Collaboration that leads to real breakthroughs isn’t just getting people in a room together. It’s trust. It’s respect. It’s culture. That’s what Erich Bauman has proven time and again through leadership that led to industry-changing launches like DAILIES TOTAL1®, PRECISION1® and, soon, TOTAL30®.
A Love of Knowledge
Erich started out as a third generation optometrist and after having run at private practice for a number of years, fell into life-long love with contact lens research.
His almost 40 year industry career has seen him around the world, from Germany, working to bring to life the daily disposables business, to Global Head of Marketing out of Atlanta, to GM of CIBA Vision Benelux, travelling between Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, to Senior Director of R&D Project Leadership–just to name a few. Along the way, he picked up not only an MBA, but also a Masters in Religious Studies.
Today, Erich finds himself on the cusp of the upcoming TOTAL30 launch, a novel lens that Alcon plans to introduce this year. “One of the most exciting things about this product is the biomimicry,” says Erich. “It’s true innovation in chemistry and process–like nothing that’s already been on the shelf.”
The team overcame not only major chemistry challenges like surface durability and lens care preservative uptake, but also a new way of collaborating brought on by Covid-19. “I am full of gratitude and humility because I didn’t drive the whole thing. We have a community of truly gifted, talented engineers.” He describes it like a symphony of great musicians. Woodwinds, drums, strings–all experts in their own instruments–just waiting to get the band back together.
What’s the Secret?
Other than his own deep, well-rounded institutional knowledge, what’s the secret to orchestrating breakthroughs like T30? Erich says there’s no checklist of things you do. There’s a checklist of things you are. And that means modeling a culture that nurtures true innovation.
Characteristics of Innovative Culture
“Collaboration, passion and trust can sound clichéd, but that’s what I see: a team of people solving problems six time zones apart from Germany to Atlanta.”
“We recognize teams more than individuals.” When team members come to work, they leave their ego at the door. “No one individual can do the things that we've accomplished, it's all an enormous team effort. It’s not just the hard skills, but it's seeing people manifest their talents and skills collectively, like an orchestra.”
Diversity also brings a well-rounded perspective to the team. “Working with people from different cultures is exciting.” Erich points out that Alcon was inclusive long before “inclusive” was a thing.
“If you’re intelligent, it doesn't matter whether there's a ‘Miss; or ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Mr.’ in front of your name, what clothes you wear, or the color of your skin.”
It was through a lot of passion that, ultimately, TOTAL30 was possible. We have many gifted scientists, but those exist elsewhere too. What made the difference for Alcon was these people had not just a great mind, but a huge heart for solving problems.
And while scientific advancement is important in its own right, the drive to problem solve is rooted in something much deeper. The motivation? Helping people see. “There’s a lot of passion in knowing that there's a need out in the marketplace and that you just have to keep going at it and solve so that people are able to see the world.”
“Just stop to think: in the 24 hours it takes the earth to rotate one time, some seven million people will have woken up and put on lenses that your team developed and their lives will be better for it.”
“For every successful product in the market, I could tell you a project that failed,” Erich says as he explains that trust is a huge part of creating something new and different. “That’s research, you know. If we’re not failing at some things, we're probably not stretching ourselves.” For example, “Our knowledge about water surface chemistry is what distinguishes Alcon’s contact lenses today, but this wouldn’t have happened without the failure of our early efforts.”
“Alcon has created a culture where people can become themselves through their own artistry with chemistry or engineering.”
Erich explains how the trust in one another’s experimentation works, “Make a couple of lenses, find five people, test them, see what doesn't work, go back, change something, try it again and just keep going through these rapid prototyping, iterative steps until you find the solution that breaks through.”
Erich’s love of learning and knowledge has served him–and all of Alcon–well. But for someone with quite a few letters behind his name, Erich isn’t much for titles. “I’m one cell in a tissue or bone in a skeleton.”
Praise for his team always comes first, especially as TOTAL30 takes its place among Alcon’s top scientific achievements. “I believe the launch will be like opening day at the Metropolitan, where the symphony orchestra comes together and makes really great music.”
Congratulations to Erich, as he was recently presented the 2021 British Contact Lens Association Industry Award, alongside John Pruitt, for their team’s work on developing water gradient technology.
Through the process of knowledge sharing, education and networking, BCLA brings expertise from the world of academia and research into the world of the Eye Health Professionals, for the benefit of patients.