Growing up in a business-owning family, where business was the main topic of conversation at the dinner table, it’s perhaps no surprise that Peter Goldschmidt is today a highly successful CEO. But more surprising is the path he took to get there. Rather than a business degree, Peter’s interest in what makes people tick saw him study sociology instead.
Since beginning his working life as a market researcher, Peter has succeeded in a range of different roles across different geographies. In 2018 he changed tack again, moving from CEO of a Fortune 100 company to be CEO for a leading private-equity owned pharmaceutical company. That willingness to continually seek new learning opportunities is a hallmark of Peter’s career.
Frédéric Brunner: Welcome to our podcast series, Backstage with Visionaries. This morning, I have the pleasure to welcome Peter Goldschmidt. Peter is a super successful CEO. He has been successful in a lot of different geographies. He has been in Asia, he has been in Europe, he has been in the US as a CEO, but also he has been very successful as a CEO in very different contexts, in Fortune 100, in private equity-backed companies. And he's here today to share with us lessons he's learned, have an open conversation on the tips that led him to the top that everybody can learn from. Peter, it's a great pleasure to have you today on the podcast.
Peter Goldschmidt: Great. Thank you so much for the invitation. It's my pleasure to be here and looking forward to our chat.
Frédéric Brunner: So Peter, I'd like to start with what I call a starting package. Everybody in life starts with a package and usually that package is family. What was your family like and what have you from your family when you were young?
Peter Goldschmidt: Yeah, I would say if I talk about family, there was one predominant thing really, and this is my father had built grocery stores. So he started after the war and this was his first store, the first store where you could pick your stuff yourself from shelves. And we always lived above one store, and from day one, more or less, I was used to understanding what is the margin of a liter of milk, I was used to understanding how cash flow works. It was a constant discussion at lunch and dinner tables, so that was pretty good. But I would also say, growing up in East Westphalia, which is in the middle of nowhere in Germany, I don't know, 40 miles away from the next highway, it's an area where people are very direct, they're very clear, they are, as people say, brutally honest, and that's also something which I think has influenced my upbringing.
Frédéric Brunner: Interesting. How much would you say that this kind of living above the grocery store and your father bringing, let's say, business topics in the family has shaped you, and have you taken away from and used in your life afterwards?
Peter Goldschmidt: In the end, what really sticks is not only the content. Yes, you learn the content, you understand how business works. You learn, you experience this, but I think it is more really the values and the attitude related to it. I think the reason why it sticks with me is because my father was always super enthusiastic about what he was doing. He just liked what he did. He liked the numbers, he liked to work with people in the stores, and he had certain core principles for his business, and I think that's really sticks. The content, you can learn. The content even has changed, how you do business 40 years ago versus now is very different, but I think these values and core principles, I think that's what you discover. And I don't know where it's coming from, but every one of us has this deja vu where you say, "Hey, I don't understand for 16 years why my parents are like this. Now we are 40 or 50 and we discover, hey, actually, we are... Some of the stuff has... Is still there. We are similar, and we made it our own principles.
Frédéric Brunner: Yep, absolutely. And then the second part of the starting package is, at some point, you need to choose a direction and career, and before we talk about professional life, I'd like to make a quick stop on what you decided to study? Because I would have thought when I met you the first time, you must have studied Economics, and I was surprised that you studied something different. So can you tell us a bit about what you studied and why you studied it?
Peter Goldschmidt: Yeah. So in a way, a little bit of a similar story from what I just said. So my father was as disappointed that I didn't study Economics as you have been surprised potentially, and a lot of people. But when I looked at Economics, I thought, "Yes, this is important to understand and that it is important to learn, and I think you can do this more or less anyhow." But what I really, really found interesting is everything around it. How does it work? What does culture really mean? How do people work together? What is the data behind stuff? So what I really decided then and found very interesting is to study Sociology, and I focused on industry and business sociology, meaning how people work together, how groups work together. And the other part of it was empiric social science, which is related to understanding how people think, how they behave, why they behave in that way. So this whole dynamic of sociology and psychology around why people take decisions and how do you lead organizations and steer organizations from a data and a psychological standpoint, I found so exciting, that's why I decided to study Sociology.
