The Data Chief | Episode 92

How to activate the collective genius with data and AI, with Walid Mehanna, Merck KGaA

Walid Mehanna

Chief Data & AI Officer

Merck KGaA

Current EpisodeEP92: How to activate the collective genius with data and AI, with Walid Mehanna, Merck KGaA

Episode Overview

Having distinct data and business strategies is no longer enough. And an AI strategy is of little worth if you don’t have a strong data strategy. Join Chief Data & AI Officer at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Walid Mehanna, alongside The Data Chief’s host, Cindi Howson, and discover what it looks like to really foster operational excellence by unifying your data and business strategies, employ the right data-driven tools, while bringing your organization’s people and culture along the journey to truly unlock the collective genius.

Key Moments:

  • Make your business strategy a data strategy (3:10)
  • ‘Cover my back’ approaches (09:00)
  • Straddling risks in data and business (11:28)
  • Learnings from implementing myGPT (16:18)
  • Activating your organization’s collective genius (24:05)
  • Creating the right processes and culture to breed AI success (31:00)
  • The current state of AI regulation (38:35)

Key Quotes: 

You can have an AI strategy without a data strategy or without a business strategy, but it will not help you much. So your data strategy is your business strategy and vice versa. (04:42)

I would say we started with the collective genius or activating the collective genius. What we wanted to do is enable everybody to try things out and tell us what has the highest opportunity and possibility. (25:46)

We're now slowly going into a paradigm shift where we go away from more reports, from more dashboards, and into what's important for me to know today. I don't want to go through 200 dashboards in three different technologies. The one thing that I want is an intelligent model that has access to all of my data and tells me, well, there's five KPIs you should have a look at. Maybe it's a data quality problem. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe it's just a deferred invoice or whatever. But maybe it's something that needs your attention and you should now get active on it. (30:26)

I think AI is a wonderful technology. I think it has a lot of potential upside. It has the high risk of being misunderstood and overestimated. But honestly, you can't blame it on technology. Often, that's part of the history of large organizations. It's not always the technology, it's the adoption of the technology. And this has a lot to do with maturity of the workforce, maturity of the organization, processes, culture. So you can bring the best technology in the world, but if you don't have fertile ground, if you don't have the right people on the ground that make sure that your workforce understands it and also that your processes are adjusted accordingly, then the technology will fail. (34:05)

My dream is that you don't need me anymore because I'm a transformational leader. And when everybody in this organization breathes data, breathes AI and applies it every single day, then my task is done, then you don't need me anymore. I still have a few days. (38:00)



Walid is Chief Data & AI Officer at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, where he leads the company’s Data & AI organization, delivering value, governance, architecture, engineering, and operations across the company globally. With many years experience in startups, IT, and consulting major corporations, Walid encompasses a strong understanding of the intersection between business and technology. Born in Egypt and raised in three different states in Germany, Walid celebrates his multicultural background and leverages it to inform his commitment to DE&I. As a father of two amazing daughters, he advocates for a more equal workplace to ensure a better future for the next generation. Walid strives to be the best ally he can be, making these values the cornerstone of his leadership approach.