The Maestro of HR

Dick Caldera orchestrates Bayer’s movement to a life sciences brand with a new talent acquisition strategy and structure driven by unified purpose

Dick Caldera remembers driving on the Autobahn, the federal highway system in Germany, when an illuminated Bayer logo emerged in his sight line above the Leverkusen skyline. Unlike most Americans, he knows that Bayer is much more than the aspirin company founded in 1863. He’s ushering in a new era in Bayer’s history with expertise gleaned from more than thirty years spearheading human resources at top multinational organizations such as BP/Amoco, Skanska, and Philips. All these pivotal points prepped him to help initiate Bayer’s global cultural transformation into a life-sciences company innovating in the fields of pharma, consumer health, crop science, and animal health.

His decision to seek international experience—some being high-risk, high-reward moves decided by a sip of cognac near the fireplace—ultimately broadened Caldera’s HR thought leadership to the point where he realized what he was living couldn’t be taught. “Once you’re in it, what you find is the pool of true international HR players really isn’t all that big,” he says. “Doing global became so valuable because as I went further on, I got opportunities to work in different industries.”

Now, Caldera feels most at home at Bayer US, where he’s the senior vice president of human resources. He’s putting his international experience to work as Bayer shifts to a more unified, global company, while staying faithful to what he calls the true role of human resources: stewards of the qualitative elements of strategy.


To maximize the effectiveness of human resources, business must come first and function next, according to Caldera. “If you think about strategy, it implies a certain set of aspirations. How big do we want to be, by when? In what countries?” he explains. “How a strategy actually gets executed is by how many people, what skills, where, and when, because without that, strategy is just a piece of paper on a shelf.”

For Caldera, human resources must bring that gap analysis on organizational capabilities to the table and also identify whether it’s people, structure, processes, or reward systems. Human resources needs to see strategic solutions in a very holistic way, he says, because there’s not any one answer.

“If you have this particular strategy, there’s a number of levers you have to pull around organizational capability that rest in people, in organization structure, in processes, and in reward systems,” Caldera says. “And how you pull those levers is going to one way or another dictate your success with executing the strategy.”

To usher in the new era of Bayer, Caldera equates his role to that of a maestro: “I have to come in and listen to the music that’s being played, and then I have to decide, are my musicians organized in the right chairs? Do I have to move the cellist from here to there? Or maybe I don’t even have the right musicians.”

New Talent, New Bayer

As a first step toward building the new Bayer, the company is creating a greater capability for talent acquisition internally to reflect all of the changes in the way that companies go to market today for talent. Caldera points to an iPhone on the table in front of him. “There’s a lot of people today that search for jobs that way and actually apply right from their mobile device,” he says.

Bayer does have an online application portal, yet Caldera’s team is tasked with expanding the channels for talent acquisition to raise Bayer’s visibility for the next generation. “Are we at Bayer e-enabled? Yes. But not e-enabled in the sense of when we start looking at millennials,” he adds.

The shifting ways that up-and-coming talent look at companies is from the standpoint of an employer’s attractiveness, according to Caldera. This realization prompted Bayer’s recreation of its brand as an employer with the mantra “Passion to Innovate, Power to Change.” To deliver on that brand, Caldera’s team is aligning the talent acquisition process. “If you go to market in some old traditional way, ‘Passion to Innovate, Power to Change’ doesn’t resonate,” he says.

When Caldera thinks back to the time when he was coming out of school and compares it to the experience of his own kids now, he observes how the perspective of a rewarding career is different. Nowadays, it goes beyond a company’s standard ethics and values.

“I think they’re looking for, ‘How is this company perceived by the general public, and by me associating with this company, what will people think of me?’” Caldera explains. “They’re looking at their career in different stages, not looking to go to Bayer to work for the next thirty, forty years.”

Caldera also notes the end of the cradle-to-grave career system for today’s job seekers. From that perspective, Bayer is pivoting to position itself in the eyes of the new workforce to pinpoint what it offers talent—with the help of Caldera’s HR team.

“When you start peeling away at what we stand for, how we position ourselves as an acquirer of talent as we go through this whole talent acquisition rebuild, I think we will have positive impact because we are mission driven, we are purpose driven,” Caldera says.