Frédéric Brunner: And what was then the bridge for people who know you and read your CV? As I said in the introduction, you obviously had a super career in Life Sciences. So what was then the bridge from sociology to Life Sciences?
Peter Goldschmidt: It was pretty easy. As I said, I was in empirical social science. Empiric social science, you do a lot of statistics, you do a lot of data management, you understand, as I said, the trends and how people behave. So I started in the market research department of Sandoz and did exactly this. I looked at numbers, I looked at behaviors of people, why people purchase certain things, and I was fortunate to work both in the beginning on the OTC side and on the RX side, so it was really great. On the other hand, it was boring after two years, so I had to go into marketing, I would say it is relatively fast, because I wanted to be where the action is.
Frédéric Brunner: So let's jump a bit to your career. When one looks at your CV, obviously there is a lot of success, it's a trail going upward only. But I also know, once you shared with me that you have to go out of your comfort zone, and that a lot of the time, this is where a lot of learnings happen. So when you reflect a bit on your career, what moments were you pushed or did you choose to go out of your comfort zone to learn things?
Peter Goldschmidt: Yeah. So to be really honest and not to contradict you, but it was not always like this. I think if you look at the CV, there are some steps where you might say, "Hey, why did you do that? Why was this the right move?" So I would say, I would put it under the umbrella, I had the opportunity to have a lot of different learning experiences, and the title and the next step was sometimes maybe not that important than doing something completely different. So considering having been in marketing and sales and doing different jobs, I had a lot of side steps. Being head of marketing, and then head of sales, was the same level and in the same organization, but you got a completely different understanding and a completely different view.
Being the commercial lead for Novartis, Germany, where I was big in sales, I had over 1000 people, and moving to the Philippines, it was a P&L of 40 million, it doesn't sound so attractive on paper. But on the other hand, a completely new environment, culturally exciting, completely different role. So the learning experience was really fantastic. And in the end, it's all also about not the content you learn, it's really how to deal with areas where you're, in the end, not an expert, and where you potentially have fear, and then see how you can live through that fear to do what's really right for the business and right for your personal development.
Frédéric Brunner: Maybe to double click on the sidesteps because there's a lot of young leaders that I think misunderstand how a sidestep can be extremely valuable in their careers because of what you learn and learning cross-functional things. What is your view now, you're the CEO, when you see the career of other people, why are sidesteps sometimes the better things to do for your career to become afterwards, a general manager? Can you comment on the value of sidesteps and knowing different functions versus going fast simply in one direction?
Peter Goldschmidt: In the end, it's pretty simple. It is about managing your fears, it is all about understanding what it would take as a reward to go into the fear zone. That has a lot to do when you have the opportunity or when you have a mentor or coach or parent or whatsoever who can help you to understand how to overcome your own road blocks. The biggest difficulty I have is people who are four, five years into their career, they say, "I cannot do this, I cannot do this, I cannot do this. I cannot move because we have a child that is two years old. I cannot do this job because I don't know it." And the point is, yeah, because you don't know it, go there, the learning opportunity is the best.
That's what people say. If you always go the same paths, it's very difficult to discover something new because of two things: One is you know a lot of things, and because you think you know a lot of things on this path, you will not see the things you have never seen on this path. So if you go different ways, you will discover more. And I would say actually that millennials, they have partly a different thinking about this because they want to go where they think they can contribute. So I have the feeling at least, titles and the reputation of a certain role, and partly even the money doesn't play as much of a big role than, "Hey, I can contribute here and I can learn here." And I think if you have these as guiding principles, what you can really learn, how you can go out of your comfort zone, how you can overcome your fear that really enhances your personal development, because a career is not what's in your CV, your career is what's your personal development journey.
Frédéric Brunner: We talked once about leadership, and I remember you said that over time, you have what you believed when you were at university, and then you also learned what it means in practice. And I remember that you had kind of an evolution from competing with others, which you learned at school, versus kind of leading through others. Can you talk a bit about how essential that is, how much of your success it was, and how do you approach leadership today?
