Date: May 4,2015
Written by: Stefan Kruhlak and Harjot Grewal
Today was an early start with a departure time of 7:45 am. Fortunately, this bus has a washroom, a resource that proved to be most valuable a few days prior.
Regarded by some as the most important trip, we’d finally see in person the worldwide headquarters of Merck KgaA. This was the company we had all anaylized for our group projects.
As we arrived at the gates, we were greeted by Barbara, our tour guide for the day. She cleared us for entry and we headed towards one of their newest buildings. Along the way, she told us some interesting facts. Merck has a full time security and fire department. The fire department has a staff of 88 who work 24 hour shifts due to the fire hazard presented by pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and raw materials.
The Merck campus contains 1.2 square kilometers of land with 300 different buildings. Its divided up into different regions based on business sector. Each street is named after a German city. The campus contains 20 kilometers of streets and 10 kilometers of rail tracks with a rail station. Merck actually used be located closer to Darmstadt’s city center. A lack of space for expansion forced the company to move farther away to its current location. Interestingly, most buildings at the current site were bombed during the world war. Most of the facilities had to be rebuilt. Merck employs 9,000 people at its headquarters.
We learned that Merck is one of a few companies that maintains a pharmaceutical and chemical division. They primarily operate in a business-to-business setting with little sales directly to consumers. We were surprised to learn that there are 2 million “Merck babies” around the world thanks to their infertility products. Barbra showed us Merck’s liquid crystal innovations ranging from windows, solar panels, to one of the largest LCD TVs in the world.
In the Corporate History Museum, we saw a display of all products ever made and other historical artifacts from the company. We saw a microscope which was used to discover liquid crystals.
After lunch, Oliver Wilbert, Head of Operations of Merck Serono and the Pfizer Alliance spoke to us about his role and passion for oncology. He explained that unlike other companies, Merck’s strategy is based on generations, not quarters. The Pfizer Alliance is intended to further Merck’s role in oncology. This is important because adding even a few years to a patients life can have significant impacts. For example, Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a very rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004. Through various treatment methods, he was able to extend his life long enough to release innovative Apple products.
The group then split into 2 groups to visit either the warehouse or the toxicology lab. The warehouse is completely automated with room for 60,000 pallets. It has automatic cranes and forklifts that move a 1,000 pallets everyday. The operation looks chaotic but is entirely computer controlled. This allows them to maintain 24 hour delivery to some destinations while ensuring safe inventory storage because the computer knows not to store certain items near each other. Shortly after being briefed about fire protocols, we were evacuated from the building. After 4 fire trucks arrived on scene, we discovered it was just a false alarm.
The toxicology lab is where they test pharmaceuticals and chemicals for how it will effect people before moving onto other phases. It is sophisticated work but involves a lot of ethical issues. Animal testing is the only method allowed for testing. Rats make up the majority of testing subjects with some dogs and monkeys.
Finally, we met Johannes Baillou, Chairman of the Board of Partners. He explained to us how Merck survived 12 generations and is preparing to transition to the 13th. Johannes also discussed the future of the Merck family and how they will continue to keep up with a company in a changing world. He finished off his presentation by discussing 3 of the papers that had been selected to be sent to Merck by the class before we left. Each paper was given great feedback and constructive criticism.
Overall, we had a great time visiting Merck. A lot was learned and it was definitely interesting to see the company we had been analyzing in person.