Bayer’s mission of “Science For A Better Life” appeals to the millennial need to make a difference, according to Caldera. “People here expend a lot more discretionary energy because they really believe that what they do in their jobs potentially could make someone’s life better, or even improve the experience for someone who’s sick and for their family,” he says.

With this purpose-driven philosophy embraced by current Bayer employees, Caldera’s team is externally repositioning the company in the marketplace based on such passion to win the battle for talent. Building capabilities internally through technology will help acquire and onboard talent much more swiftly. As a first step, Caldera elevated the head of talent acquisition for the United States, and he expects to shift to the new model by the end of this year.

The Conductor of Change

The global initiative to take a fundamental look at how Bayer is going to market for talent needed a focus group of sorts to develop the company’s universal strategy. As Bayer’s human resources head in the United States, Caldera is part of that global leadership team and is also the one who raised his hand to pilot Bayer’s new talent initiative. The team comprises the global head of human resources with his direct reports and then the heads of Bayer’s three largest countries, Germany, China, and the United States.

There was a certain amount of risk for the global team in saying yes, due to the size and complexity of the US operations (the recruiting volume in its US services center today equals about three thousand requisitions per year). Yet, Caldera made his case for the extra work. To him, the additional resources to shape the initiative would allow his team to have a larger voice and ultimately a more seamless integration of the global solution.

“If we did the pilot in another, smaller country for the company, eventually it would come to us in the US, and I might say, ‘I’m not sure we can actually implement it the same way you did it in country X,’” Caldera explains. “It’s a really great reflection on the team of people who are part of the HR function in the US at Bayer today that the home office would say, ‘We’ll do this pilot in the US.’”

However, several years ago Bayer’s leadership team would not have picked the United States to be a pilot country due to a large concern about if the function could actually pull it off. What changed? Caldera’s human resources team has gained a lot of credibility since his arrival in October 2012, and not just locally by the management in the Bayer North America leadership team, but also by top leadership at Bayer’s global headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany.

Prior to where Bayer is today, human resources in the United States wasn’t united under one platform to support all of the businesses. Enter Caldera, who joined the team four years ago to rebalance the matrix for more consistent support to all operations in its geography through a single HR platform.

Caldera spent the first year and half at Bayer assessing his inheritance: human resources had a messy reputation. All of Bayer’s human resources teams across the globe were reporting outside of their respective countries. “It was almost like you were in a league of nations, not even a united nations,” he says. “It became very difficult in trying to convince people to agree on something.”

To counter this fragmentation, Caldera took swift action to build a battle-ready HR division in the United States, sourcing talent from companies highly respected for HR practice, such as Novartis, GE, and Honeywell. Caldera describes his top-notch team as a diverse bunch, not just from the standpoint of visual diversity, but also in the way each team member works and thinks.

“I feel like I have a better chance of success because I have so many different viewpoints on my team,” Caldera says. “And with enough debate about which direction we have to go in, I can evaluate what I’m hearing from my different team members, and ultimately I believe it provides a better solution.”

Now, operating within a more streamlined structure, human resources under Caldera’s North American purview is poised to efficiently implement any operations strategy governed by the global leadership team. His HR team is divvied into three factions: business partners, local experts, and a services sector.

Bayer’s HR business partners are embedded with business leaders and units across the United States. “We all don’t sit in some sort of HR enclave somewhere, dreaming up all these world-class HR processes,” Caldera says. “These people live and breathe the business.” He adds that his team has focused a lot on upgrading the skills of these business partners so that they can effectively contribute to business needs.

Caldera rebuilt Bayer’s local experts, a much smaller group, to form the center of human resources expertise, covering compensation, benefits, talent management, labor and employee relations, diversity and inclusion, and change management. That quality expertise was missing, according to Caldera, who filled the skill set gap to deliver business solutions internally—needs that were previously being developed by hiring external consultants.

The third component of the Bayer US human resources population is also its largest: the shared services sector. With more than 200 people in the HR department, about 120 sit in the service center. The group is tasked with human resources responsibilities such as payroll, benefits administration, compensation administration, recruiting, and mobility and training administration

“The only way business partners can deliver is through an expertly run shared services sector,” Caldera says. “The business doesn’t derive any competitive advantage from doing it differently.”