Peter Goldschmidt: I would say that's something everybody has to go through, and it has not really so much to do with hierarchy, it is just how you look at things. And I would say it is this transformation from being a manager, from being a functional expert, from being only the doer, versus feeling really responsible as a leader in terms of developing yourself and the people around you based on the purpose you have, the purpose the company have, and your own values or company values. And I think... Yeah, that's not an easy process, because for me, I can clearly say this. When I became a brand manager, I just wanted to be the best brand manager. And then of course, you can work harder, you can work smarter, you can connect yourself with people who can inspire you. But in the end, it was all about, "Hey, I want to be the best in what I'm doing. I want to run the fastest, jump the highest, and then people will see I'm the best."
And then to understand that actually, it doesn't really help your development and it doesn't really create long-term success, that's tough. For me, this tough moment was, coming back to what I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, when I moved from being the head of marketing and sales. And as head of marketing, the team was not like super big, it's still like, whatever, 40 people or so, but that's something where you can create this excitement on content, on knowledge, on... We analyze better, we do this better. But in the end, if you then come to the sales force, yes, you can also see who are the best guys, you can also run by data, but you would lose. And I was close to not succeeding in my role by thinking I knew everything and I could drive everything, but you cannot drive 1100 people.
You have to lead through others, you have to create an organization with the right attitude, you have to understand that you have to support people, that you have to create the right vision for the whole thing, and then you have to grow right. That's a tough process because you have to let loose a little bit the content side, and the experience side, and the knowledge side. And you have to trust them. I actually observe, but of course every CEO, every leader is talking about the power of purpose-driven leadership, the power of a culture-driven organization. But in the end, what I see in practice is the moment there's pressure in the organization, the moment there are high expectations, people fall back into pure performance management. And then don't really lead through what I think in the end creates really the result, which is as I said, giving a purpose, having a vision and building the right culture with people with the right attitude.
Frédéric Brunner: I've seen you in action over the years and I'm very impressed. And there's two things I'm very impressed with that you just mentioned. One is leading with the vision, and I'd like to talk about it in the next minutes, but also this attitude and hiring for attitude. I remember once you told me you need to hire for attitude. What does that mean? How do you know what is the right attitude? What are you looking for? Because I fully agree with you but I think for our audience it's important to understand what is a guy like Peter looking for? What is the right attitude that one should have?
Peter Goldschmidt: I give you the example right, you can have a fantastic soccer player, plays first division in whatever league in Europe, and he has scored a lot of goals in the past. Right. So now he wants to move, you think you want to hire him, and of course there's proven past success, but it doesn't mean he would be great in the future. So I think it's better to understand why he fits into the team, is he really fully motivated, is there the hunger after he had a couple of very successful years. Why does he love that club? And in the end, it's the same for me. Of course we only look at people who have a proven success record, who're smart, who have driven businesses, who have developed it. But in the end, people are driven by the motivations for what's coming up in life, and that's why you can see this in a lot of research, past experience is not a guarantee for future success, or past success not for future success.
So in the interviews I do, of course we check how people have done and the CV and everything. But in the end, what's really important is do they love our purpose, why do they love STADA, and why do they think they can be an ambassador for our values in STADA, and how do they want to lead through this? People who are just interested in the title and money, I'm not so much interested in because you need people who have an understanding of what it takes to be the best, and that's key. So I would say it's the combination of a strong performance track record but the right attitude to lead and to want to win and to be the best in what you're doing.
Frédéric Brunner: If we talk about vision, and I remember when I first met you, I think you were at Sandoz leading the CEE region. And that's where I saw that you already had visions, but more importantly your team shared the same vision, and this is not always the case when I look at leaders. There's like a vision on paper, when you look in reality, this is not the case. How do you approach having a vision and having your team sharing that vision, to be led by that vision?
