Cross-Cultural Chemistry | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.01.2003
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Cross-Cultural Chemistry

The end of 1999 marked one of the greatest mergers in pharmaceutical history, when Germany and France got together to create Aventis. With the new giant came cultural challenges for employees on both sides of the border.


Aventis has two headquarters -- one in Paris and one in Frankfurt (seen here).

New beginnings always present challenges, and that of pharmaceutical giant Aventis proved no exception. Germany’s Höchst AG and the French company, Rhone-Poulenc Aventis -- each of which had survived more than a decade of pharmaceutical history -- made waves when they merged in 1999 to create Aventis, which has since become an industry giant.

Yet three years after the companies' successful merger, the media and critics still bang on about the tensions in the Franco-German marriage. Critics complain that management positions are dished out according to passport rather than qualifications. But proponents of the international team say those claims just aren't true.

French employee Laurent Jacobs, who heads the clinical development department at Aventis Deutschland, believes that modern-day pharmaceutical production is only viable on a multinational basis, and that one-nation drug manufacture is a thing of the past. It is essential that development be carried on a global level -- in the United States, Europe and even Japan -- in order to ensure a successful international launch for new products, as worldwide sales are the only way of recuperating the approximately €800 million ($859 million) a company spends creating a drug in a development process that can take up to 10 years.

Cultural differences

Each country has its own marketing strategies, catered to the needs and interests of local residents. It's also a reflection of the continuing gulf in sales and advertising tactics. But with research the tune is a little more harmonized and is already truly international. Biologist Andreas Batzer heads up a research team which spans three countries: Germany, France and the U.S. Batzer’s work schedule involves a lot of travel, but he can’t always be there in the flesh, and has to rely heavily on phone, video conferencing and e-mail facilities. And even there he is confronted with cultural differences.

However they communicate, it seems, both Aventis partners have their notions about the other. The French are said to be more hierarchical than the Germans, and the Germans less flexible than the French. But whatever the differences, if profit figures are anything to go by, Aventis must be doing something right. At the start of the annual report season, Aventis is tipped as a favorite, with Morgan Stanley estimating a profit growth of 24.9 percent for 2002.

Paris am Main?

Making the short hop between France and Germany is commonplace for many at Aventis, but so standardized are the respective premises, that there’s little that distinguishes them. Jutta Reinhard-Rupp, who coordinates scientific affairs and EU projects in a German-Franco team, claims the language is the only really obvious way to tell whether you are in Paris or Frankfurt. With both plants located in industrial areas outside the city centers and the space inside so similar, Aventis is evidently capable of extending its global nature to its surroundings, regardless of the country.

European Similarities

Production line workers are less affected by the internationalization than Aventis researchers. They produce, package and dispatch from one location, and many of them worked for Höchst long before it metamorphosed into its multinational status.

German managers and researchers, on the other hand, have had to steer their ship through some choppy cultural waters to reach an understanding with their new French colleagues. Nonetheless, research team leader Andreas Batzer points out that when compared with their colleagues in the U.S., the differences between France and Germany suddenly shrink in size. As soon as the Americans join the game, the Europeans fumble for one another’s hands. "Then you suddenly realize just how close the French and the Germans really are," said Andreas Batzer.