"You need to live today and think about tomorrow"

Executives up close - Interview with Dr. Karsten Wagner (MD at DentsplySirona Implants )

Sharing some in-depth insights into executive careers in the Life Sciences we’re continuing our interview series “Executives up close” with the very experienced Dr. Karsten Wagner from DentsplySirona Implants. He is 50 years old, married with 2 children and is responsible, as the MD, for the German market for DentsplySirona Implants. Starting in 1995 as a salesrep he’s been responsible for product management, regional sales, key accounts, national sales and he’s been a business unit director before becoming MD in 2013. So he’s been through all the aspects of the sales market.

Which (personal and professional) qualities do you think are most important in a position like yours?

One has to have an extremely good knowledge of the market, experience in sales and the ability and willingness to make decisions involving a certain amount of risk. The will to win, accompanied by the right amount of aggressiveness belongs to it, as well as being able to take people seriously and listen closely and attentively. One has to be able to recognize interrelationships and operational connections quickly - living today, thinking about tomorrow.

What are the biggest challenges you’re dealing with on a daily basis?

Ensuring effective communication in a big organization. Being quick but nevertheless well thought through in planning, and getting everyone in the organization to accept responsibility for what they do. The upper management needs to take responsibility so that the employees take it too. That also makes the communication work because if the upper management doesn’t ensure the right coordination, information gets lost relatively quickly. You need clear structures that are nevertheless flexible and are able to adapt to current developments. That’s a crucial topic – especially for us since we are a rather large company with more than 100 sales representatives in the fields alone. This fact makes it extremely important to ensure that responsibility for communication is taken on every level.

What changes in the industry have recently played the biggest role in your company (and why)?

The digitalization of the market – everyone talks about it and many want to see it happening, but the basics mustn’t be forgotten. Digitalization happens in our field mostly in prosthetics. Crowns used to be modulated by hand in planning and production. Nowadays the crown is planned completely digitally and is produced industrially. The digitalization right there comes with two main challenges: the processes have to be logically organized and it needs to make sense from a financial point of view. Does it make sense to produce in-house or to outsource the whole digitalized process? That’s always a corporate financial decision.

The whole procedure in implantology is backwards planning nowadays. You decide on an ideal result and plan and also produce backwards from it. For us the big challenge is to talk to the customer and see whether in-house production or outsourcing makes the most sense and that can differ from case to case and is very dependent on the customer’s demands. That also changes the whole sales process. A new kind of consulting is needed and a new kind of understanding of the processes. That is an enormous transformation process for us – especially for the sales force in the field. What used to work 10 years ago doesn’t work like that anymore. But still you need common sense and rely on personal contact. Digitalization in no way replaces thinking.

Since you’re greatly relying on sales and distribution in the field – is that a business model that’s going to survive the digitalization?

Yes, it’ll be important, even crucial to maintain contact with clients particularly when dealing with products which need explaining. The burning enthusiasm of the sales rep for the products he sells and the good after-sales service will remain, and that’s what makes a company. I personally think that the field crew is even going to become more important because the digital offers are all very similar and at the same time need more explanation. The more explanation is needed the more important personal trust becomes and that is perfectly matched by a competent sales field crew.

How do you incorporate digital developments into your company’s strategy?

We’ve got really excellent products in both the outsourcing and internal areas. Ultimately it’s all about starting with the desired result and working backwards in the planning to produce exactly what’s required. Our market is very heterogenic and fragmented and these many different approaches are actually quite remarkable. Our philosophy is to be able to accommodate all these approaches – within the quite large scale that we have – and be able to link everything together as smoothly as possible.

What changes do you see in your industry within the next 5 years that are going to matter to you the most?

The perfection of the digital world and a generation change amongst our clients. The baby boomer generation is moving into their well-earned retirement and a new generation with different ideas and life concepts are replacing them. Work life balance is not only being discussed but is reality. Strong companies will be those who can motivate the older generation to continue to work with enthusiasm for as long as possible as well as attracting dynamic young people ready to prove themselves. Those who don’t manage this balancing act are going to face problems.

We’re active in a market that’s thankfully already rather dynamic and that in itself is attracting young people. I’ve noticed that the younger generation is less interested in financial benefits and puts more emphasis on an interesting task and the possibility to actively shape this task. In this whole discussion around “work-life-balance” I also notice a tendency towards work. There is so much talk about the “life”-part but after all we still spend more time with our colleagues than with our family – of course work needs to be fun and fulfilling with a good workplace, interesting tasks and a perspective.

What role do you see for yourself (within your company) in this change?

To simply put all this into practice.

Thank you for the interview!


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