Peter Goldschmidt: It's all about authenticity, and that you're able to explain it all the time, and that means also you have to over-communicate on it. People will smell very fast if you are just talking about what a communication head has told you and you do it twice a year, or whenever you are at a dinner meeting in a country, whenever you are at a town hall, whenever you are at a talent workshop, whenever you are at a training, and you are consistent and you always repeat what's your dream and people get excited by your dream, well, then in the end the vision is nothing else than a dream, it's something you really wanna go for, right? This is what you love, this is what you want to achieve. And then if you link your vision to certain objectives, only then you can actually explain your strategy. If you don't have a dream, then how do you wanna explain to people what's actually the strategy? What is the how to get somewhere, right? Strategy is nothing else, it's the how to get somewhere.
So with the dream that we have now in our company, I think it's pretty easy to explain to people, "Hey, these are the five strategic pillars we need to deliver on." And then also it gets all easy, because sometimes organizations are very complex, you work in different fields, but you have to synthesize, you have to make it easy. I think that's really... That's really the power, I mean be authentic, live it, over-communicate and link all pieces of how you lead together. There is the purpose which is the overarching reason to exist. The vision is the dream where you want to go, and the strategy is, in the end, nothing else, how to get there. And I think you have to be obsessed in communicating this, by the way not only internally but also externally, and if people see that is in sync, I think that creates a lot of power.
Frédéric Brunner: If we talk about that dream, and how to get to that dream, different leaders communicate that in different ways. But you are in my view an all-in leader, and I have not been with you, but I heard that you have taken your team places to discuss these things. I heard you have taken them to the desert. So how far do you go to share this... And how do you do this sharing with your team, so you feel like these really things... And it seems like you really go an extra mile to have this dream being a shared dream?
Peter Goldschmidt: Absolutely. So people talk about the leadership journey. People say there's a road to success and I believe we cannot only lead intellectually sitting in our offices. I believe it's like, always look and feel, and that's why I love to be with my team on a journey. I don't sit with my leadership teams, even the broader ones, just for three days in a hotel. Of course, sometimes, you have a workshop and you need to do a full day, but even then, you can do stuff in a different way. But everything, it's clear. If you sleep with your leadership team in a tent somewhere in the desert, and you walk together through the sun, and it's hot and you're hungry or thirsty and exist... You experience different stuff, I think the journey is very different. Because in the end, we have a lot of senses and I think it's really important, you create these journey feelings. And journeys are tough, journeys are fearful and we make it... Even part is the journey of the unknown, so we don't even tell, or I don't even tell what's the next step in the journey.
And it's like in business, because you don't know exactly what's the next challenge. Who had COVID on the radar, right? Who had on the radar that there is now relatively strong inflation and prices are going up in certain areas? Or who had on the radar that COVID would lead to certain supply shortages, right? But the better you understand this journey of the unknown and the team you're working with, I think it's super strong. And it shows you also one thing which is very difficult in life to accept, because we always have this assumption or feeling that, "One day, I will be there. One day, I have reached it." And my feeling is, you never reach your final goal, because as the Americans say, "The road to success is always under construction." And I would actually say, "The road to a fulfilled life never ends until life ends." And that's why I want to have a much broader experience and a much broader view on leadership than talking about business. Leadership, in the end, is the development of yourself in a holistic way and not what you're doing with the time when you're in the company.
Frédéric Brunner: One thing I'd love to talk about is something that you do extremely well, better than most, as a leader, is I have never seen you not having a good day or not being positive. I'm very impressed because it's tough to be at the top of a corporation, and I know you have a thick skin and some of that might come from the past or childhood, but how do you do that? I think, you know, it's a remarkable trait you have to be always positive in a turbulent world. So how do you do that?
Peter Goldschmidt: So I think in a way, it's also my upbringing, so I have, if you want to say so, I have good genes and a good socialisation. And I also had some events in my life which reinforced the positiveness. And unfortunately, one of the core events was about a tragic loss in the family, which gave me, in the end, as tough as it was, a better view on how grateful you have to be for every day you have when you're healthy and live in a very privileged environment. And that's something I'm really happy for, right? I'm happy to be healthy and that gives me a lot of positive energy, because you only find out what the work will look like if you are not healthy and then a lot of things become very different.
