Executive Rewind: The Roundup Crisis

Four years ago, the huge German chemical and agricultural company Bayer AG agreed to buy Monsanto, the giant US-based  chemical and agricultural company. The price tag: $66 billion. That was just the start of what it would cost Bayer AG after consummating this expensive marriage.

Both companies came to the altar with controversies for a number of things, including their products. In the case of Monsanto, that coupling included Bayer AG securing the widely-used weed killer Roundup, and a string of costly law suit losses. Users were claiming Roundup caused their cancers and they were winning big in court. (By the way, it remains unproven that Roundup is a carcinogen.)

Bayer AG has recently agreed to settle the more than 18,000 suits to the tune of nearly $11 billion. That, of course, requires some explanation to the investment community on both sides of the Atlantic. Time to talk to those audiences through the news media.

Bayer AG CEO Werner Baumann has been the man in charge from courting Monsanto to closing the deal. It’s his job to answer the many questions about his decisions. Listen closely to the questions he’s asked and how he responds. Here’s an example:

Did Bauman answer the question? Indeed, he did. The overriding question is why did you buy Monsanto, and that’s exactly where he went, without going down the rabbit hole of responding to the suggestion about inheriting legal entanglements. This is an important technique. It follows the second rule of TMT’s 10 Rules of Interviewing.

Another case in point: a question that presumes Bayer AG could easily have avoided all the expensive litigation and ultimate settlement:

After taking the opportunity to call for tort reform in America (a popular position of many large and small businesses and message for this network’s audiences), Baumann bridged to the solution, the settlement, without getting mired in the suggestion that a warning label on their product could’ve mitigated all the suits.

Throughout his interview, Baumann maintained the purchase of Monsanto was the right thing to do.

Roundup, Baumann says, remains on the market and has been declared safe by the EPA.

Finally, Baumann found an opportunity to get a critical message through about Bayer AG’s corporate mission, also important for investors to hear:

It’s important for you to understand you have every right to answer on your terms, from your perspective, as long as you are responsive to the question. Rehearsal/practice is critical to the discipline of listening closely to questions and avoiding spin and/or evasion, which are counter-productive to effective message delivery.  With a strong, positive communications foundation and process, especially in times of crisis, you and your organization will regularly enjoy consistency in messaging.

In today’s world of instant global communication
“Anyone who talks about you…or your business…is media!”
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