Interview with Dr. Joachim Schulz
Dr. Joachim Schulz, Chairman of Aesculap AG’s Management Board, on the future of a 150-year-old success story
Dr. Schulz, Aesculap is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The company is part of the B. Braun group, which was founded even earlier, in 1839. Is this history – or to put it another way, this age – a blessing or a curse in an economy that is increasingly defined by young start-ups with supposedly huge innovative capacity?
The ability to innovate has been B. Braun's secret of success for more than 175 years, and Aesculap's for 150 years. The ability to innovate is therefore not a question of age but in fact of attitude. You can clearly see in the past few decades how established and older businesses have become very satisfied by their success and, as a result, have lost their ability to innovate. As we have never become comfortable at B. Braun, we also want to be successful in the future through innovation.
In addition, one secret of mature companies’ success may be that we have monitored products across their entire life cycle, know the market well and have a more complex portfolio. This has a stabilizing effect and makes us distinctive.
It is not just garage businesses that define the current market, mega-mergers are also increasingly changing the picture. New players that, at first view, appear to have little to do with the classical health market, Google for example. What can Aesculap, as part of B. Braun, do to counter this, particularly as a family-owned business?
Even if new market participants, even if they are not as big and powerful as Google, for example, enter the health market, they first and foremost remain new entrants. This means that we have to use our understanding of our customers and our proximity to our customers for our benefit. The customer must recognize that we really understand their processes and want to work with them as a partner on their journey towards better preventive healthcare and healthcare provision.
As a family-owned business, we manage to do this particularly well because we are prepared to enter into long-term partnerships and are not just after a quick profit.
Society and living conditions are also changing rapidly. The often-described demographic change, empowered customers, higher levels of health consciousness... What changes will these lead to for healthcare, particular in terms of surgery?
People today are much more consciously aware in terms of healthcare and choose their healthcare provider more carefully than before. Healthcare providers therefore have to present, as far as possible, optimal treatment concepts and treatment processes that are perfectly aligned with them, to stand out in this regard. On this path towards optimal healthcare, we are, at B. Braun, and in particular in the Aesculap division, the ideal partner for surgery. We can optimally cover all stages of the treatment process with our products and also work on optimizing processes.
In surgery, it is particularly noticeable that there is a strong trend towards optimal characterization of the patient and their disease, not just to select the correct surgical procedure with regard to curative medicine but to select the optimal preventive surgical options, before it becomes a disease in the first place.
The digital transformation is a challenge for every business. How is Aesculap facing up to this challenge?
The digital transformation covers all areas of the health market and, particularly, all areas of a business. In terms of production, B. Braun and Aesculap are already well positioned and in many cases already highly automated and interconnected.
In order to significantly improve in other areas, we have started a cross-divisional project on digital transformation. The aim of this initiative is to further optimize our digital and digitally supported product and service range. However, it is not about a digital solution in itself, but about finding the best possible benefit for patients, users and healthcare facilities. Again, the focus is on finding out where the challenges really lie in the process and taking targeted action in these areas to improve.
Alongside sustainability and efficiency, innovation is one of B. Braun’s three corporate values. Henry Ford said “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses”. How do you position yourself to drive innovation?
Innovation management at a company like B. Braun and the Aesculap division means always finding a good balance between incremental innovation, i.e. constantly improving the tried and trusted, and disruptive innovation, i.e. providing the unexpected innovation that the customer would never have thought of. So, on the one hand, you have to ask different contacts to operate accordingly in the two areas. On the other hand, it means that you always have to be able to put a completely new accent, with part of your portfolio, on healthcare provision that no one has thought of before and whose technological solution no one could have imagined. Neither one nor the other is decisive, rather it is the right mix of incremental and disruptive innovation.
In your opinion, what are the most important trends in surgery?
Central trends are minimization, biologization and the digital transformation in surgery.
In terms of minimization, companies are constantly required to develop new and optimally functional solutions for ever smaller surgery traumas, so that as many operations as possible can be performed using minimally invasive surgery or even interventions.
In terms of biologization, regenerative medicine and its sensible combination with traditional medical technology is a fundamental trend. In addition, biologization aims to optimize a wide range of coatings to ensure healing, long-term tissue integration and, in particular, the prevention of infection when using implants.
In terms of the digital transformation, this means, in particular, giving the surgeon the best possible supply of information so that they have the opportunity to make the best possible preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative decisions. Therefore, sensor systems that also supply important information for optimized actuators (drive systems) are becoming a central component. This means that with digital support, surgeons’ actions can be made even more precise and even further optimized.
There will not be any autonomous surgery robots in the near future, but there will be the best possible optimal support for the surgeon when they make their decisions.
BMW’s anniversary motto was “THE NEXT 100 YEARS”. What is your vision of the future for Aesculap in view of the trends outlined above? What is your long term vision for the company?
B. Braun – and therefore all the company’s divisions – already have an excellent corporate vision: “We protect and improve people's health all over the world.”
Anyone who is able to work for such a purpose can consider themselves lucky and does not need an additional vision, because this is already an excellent, comprehensive corporate purpose. However, making it even clearer to our healthcare partners what added value Aesculap and B. Braun can provide, through improved patient treatment, to ensure excellent healthcare and prevention is an important task for the future. In this regard, we want to, and will, of course continue to drive developments in the trends outlined above with our expertise and passion.
What do you think Aesculap's biggest corporate value is? Which of the company's capabilities or characteristics will be significant in the next 150 years?
For 150 years Aesculap has stayed true to its roots and competencies and has always reinvented itself. Striving for a perfect product or service solution together with the curiosity to always go in new directions will continue to make us successful in the next 150 years.
As a father, you must know the ritual: The birthday boy or girl can make a wish when they blow out the candles. What would your wish be? With 150 candles, the wish can be slightly more complex...
Wishing that Aesculap achieves the success it deserves is surely a noble motive. Because if the company is successful, it must have first developed and manufactured products that have a positive impact on patient care and supplied them to customers. Aesculap’s success is therefore inextricably linked to optimized patient care. This might sound a bit pathetic but, from this perspective, I think that to wish success for Aesculap also has something to do with a humanitarian attitude or - in Christian terms - with the altruism.
About the person
Dr. Joachim Schulz has been the Chairman of Aesculap AG's Management Board since April 2017. He studied mechanical engineering and aviation at RWTH Aachen University. After his graduation in 1988, he joined Aesculap in Tuttlingen. Between 1992 and 1994 Dr. Schulz was the head of production at B. Braun’s English subsidiary in Sheffield, UK. In March 2008, he was appointed a member of Aesculap's management board, responsible for production, strategic purchasing & supply chain management and logistics. Dr. Schulz was born in Wuppertal in 1956, is married and is the father of five children.