Led by Caldera, Bayer’s human resources team in the United States now acts as a competent, organized unit. Such cohesion mirrors the multinational company’s global movement toward a unified culture, championed by leadership as “one Bayer.”

“You’ll see that theme resonate a lot today when you hear Bayer’s Board of Management talk about how we’re a life sciences company,” Caldera says. “It’s been sort of an evolution under their leadership, going from thinking we’re a material science company and a chemical company and a crop science company and a healthcare company—to really moving toward one Bayer.”

A Structure Metamorphosis

Bayer’s focus turned to life sciences after the spin-off of its material science division, what became Covestro, in September 2015. The move shed the last vestige of Bayer’s initial identity as a chemical company when it started more than a century ago.

The CEO and the rest of the board of management had to look at Bayer’s portfolio very differently, Caldera says, because it had these three different businesses under a holding-type company structure. Now, the three divisions under “one Bayer” include pharmaceuticals, consumer healthcare, and crop science. “That’s why Bayer’s been around for 150 years and not just survived, but thrived—because the company evolves the right way,” Caldera says. “This is a company with a real soul and a really good set of values.” Bayer’s strong sense of internal and external corporate social responsibility, leveraged by human resources and communications, helps Bayer’s workforce embrace what it means to be a life sciences company.

The cultural shift of moving from independent, self-sufficient companies under a holding company, to one company with one platform of support, requires an expanded HR platform. Caldera’s team aims to minimize the effects of isolation driven over the past ten years. “Structurally, you can say let’s jam everyone together, but now you’re talking about driving trust, collaboration, and really breaking down the silos,” he says.

To implement new Bayer’s culture, Caldera understands human resources’ crucial, yet backstage, role. “The leaders have to lead the change because if HR tries to lead it, nobody’s following,” Caldera says. “HR at best can influence, HR can’t mandate, instead leading by influence and by example.” HR business partners and change-management members will partner with leaders to create tools and initiatives to help people to reexamine how they work with their new colleagues.

However, evidence of Caldera’s direct impact on cultivating “one Bayer” before it became a global initiative exists in the transformation of the country’s learning management system at Bayer US. “Learning, even at its most fundamental level of administration—of going to vendors and bringing them in to design and develop courses—was so siloed,” Caldera explains. “We had more learning management systems than you could have ever wanted.” In the United States alone, Bayer had eight learning management systems. For its 15,000 people, Bayer was offering more than 30,000 courses, most of which were duplicative.

Now, SAP’s SuccessFactors is the backbone of Bayer’s global human resources information system, including learning, with a new project called One Solution. The United States is the pilot country once again. “It’s a reflection of the fact that we have people in that area that are well respected to deliver what needs to be done,” says Caldera, who adds that it will require a strong collaboration between human resources, IT, and the businesses.

Leadership also moved away from sixty total competency models to just one. “The global competency model has become the basis for dialogue around talent: selection, performance management, development, and succession planning,” Caldera says. So far, about 3,400 managers and employees in the United States have been trained in the global competency model. “No matter where I go on my travels to different businesses, it’s amazing how many leaders of the business tell me it’s one of the best things I’ve seen HR do,” he adds. “It’s changed the way in which we look at our talent, it’s changed the conversations we’re having, and it’s helped us improve how we interview and acquire talent.”

In the next few years as these initiatives roll out, Caldera expects to see Bayer living up to its employer brand of “Passion to Innovate, Power to Change” as enabled by its new, unified structure and the implementation of the talent acquisition strategy. He knows it will continue to be a significant undertaking for the entire team, and it’s through his team that he will continue to measure his effectiveness.

Ultimately, Caldera believes in hiring people who are better than him, empowering them, holding them accountable, and enabling their success. “One person isn’t going to have an impact, it’s how you build the team,” Caldera says. “Have I conducted the orchestra, and is the music you’re hearing today better than the music you heard yesterday? You’ll be able to judge me based on the music that the HR function plays. That’s how you’ll know if I’ve done my job.”