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Nov 23, 2020

Faces of Innovation: Marika Reis, Maersk


By Drew Welton

Founder - I help companies hire innovation executives.

This week, we are featuring Marika Reis, Head of Innovation at Maersk Drilling. Maersk Drilling is a global leader, moving the boundaries of the world’s most intriguing high-tech industries through providing high-efficiency drilling services to global oil companies and has some of the world's most advanced rigs.

First thing’s first - please can you give us an overview of your experience in Innovation? 

I have been working in around innovation for most of my career, starting in Research & Development roles before moving into business development with a pharma start-up where I helped launch new ventures and deliver business strategy. My more recent career has been spent working within corporates – e-on and now Maersk – where I have been responsible for making innovation part of the business agenda in conservative industries and leading cross functional teams across the globe, delivering new products and services for different industries.

In your opinion, how has the service of innovation changed and evolved over the last five years? And, as someone who buys innovation consulting services, what do you look for today?

5 years ago, there was still very much a ‘bottom up’ approach to corporate innovation. However, businesses are more educated now. The tides have changed over the last 5 years where we are now seeing top management start to not only recognise and engage with the importance of innovation, but also build it into the corporate agenda.

Today, what we call on from innovation partners is quite different to what it was 5+ years ago. In the past, businesses at large still called upon external partners to help them understand what innovation was and, how to do it. Now, businesses get innovation, with most having a function, lab or team committed to driving the agenda. My experience has been calling upon external partners for very specific things where we don’t have the skills or outside-in perspective; from helping identify a new opportunity area in a new market, to helping us test and validate ideas.

To be successful in innovation today, what would you say are the key skills needed? And how have these changed?

Difficult to answer verbatim as I would say the skills required depend on the type of innovation…disruptive and radical vs incremental, to capability building and operations. Let’s take disruptive innovation. For this, you need to have a broad skill-set that operates at the intersection of three core areas: Customer, Business and Technology. You need to be able to understand and operate across these three things at a high-level plus be skilled in innovation methodologies; being someone that can switch between both the strategic end with the more technical and operational end.

When it comes to delivering innovation (building an innovation pipeline and development), you tend to look for specialists, be that internal hires or when looking to external partners for support. Typically, specialists in one the aforementioned 3 areas (Customer, Business, Tech) where we dig deeper and go into build and delivery. I lean more towards Customer, but to really drive innovation I always look to learn and push outside of the Customer box.

How does Maersk view innovation? What are the challenges in building a profitable/sustainable innovation team/lab?

Like every large organisation, we see the same challenges. From a fear of, and risk of innovation, to the challenges in assembling the right teams internally, navigating hierarchies and getting company-wide buy-in. Added to this, you often find a lack of patience with people looking for immediate impact and results… “when can we get that great, new thing”... Fundamentally, what you need is the willingness to do innovation and the bandwidth to test and experiment, underpinned with having the right skills and capabilities.

What have been some challenges to rolling out new concepts within the organization? Particularly when you are dealing with an industry that is over 100 years old and incredibly complex. 

Working in an engineering company, where people want to build, is exciting! This comes with its challenges as there can be a want for impact and execution from the get-go, so the role of innovation often becomes prioritising the right things, aligning stakeholders across the business (top to bottom) and ensuring that you have the right skills and capabilities to bring innovation to life; this includes validating and testing ideas first, often using partners to help where we benefit from an ‘outside-in’ perspective.

How is innovation being used as a tool to avoid disruption from both direct and in-direct competitors?

Maersk is at the forefront of the oil and gas industry, and we’re increasingly taking a bigger part of the value chain. As the landscape continues to evolve and change, both through disruption and through new opportunities that become relevant to our industry, we find ourselves increasingly looking at a different set of competitors where we can learn and adapt our thinking. I see this as huge positive; innovation is about curiosity and learning new things, and there is so such to learn from other industries that may not be as far removed as they once were.

How has culture change played a part in encouraging innovation and growth within Maersk? And how do you communicate that change across a culturally very diverse organization?

First things first, it’s really tricky to build a culture of innovation! It takes time, perseverance and effort. One, you need to start with a view of the world and a mission…where are we heading and what is the future? And two, ensuring coaching happens at all levels within the business which must be underpinned by excellent communication. From sharing the highs and success stories, to keeping the business updated on progress against the mission.

And to be clear, innovation is not a department, it is a company-wide thing!

To be successful in building a strong culture of innovation, we have ensured we not only communicate but also involve the business through things like forums, hackathons and ideation sessions; we’re about to do one in Singapore where we will be bringing in external people  as well to share different ways of thinking and working. Through opening up the conversation, your chance of success and business alignment is much higher.

What would you say makes Maersk different?

It’s refreshing to be part of a team that is humble, a business that says, “we don’t know enough” and “we want to learn and understand” that comes from the top. Great for someone in my position! There is a real willingness to experiment, talk and push the boundaries. We have been able to dare, to jump and take risks. We go for it!

If you are interested in companies like this, then take a look at our jobs or get in touch. You can find out more about Maersk’s work, journey and people on their website.

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