Silence suddenly filled the room. The American academic giving a presentation had been asked a question by a German chemist. The answer he received proved rather sobering: "I'm sorry, but this information is confidential." The silence that followed lasted longer than usual in such situations. It seemed the German chemist was not the only one who was disappointed. The aforementioned American researcher had received precisely the same answer to his own question shortly beforehand from the very same German chemist he was now rebuffing.
To be clear, this scene did not play out during a session of a political inquiry committee. The setting was an international conference that had actually been organized specifically to stimulate the open exchange of knowledge, i.e. the meeting of all Research Departments from the FUCHS subsidiaries.
The Global R&D Network and the culture of cooperation
Dr. Christine Fuchs, Vice President of Global Research & Development at FUCHS PETROLUB SE, then came to the sudden realization that this moment of awkward silence was the crystallization point of an outdated corporate culture. Digitalization, globalization, the sustainability trend, ever stricter framework conditions, ever shorter development cycles, constantly growing cost pressure… in a world characterized by these phenomena, a company with global operations simply cannot afford to engage in competition with itself. Instead, cooperation must be the key maxim. Not only is everything else simply a waste of time and resources, it ultimately also leads to failure.
As such, this moment around seven years ago represented the birth of a new corporate culture at FUCHS, directly resulting in the Global Research & Development Network. In 16 Global Key Working Groups, scientists engage in collaborative research on fundamental solutions that goes beyond the boundaries of the individual subsidiaries. This figure is set to rise to 20 Global Key Working Groups by the end of 2020.
Of course, the change did not happen overnight. After all, cultural differences do not stop at the laboratory door. The actual challenge was first to understand and then accept these differences. This was no small task, as there are more than 20 research institutes across all continents worldwide with 200 R&D chemists and a further 250 members of staff in other roles. "Only after we mastered the cultural aspect did the network start working as intended," remembers Dr. Christine Fuchs.
Friendships grow from familiarity
Trusting relationships of this kind do not develop at sporadic conferences held every two to three years. That's why the Key Working Groups get together regularly and often, holding personal meetings twice a year and virtual conferences each month. All Key Working Groups – comprising 140 scientists from across the globe – also come together every year for the annual Global R&D Meeting at the HQ of the parent company in Mannheim, Germany.
This new culture of trust and cooperation is today permanently anchored in the FUCHS DNA, where it helps secure continuous further development of the network. "In the beginning we were just a group of individuals but now we are a team and in many cases even friends," explains Dr. Jim Deodhar, Vice President Technical at FUCHS LUBRICANTS CO. in the US. "If colleagues on a different continent have a problem, we go and see them to work on a solution together." In many respects, everyone at FUCHS has been pulling together since the Global R&D Network was established. The strategic direction is developed by a group that is referred to internally and with some pride as "The Matrix". This group comprises the Heads of the Regional R&D Departments in the FUCHS Group, as well as the Vice President Global Research & Development, Dr. Christine Fuchs.