So for me, these guiding principles and how I manage it day-to-day, because that was your question, Frederic is two-fold. So there's a technical element that I really think about in the evening when I go to bed, "What was really good?" And "What was great?" So it's in a way like a little self-programming on the positive side and not on the negative side. But it's also... It's also about... To think about, like if you are positive, you just feel that others are positive too. So there's actually a selfish component in here that means like a... I hear it so often that people say, "Okay... It's great, it's fun." Right? We have a positive meeting. And I think that doesn't mean that you can be tough, everybody who knows me, we can be also tough, we can be very clear, and we can be very straightforward, but still, you can do it with positive energy. Yeah, that gives you strength and gives you actually a better acumen in your environment.
Frédéric Brunner: Very interesting. I very much like that. There's two, three topics that everybody talks about in the economy, but I think you really have a very interesting view about this. The first one is about growth. Why is growth important? And how do you think about growth, personally?
Peter Goldschmidt: I believe... And that, by the way, Frederic, that's a great question, and I got this question when I came to the company I'm now running a lot, because they said, "Hey, Peter, why are you so obsessed about growth? Why is 6% not enough? Why does it have to be 10% or 12%?" And actually, for me, it's not about 6%, 10% or 12%. For me, it's about the mindset behind. Because I believe the growth in the end triggers innovation, triggers doing things differently, bringing yourself out of the comfort zone, doing stuff in a very different way than others are doing it. So this growth then goes hand in hand with personal growth, because this is actually, for me really, the link. Just to sit there and sell to people from an old-school performance management style, "Let's outperform others." Fine. But that in itself doesn't bring anything. "Let's be smarter. Let's lead better. Let's get to new ideas." And if this leads then to growth, I think that helps.
And of course, there's a technical component in it as well, right? Because if you grow, obviously you have more money to invest. If you grow as a person, you have potentially more ideas and do things differently. So I think a growth mindset gives you more beauty in life and gives you more opportunities in life, versus a fixed mindset. But really to drive it down, it is really, in the end, about one thing, and this is how you manage your fears. I think most people, I have observed, with a more fixed mindset and a narrow view on life, are more fear-driven than people who say, "Hey, what do I have to lose?" Right?
What is there? Let's be honest. Let's be open. Let's be brutal. And with this very... Actually, we come back to what we have discussed, to the culture. So if we create a culture of self-empowerment and self-growth, then you have a much better chance as a company also to succeed. It comes back to this point of attitude versus...
Frédéric Brunner: I very much like that, growth at the granular level, at the personal growth or innovation level leads to the numbers. The other topic I know you have a strong talent for, which is a buzzword I think is misused by many, is diversity. What is your view on diversity and why should people care? Why is that important?
Peter Goldschmidt: So number one, I mean becoming more global, I think it is very important to understand just different views and you benefit from it, right? And again, it's not about whether this culture is right or this gender is right, or this race is right, or this... Right? There is no right or wrong, because that's... By definition the meaning of diversity is that you just look at things from a different angle, like if you look into... In philosophy, in a broader context, what I really strongly believe in is that things in itself or events in itself don't have a meaning, we give events meaning. We give events meaning based on our socialization, our cultural contexts, where we are coming from, right? And if you have stimulus from whatever area to give things a different meaning or even try things from different angles, I will... It would create much more fulfillment.
And I think it's the same story, what we discussed before. Diversity is about not having fear to say what you think based on the environment you're in, it doesn't mean that it is the decision you want to take. I will give you an example. So when I came to the Philippines, it's obviously a very different culture than Germany, very different values, very different upbringing. So a lot of things are very different, and you have to make up your mind, like what is important to understand the culture? How can you teach the cultures so you understand why people behave, how would they behave versus what you think should be the right values in a company so that the company is successful and working. So my learning was really, it is about understanding the Filipino culture, but not making the Filipino culture your company culture, because they have been different things in an international organization, and I think that is really important.
