Q&A with the CEO

CEO Thierry Bernard explains why QIAGENers are “in the right company at the right time”, and why customers and employees are just as important as shareholders to QIAGEN’s goals of advancing science and preventing disease.

Thierry, let’s start with world events in 2022. What are your views on the war in Ukraine, the world we are seeing today, and developments surrounding the pandemic?

Thierry: It is obvious that the world and international governance we have been living in over the last 30 years died on February 24, 2022. The start of the Ukraine war once again showed we need to learn to live in a very fast changing, disrupted world. International peace is a grail that too many people and countries took for granted for too long.

Companies always have to carefully analyze the environment and prepare for the worst. For example, we started talking with our teams about Ukraine and Russia at the end of November in case the situation escalated. But no one could have imagined then where we stand today.

Now we are not only living in a very dynamic and volatile macro­economic situation, but in a world where pandemics will recur. This is an extraordinary set of challenges in a remarkably short time.

During the last two years, we have emerged as a stronger, more focused company with a clear strategy and empowered QIAGENers. We have a renewed sense of purpose, and we have come together to tackle some incredible challenges. With over 6,000 employees and over $2 billion of annual sales, we have a strong commitment to social responsibility. I always try to separate business from politics, but in many events they become intertwined, so we have to take a stance.

We are more than just a business. We are part of the societies in which we operate.

Thierry Bernard

“We are investing in our future and building on our strengths.“

And what follows from this?

I strongly believe it is important to take a stance on issues of very broad public interest. I don’t expect people to always agree with this approach. But, yes, we are in favor of compulsory vaccination. Yes, we stand with Ukraine. Yes, we have a duty to help when a natural catastrophe strikes anywhere in the world, like in 2021 in Germany with the devastating and deadly flooding near our headquarters in Hilden.

What about the economic situation?

There is no doubt that uncertainty will be the key word in 2022. QIAGEN should always think long-term. But it is also our commitment to QIAGENers to always find the right balance between growth and expenses. Investment is in our DNA, and we prove it every day in recruiting new talent, training our staff, investing in R & D, building up infrastructure. But expenses without return and profitability would be the worst scenario for QIAGEN, so we are making sure to maintain our flexibility while thinking long-term.

How have your employees – QIAGENers – developed during this unprecedented period?

We have developed a renewed sense of belonging, a renewed pride in being QIAGENers. From delivering the future success of our company to organizing vaccinations for our employees, to helping save lives in the pandemic or our neighbors in the brutal war in Ukraine, I am humbled and sincerely thankful to our QIAGENers. We stood as one company, we stood together – against COVID, and simultaneously moving ahead as an independent company after the discontinued takeover offer. We are not a perfect company. We identify with humility, openly discuss our weaknesses and areas for improvement, and strive to address them one by one. Our QIAGENers showed what it means to be reflective, agile and astute.

During this period, our culture has been going through a transformation that we call “Empower.” We have bolstered our culture of accountability, ownership and business mindset. It has had a profound impact on every part of the company. Our people are at the heart of this initiative. More than 300 Empower Ambassadors have trained over 2,400 colleagues in workshops to drive the behaviors that are critical to shaping our future. Empower is a cultural journey, and this takes time, at least two to three years.

Where will this cultural journey lead QIAGEN?

The biggest benefit is openness – we speak frankly in a respectful manner with each other about how we operate, without fear of retaliation. And it is our duty to share information – because information is not power – at the speed of light within the organization, and then take action. Based on feedback from across QIAGEN, our leadership has made pledges to act in six areas: accelerate customer centricity, simplify how we operate, reduce silo thinking, foster a growth mindset, empower our leaders, and increase transparency.

This new company culture is also about initiative, ownership and execution. Suddenly, without being guided by corporate initiatives, people in so many different parts of our company – say in China, Mexico, Brazil – are making Qiagen a great place to work and attracting top talent. In Poland, in Romania, our colleagues did not ask – they acted – to confront the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, helping people in desperate need. That is because people are empowered and take action. This is a culture of “doers.” This is the company I want.

