Taking the business view of how to tackle world hunger
“There seems to be an impression that a company like Bayer wouldn’t care about bees,” he says. “But without bees we have no business, so of course we have a huge interest in the health of bees. This is crucial.”
As a high-flying Irishman in corporate Germany, Condon is anxious to build bridges between the two countries. He is already active in the Irish Business Network in Germany, while Bayer CropScience has partnerships with UCD and Teagasc, including tests of products to tackle potato blight in Irish conditions.
Condon says he has watched the euro- zone crisis increase attention in Ireland on his adoptive home. Beyond recent German-critical crisis headlines in Ireland, however, he senses a respect on return visits home for how Germany managed its affairs to ensure steady growth without economic bubbles.
“A lot of people allowed the Irish bubble to happen but not everyone benefited. But everyone got hurt when it burst,” he says. “I sense a lot of respect for how Germany managed its economy: it never went significantly up or significantly down. There is an idea here of continuous progress and improvement for the economy.”
One positive effect of the economic crisis, he said, is increasing awareness in Ireland of huge career opportunities in Germany. In many ways the two countries face complementary problems: too few jobs in Ireland, too few skilled candidates in Germany.
“There are jobs available here at all levels,” says Condon. “If you look at the demographics this talent shortage is going to be a much bigger issue in the future.”
The main bottleneck for Irish pursuing careers in Germany remains the lack of jobseekers who can speak the language. But he sees signs of improvement on the Irish side. One of his own nephews is currently in Germany on a school exchange, living with a host family.
“Starting early helps a lot, as the earlier you start the easier it is to learn a new language, which is why such school programmes are essential,“ he says.
But with languages, as in life, he says the key is not to expect others to do the work. “It is much more about really wanting to learn a new language.”
CV: Liam Condon
Name: Liam Condon
Position: Chief executive of Bayer CropScience
Family: Married with two sons
Career: Studied international marketing and languages at NIHE, later Dublin City University, in the 1980s and, with graduate prospects then as dim as they are now, moved to Berlin to study for a year in 1987.
A student strike during most of his time left him with plenty of time to learn German and explore the still divided city. Condon was in Berlin when the wall fell in 1989 and found work with the pharmaceuticals company Schering.
In 1996 he moved with Schering to Japan. On his return to Berlin, he was appointed Scherings marketing director for the Asia-Pacific region and moved to Shanghai, from where he watched pharma giant Bayer swallow his Berlin employer. Rather than show him the door, they promoted him to be manager of China. His success there – up to 50 per cent annual growth – got him noticed at home.
He returned to Germany in January 2010 to head Bayer Vital, the healthcare division responsible for a product portfolio including Aspirin and diabetes medication, in Germany. On December 1st last, he took the helm at Bayer CropScience
Something you might expect: A language graduate, he is fluent in Japanese (learned after complete immersion with a host family in a rural town following his posting there in 1996), German, French and Mandarin (also acquired on posting to China).
Something that might surprise: He is a passionate marathon man. He ran the Düsseldorf marathon, he says, in “two hours 58 minutes and 30 seconds”. His next big race looms next month.