companies. We were, so to speak, an underdog trying to fight huge global competitors with billions in revenue like Millipore, Pall, GE and Thermo Fisher.
This meant we had to overcome all the challenges that a small company faces such as very low budgets, no brand recognition, great market barriers in a conservative industry with very long selling cycles, recruitment problems and only a few affiliates for direct sales.
For us this meant focus, focus and again focus. I really believe in the philosophy, “If you do not meet your targets, narrow your focus.” Very often small companies tend to do just the opposite.
Additionally, I was inspired by Tom Peters, a well-known American marketing and strategy expert with various successful management book editions such as “Thriving on Chaos.” Tom told me you should not try to run the same race faster when you are a small company but you do need to run a different race if you want to win over our competitors.
From my experience with many customers, I learned that customers were looking not for products but for solutions.
These 3 facts, focus, run a different race, and solutions, became the cornerstones of the Sartorius strategy to become a total solution provider for the Bioprocessing Industry at the end of the nineties. Today Sartorius is no longer an underdog but one of the leading or maybe even the leading company in this industry.
If I have to describe my leadership, I want to concentrate on a few points that have been always important to me. First of all, I think leaders have to be authentic. Then they should be listening to their people on all levels, particularly to the people who have close contacts to customers and the market. I, for example, have learned a lot from U.S. sales reps. Then, leaders should create an environment and culture where mistakes are an important step on the way to success, according to the philosophy, “fail fast, correct fast.”
What are some of the first actions you’ve taken as the new Chairman?
As a Chairman and a consultant to the company being on board since July, one of the first things was to get to know the people and to find out how the company sees itself. Then, we’ve developed our vision and mission statements that become the framework for the strategy.
It was important that all team members participated and gave their input in a very constructive manner.
Now we can determine what products we need to develop, what technologies we are missing, what technologies we can develop and what technologies we need to add to the portfolio through strategic initiatives.
I’ve also talked to key personnel to get a sense of how they see our strengths and weaknesses and what gaps we have to fill through investments or recruitment of new competencies. We are now in the process of developing a 5-year business plan with very ambitious targets of revenue growth.
What are the biggest upcoming challenges for your company pertaining to scaling up and growth?
With just the current portfolio of optical sensors, we won’t be able to hit our revenue target and
become a very attractive and profitable enterprise. That’s why we defined a wider vision and mission statement that allows us to enlarge our technology portfolio.
We need to understand much better the unmet needs of our customers in terms of measurable solutions and not in terms of just products. Another important instrument that we have to manage very professionally is priority setting in respect to our development road map, under the consideration of our specific corporate parameters as they are, e.g., resources, financing and market conditions. In this respect, “time to market” will be a significant parameter when setting up priorities.
The coronavirus pandemic is another challenge as it slows down many things, including launches of new products. There are also positives coming from this pandemic with many vaccines being developed around the globe.
What markets might the company focus on over the next 5 years?
You have to carefully select your market segments that contain your defined “ideal customers.” Right now, vaccines are booming. 20 years ago, the vaccine industry was dead and no one wanted to invest in it. Now, suddenly, everyone is working on vaccines again because there is a big market. You can see how things can change in a very short time. Cell and gene therapy for example is very promising but there are a lot of barriers to overcome. Everyone is throwing money there right now but there will only be a few winners.
It’s about “fail fast, correct fast.” We have to make a decision and go. We can discuss the problem and we will never solve it unless we have tried it. We have to allow people to make mistakes.
When no mistakes are made, and everything is fine, I get nervous because it’s an indication no one is moving. That is the worst thing that can happen in a company.
When you are small, you have the advantage of being agile. If you’re small and you’re not flexible, what will you do when you’re a company of 10,000? We need discipline and knowledge management and we need to bring know-how to customers that they don’t have.