What does this mean for the operational strengths of QIAGEN?

The backbone of a global, publicly listed company like QIAGEN – which became a member of the DAX-40 Index in 2021 – are its stakeholders, and there are many. You cannot create value for shareholders without taking into consideration the needs of other stakeholders, especially those of our customers and employees.

Our focus is on setting realistically ambitious goals that support all of our stakeholders, and then executing them – what we give to our customers, what we deliver to the market, to our investors, to our QIAGENers. Delivering on our commitments. Just as important is developing balance, and for a good reason. There’s always going to be one product area, a region or something else that is going to have troubles. So we want balance – across our customers in the areas of Life Science and Molecular Diagnostics, across the world in terms of sales among our regions, and among our Five Pillars of Growth. Two of these pillars – Sample technologies and QuantiFERON – are established market leaders, while the other three – QIAstat-Dx, NeuMoDx and QIAcuity – are in their early commercial stages.

QIAGEN has been restoring trust by delivering on commitments quarter after quarter, year after year. We have become a stronger company with improving sales and profitability that has led to record levels of cash flows and a powerful balance sheet. We are investing in our future and building on our strengths.

During 2021, and this year too already, we continue to prove that QIAGEN is COVID-relevant, but not COVID-dependent. In 2021, COVID-related sales rose 13 %, but even more impressive was the 22 % growth of non-COVID products. Make no mistake, our focus is clearly on the non-COVID business. This is the long-term future of our company. QIAGEN was here way before COVID-19, and we will continue long after this pandemic comes to an end, which will hopefully be soon.

Anything else?

One thing that society has learned – and not just QIAGEN – is that diagnostics are a critical asset for any kind of healthcare policy. Whether it’s an industrialized country or a fast-growing emerging market, the demands of COVID-19 have established the superiority of molecular testing. This has shown that QIAGEN – and our QIAGENers – are in the right company at the right time. But let’s never forget that we need to lead this company with a lot of humility. It is key to always consider how to move and become better. The main risk of being Number One is the risk of becoming arrogant and complacent. We have seen that many times in our markets, and that includes QIAGEN with our HPV test for cervical cancer detection. Humility means always being open to new ideas, never falling into the “been there, done that” mentality, never asserting that we are better than the others, but always striving to become better.

How do the Five Pillars of Growth play into this strategy and determination to deliver on commitments?

The strong focus on our Five Pillars of Growth is key for our success. This is anchored in our strategy. We want to leverage our expertise for quality and leadership in Sample technologies – enabling insights from any biological sample – to capture broad growth opportunities in the areas of Life Science and Molecular Diagnostics. And as part of that, we want to provide solutions that improve our understanding about the building blocks of life – DNA, RNA and proteins. We want to advance science and improve health outcomes for patients, particularly in the areas of infectious diseases, oncology and immune response.

Being a company of our size requires us to be more agile than larger competitors. Focus is not an option – it is a condition for excellence, and also for survival. The challenge of a company our size is always critical mass. So we need focused innovation. If you spread the company too thin you kill it. That’s why we remain focused on the areas where we compete, anchored by our Five Pillars.

What is your top priority?

Our highest priority is to capture and maintain the top 1 – 3 positions in the areas where we compete, especially in the Five Pillars. These are all product groups with significant potential and represent more than $6 billion of the total market opportunity that QIAGEN has these days of over $11 billion.

These pillars are built on our absolute leadership in Sample technologies, a position we have reaffirmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another is QuantiFERON-TB, the gold standard blood-based test that has now been used in more than 100 million people for the detection of tuberculosis. TB unfortunately remains a persistent global killer that has been overshadowed by COVID-19, and every year actually leads to more deaths than AIDS and malaria combined. The uptake of our newer pillars – QIAstat-Dx for syndromic testing, the integrated clinical PCR testing platform NeuMoDx, and our entry into digital PCR with QIAcuity – are building foundations to create fresh waves of growth.

We also targeted R & D investments, which totaled about 8 % of sales in 2021. We are aiming to reach 9 % on an annual basis to drive mid-term growth.

