Bayer CropScience Picks American Woman as CEO

New York native with farm experience to lead the global ag company.

Published on: Sep 10, 2010
Good news from Germany! Yesterday, Bayer CropScience AG officials praised New York-born Sandra Peterson as its incoming chief executive officer. Already the highest ranking female executive in German companies, Peterson will assume her role effective Oct. 1 – just five years after becoming CEO of Bayer Medical Care.

In a Farm Progress interview, Peterson specifically noted her "cow milking and shoveling" experience as a young girl on New York and Vermont farms. "I know, for example, what it's like to get up at dawn and milk the cows," she said, acknowledging that the experience helped stir both her work ethic and her humility.

Born in Westchester County, N.Y. she earned a bachelors degree in government at Cornell University and a Masters in applied economics from Princeton University. Her market development finesse put on a fast-track career with executive stops at Nabisco, Merck Medco, then the last five years as CEO of Bayer's Medical Care division. Peterson contends she didn't exactly "swoop in".  But by European male-dominated corporate standards, she "swooped".

FAST-TRACKER: Within five years after joining Bayer, New York-born Sandra Peterson will head the CropSciences business.
FAST-TRACKER: Within five years after joining Bayer, New York-born Sandra Peterson will head the CropSciences business.

Peterson was appointed to Bayer CropScience's all-male board of management in July, and was soon tapped as Berschauer's successor. Known for her "fix it" skills, she expects to explore ways to shorten product research and development.

Outgoing Chairman Berschauer praised her for "bringing fresh insight" to Bayer Crop Sciences. The company has been struggling with narrow profit margins, increased competition and currency exchange rates for several years.

What's ahead for Bayer CropSciences?

Peterson noted that the company's portfolio is being strengthened via acquisitions, with emphasis on shortening product development time. Acknowledging Bayer's strong presence in Europe, the United States, Latin America and Asia, she hinted that strategic growth is planned also for Eastern Europe.

Agriculture's contribution to the world's needs is largely underestimated, contended Peterson. And the largest unmet need is hunger. "Almost 1 billion people still go to bed hungry e very night," she explained.

"The events of the last month – the Pakistan floods; the Russian drought and media headlines predicting a global food crisis – remind us more than ever of the importance of crop science protection and technology to create stress-resistant harvests and to help stabilize yields." It's imperative, she stressed, to help feed the swelling world population which is estimated to reach nine-billion people by 2050.

Peterson is not unfamiliar with Germany. Her parents lived there. She studied German in college and interned there. And, as she noted: "I married a man from Germany."