Thierry Bernard: “With challenges and changes come opportunities.”
Thierry Bernard is the CEO of QIAGEN, a life science and molecular diagnostic company currently at work producing COVID-19 tests. Bernard says that his entry into the healthcare industry was “purely coincidence,” but he has excelled thanks to “the mindset that Sciences Po gives you to always try to go the extra mile.”
Bernard describes how, when he was a student in the 1980s, there was less focus on different schools and specific degree programs. “When you are 18-19 years old, I think it's too early to try to decide immediately what kind of specialization you want to have, so I always liked the multi-disciplinary or pluri-disciplinary side of Sciences Po,” he says. “You could focus in finance or focus on economics, but at the same time, pick a number of classes that had absolutely nothing to do with your core program.” This breadth, he believes, opened one’s “mind to the world” Unsurprisingly, Bernard says “the profile and the pedigree of the teachers at Sciences Po” also drew him to attend. “I have very good memories of the level of excellence.”
Although he grew up in Lyon, Bernard “always had Paris in mind.” He describes not just “the thrills of going to Paris, but the thrill of going to Sciences Po, the thrill of going to Sciences Po Paris.” Upon arrival, Rue Saint-Guillaume exceeded his expectations. “You're really at the heart of the most beautiful part of Paris,” Bernard reminisces.
In addition to the Parisian experience, Bernard appreciated the international environment beginning to flourish at Sciences Po. “I liked the diversity. Even if it was much less international than now, it was already open to many foreign students,” he says. He admires the way Sciences Po has become even more international, has worked to recruit a more diverse student body, and has added specific regional focuses and dual-degree programs. “Sciences Po is trying to evolve together with its environment; as we say in French, évoluer avec son temps,” says Bernard.
When asked about his career trajectory, Bernard describes how he “was always interested in politics, but the pure meaning of politics, which is in Greek the life of the city.” He thinks that “there is a lot of value in being involved in public service.” For Bernard, “it's a kind of calling.” When he was offered a position with an in vitro diagnostic company, although he had not studied biology since his Baccalauréat, he “worked hard and really fell in love with in vitro diagnostics, diagnostic biology, and healthcare.” Bernard believes his Sciences Po education helped him make the transition, because he was not afraid to “always ask questions and challenge everything.”
For Bernard, his current work in healthcare aligns with his public service values. “When you go to healthcare, you go to serve,” he says. “For me, healthcare is no different from public service … you need to try to impact your environment, you need to try to be useful. You try to make improvements in life possible.”
Bernard describes how QIAGEN has been working for the last few months at the forefront of COVID-19 testing. When asked how he thinks the current global health crisis will transform the future of work, he responds “First, it is a lesson of humility. I think it's going to have an impact on the frequency and the quality of business travel.” He sees a positive in the increasing flexibility of working from home and believes that more flexibility will increase diversity, especially for working parents. What is clear to Bernard is that society is in unchartered waters, a situation he finds “extremely exciting because you have so many options. With challenges and changes come opportunities.”
Bernard offers some advice for current Sciences Po students and young graduates. “Leave your comfort zone, your hometown, your country as soon as you can and travel the world – to travel but also to work and live somewhere else … get a global perspective as soon as you can.” He advises alumni to “always keep that open mind that Sciences Po tries to give you. Continue to read a lot and to be open to different perspectives and opinions.” With a Sciences Po education, he says, “the sky's the limit.”
Bernard believes his unique career trajectory is proof that Sciences Po can lead anywhere. “Sciences Po gives you a mindset. It doesn't necessarily give you the kind of knowledge that you would get if you would become an MD or a biologist … but it gives you a mindset. This mindset is a strength, it's not a weakness.” And this unique Sciences Po mindset, “that's a gift. I mean, that's really something that we need to cherish,” Bernard adds. “I always considered that I owe a lot to that school.”