But we are not building a two-tier company – people working on the five pillars of growth and then people working for the rest of our portfolio. We’re not forgetting the other areas of our portfolio.

What are these other areas?

These are areas where QIAGEN has developed solid leadership positions as well – flourishing and growing. An example here is our portfolio for supporting customers in Genomics, particularly through our bioinformatics business QIAGEN Digital Insights, and the contributions we are making to Precision Medicine through our portfolio of more than 30 co-development agreements with leading pharmaceutical companies to create companion diagnostics tied to new oncology therapies. Our positions in liquid biopsy and forensics are solid foundations of QIAGEN, the OEM, Dialunox, Quanta and Tiangen portfolios are proof of our diversity and agility.

Thierry Bernard

“We need focused innovation. If you spread the company too thin you kill it.“

How do you see things shaping up for QIAGEN now that you are moving into a new phase beyond the COVID-19 pandemic?

Let me reaffirm that we have to be smart and agile. During the pandemic we did this with QIAprep&, a solution that our Life Sciences team developed, and which completely changed the paradigm for high-volume COVID-19 testing.

Let me also reaffirm that we are not just a Molecular Diagnostics company, and we are not just a Life Science company. We are a hybrid company, cross-fertilizing advances in Life Science labs around the world into clinical developments that can improve patient health outcomes through novel Molecular Diagnostics. That is also a core element of our strategy.

What does this mean for your customers and other stakeholders?

Above all, it means that QIAGEN can have a tremendous impact in helping to improve our societies in a sustainable way. This is part of creating value for our stakeholders, and that goes beyond delivering growth and creating returns that can fuel new opportunities. Creating new opportunities also involves embracing the digital revolution. Let me tell you about an example. Our customers are more than just a clinician, the head of a laboratory or a researcher. They are a person with a family, outside interests. They have a life beyond the lab. They increasingly want our QIAGENers to use their ingenuity to help them be more efficient at work and get more out of life. This is what we can offer with QIAsphere, which provides remote access to digital results from our instruments. The first system is QIAstat-Dx, and others are in development. It allows customers to stay home with a sick child, or attend a school. This device typifies is our goal to be a step ahead of what our customers are seeking.

I also want our QIAGENers to be more accessible to our customers. This is critical to developing empathy and better understanding their needs. Accessibility and ingenuity are essential, and complement our long-standing commitment to quality. Without quality we wouldn‘t be even talking to the customers. Quality is a given. And that is what we stand for: Q-I-A – Quality, Ingenuity and Accessibility.

How is QIAGEN pursuing its sustainability goals?

Environment, Social and Governance topics are not just a fad. We really believe that we can have an influence on the environment and make important contributions to society. And having a strong governance structure in place is essential to making that impact. We are making progress in so many areas – like reducing plastic and paper waste, and making a commitment in 2021 for QIAGEN to become net-zero in carbon emissions by 2050.

But we have so much more to do. Just one example: I am especially proud of our efforts toward achieving greater diversity, which is improving across both middle and upper levels of management. This is reflected in QIAGEN having more than 34 % of its management positions held by women.

And we must become even more inclusive in the coming years – geographically, culturally, in terms of sexual orientation, age, and a much broader range of capabilities and perspectives. Our products and solutions are not just for those in privileged countries. They must also address the needs of emerging countries and be specifically designed for them as well. Why? Because we have a commitment to leave no one behind.

Cultivating empathy as a core cultural DNA element of QIAGEN. Empathy starts internally – towards every one of our QIAGENers all over the world. If one falls, we all fall. So we care about every QIAGENer, and every one counts – from the people at the reception or those making sure our offices stay clean to the higher-level managers. But we also have empathy towards the external world. We will never turn a blind eye to what is happening around us.

This is what we should strive for every day. As I have said many times, I really believe in our QIAGENers. We have the people. We have a focused portfolio of very relevant solutions. We have the full support of our Supervisory Board. So with a growing mindset of execution and accountability, with no arrogance, no complacency, and a culture of “doers” around the world, I think we can all write a new chapter in the history of QIAGEN.

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