And the second thing, Frederic, I really would love to say... And that's also the problem. We make diversity a statistical exercise very often. Diversity is to give a safe environment as much as possible where people can empower themselves to speak up what they think. I believe diversity only works if you say what you think is the right thing to do, for example, for the organization or for other people, and the right thing is maybe not what others perceive as the right thing, but you have to speak up and then you only bring then a piece to the table. And I think that is very important. So diversity has a lot to do also with self-empowerment because you can have whomever in the company with a very diverse background, if people don't speak up, then what's the point?
Frédéric Brunner: Thank you very much. The last question related to business that I have is what a lot of people who listen to you now are really probably obsessed about, is success. I want to be successful, and I would love to hear from you because objectively, you're very successful, how do you measure success? Did you change that over time, how do you know you're successful, and how is success linked to your happiness or not?
Peter Goldschmidt: Right, okay. Do you have another hour, and we can... [chuckle] That's a big one, Frederic. Of course, you start your career, coming back to what we have discussed before, that you measure your success, where you stand in the ranking so the soccer analogy is like... I mean if you win the championship, people would consider that as a success for a soccer club in Europe. So of course, that's an element of success, right? Obviously, you're on paper, successful in what you are doing. And yes, I would like to grow with my company faster than the industry is growing, ideally even faster than anybody else. So for me, that's a success, but this success in itself is irrelevant because it comes back to the point, if I do this, there's growth, if I grow... If there's growth, there's investment.
I believe you can only do it if you have the right culture, so it's fun to work with that in this culture. So the real success is that you have a fulfilling day. I even would not talk about happiness. Happiness goes for me too much into this fun area, but I think for me to move the happiness, a happy day, a good smile, to move this really in fulfilment that you say, Okay, that was a good day, and people are growing, you can develop people, people are positive, they like this part of their career, they like this part of the journey in their life, and they're here, and that's okay. And for me, past success is also not that important, right? It's not like I mean if we would have a discussion, I wouldn't tell you what was... What I did six years ago, it doesn't really matter so much. For me, it's more about the dream, what is possible in the future. So dreaming of what is possible and trying to achieve this and overcome what you think is possible, then I feel really, in a way, fulfilled. And then I'm, yeah, as you say, happy.
Frédéric Brunner: Yeah, thank you very much for sharing that. I'd love to just wrap up our interview with five rapid-fire questions if it's okay with you.
Peter Goldschmidt: Of course.
Frédéric Brunner: The first one is, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Peter Goldschmidt: A race car driver.
Frédéric Brunner: A race car driver. What would you tell your 20-year-old self when you look back.
Peter Goldschmidt: Be even more open for life.
Frédéric Brunner: If you were to do it all over again, what would you change?
Peter Goldschmidt: [chuckle] So what I would really change, I would say take care of others even way earlier in your life, right? It's in the beginning of your career, you think about being pretty selfish about how to be successful.
Frédéric Brunner: Thank you. Guilty pleasures.
Peter Goldschmidt: Yeah, I'm not sure if I'd confess them here, but obviously a little bit more sport, a little bit more discipline at certain eating and drinking habits wouldn't harm. So that journey continues as well.
Frédéric Brunner: Okay. And finally what is the moment when you look back you're the most proud of?
Peter Goldschmidt: I'm getting closer and closer really to my kids, I have four kids. I'm really most proud of when I have the feeling I could contribute to their upbringing in terms of how they reflect who they are as human beings, and this will never end and maybe I'm not even perfect in this, but I think that gives me a lot of... Just gives me a big smile.
Frédéric Brunner: Very nice. Well, thank you very much, Peter Goldschmidt, group CEO of STADA. It was a pleasure to have you on the podcast. You can find this entire podcast on genioo.com, Peter, a pleasure to have this conversation with you. I'm really happy we could cover all these insights and learnings from you, and looking forward to seeing you soon.
Peter Goldschmidt: Thank you so much, it was a pleasure. I Really enjoyed it. Thanks, Frederic.