Henkel has been named as one of the World’s Most Admired Companies. Speaking from Shanghai, CEO, Asia-Pacific, Jan-Dirk Auris and head of HR, Monica Sun, tell Sarah O’Carroll about how they increased their investments in and focus on HR
As the global economy slowed over the past
three years, many global companies relied
on their Asia-Pacific departments to help the
company carry their global business through.
This was the case with Henkel Asia-Pacific,
which had to increase its investment in HR strategies and
Henkel Asia-Pacific made the decision to take advantage
of the downturn and use it not only to increase efficiencies
but also to develop some of their core HR strategies.
Headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany, Henkel has
about 52,000 employees worldwide, 10,000 based in the
Asia-Pacific region. The company is one of the largest soap
and cosmetic companies in the world.
According to Jan-Dirk Auris, CEO of Henkel Asia-
Pacific, the company had no option but to strive to take
advantage of the downturn.
“Our strategy has not changed at all and we have used
the downturn to re-emphasise and enforce our strategy,”
says Auris. “One example is that it has been an opportu
nity for us to address things in a much shorter time frame.”
Being forced to move on decisions more quickly than
before to remain at a competitive advantage has had a
direct impact and cost-saving for their customers, many
of whom have been even more affected by the economic
downturn than Henkel.
“We can help them achieve cost savings by shortening
a certain process or helping them to run a machine faster,
so our customer spends less than they used to on a certain
process,” he says.
However it wasn’t just though increasing efficiencies
that Henkel achieved the number-two spot on Fortune’s
World’s Most Admired Companies (In the Soap and Cos
metic Industry, just behind global leader Proctor and
According to Monica Sun, Head of HR for Asia-Pacific,
open communication is one success factor. Sun, who has
been with Henkel for 13 years, and working in the HR
function for five, has seen the HR function grow in impor
tance to the point they’re at now – one where they are
involved in and part of the entire definition and formula
tion of the company’s business strategies.
This increased importance of HR has allowed the com
pany to advocate an open communication policy, ensuring
employees are aware of current company strategies.
“An example of how we did this was that in November
2008 we specified three strategic priorities for our compa
nies,” says Sun. “‘Achieve our full business potential’, ‘Focus
more on customers’ and ‘Strengthen our global team’.
“We informed our employees in town hall meetings,
individual talks, interviews in the employee media (print
and online) about this and experienced a high buy-in after
wards,” she explains.
“Strengthen the global team”
One of the greatest challenges in the Asia-Pacific Region
is getting buy-in from employees and countering a per
ceived lack of engagement. According to Auris, employees
in the APAC region had known only growth and lacked
engagement in their company.
However, Auris points out that the rapid growth of the
APAC region has allowed for the development of many
young managers. “Our organisation needs to keep pace
with our rapid growth in Asia,” said Auris. “I’m quite
proud that we have many young managers no older than
35 years who have responsibility for sales of about 50 mil
lion euros and for around 150 people.
“If you look at more saturated markets such as North
America or Western Europe, you won’t find people at that
age with that scale of responsibility.”
This is a matter, he says, of how the business developed
over the last two decades and the talents available in the
market. Twenty years ago, the business in the Asia-Pacific
Region was worth about 50 million euro, in 2008 that fig
ure was about 1.5 billion euro.
However attraction and retention challenges still remain
a challenge within the company, says Sun.
“Even though there is a lot of supply of labour or grad
uates on the market, the recruitment of the right high poten
tials is still a challenge,” she says. “The question is how to
identify and attract the talents in the local markets, those
who have the right values that go along with the company
and who are able to work in a big multinational company.”
One of the greatest challenges facing the company is
getting graduates who are ready to be working within a
multinational company. So training these graduates to an
acceptable standard is an ongoing process.
“We have to make sure that we help those people to
grow in step with the company’s business success,” says
Auris. “This is not just an Asia-Pacific approach. World
wide we firmly believe in on-the-job training and practical
experience. From your very first day at Henkel, employees
will be given responsibility in one of our business units or
functions and can begin exerting a direct influence on our
performance. In Asia-Pacific the personal impact might be
a little bit bigger.”
He believes one of the best things to have emerged from
the economic downturn is the ability of the company to
identify its true leaders.
“It was like a natural selection process,” says Auris. “It
was clear to see – after the economic crisis – those who
were natural leaders. Those are the people who emerge
from a very challenging time as a stronger leader.”
Jan-Dirk Auris has been the Regional President of Henkel Asia-Pacific since 2008. Additionally, he is responsible for adhesive technologies Asia-Pacific. In his 24 years with Henkel, Auris was promoted through a number of senior management positions, appointed Regional President of adhesive technologies Asia-Pacific in 2007, Vice President of Henkel Technologies Asia Pacific in 2006, and Global Vice President of one adhesive technologies business segment in 2005. Prior to that, he was Business Director of industrial adhesives for consumer packages in North America for three years. In 1997, he became the European sales manager and segment manager of labelling for Global Market, after nine years serving as Sales Expert at Henkel Germany. Starting his first job with a BA program at Henkel Germany from 1984 to 1987, Auris holds a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration.
Monica Sun was appointed the Head of HR, Henkel Asia-Pacific, in January 2009. Prior to that, she held the position of HR director of adhesives technologies Asia-Pacific, appointed in 2004. Before moving to HR, Monica served in Henkel's materials and supply chain management, appointed Regional SCM manager for Asia-Pacific in 2002, materials manager for Henkel China in 2000, and materials manager for Shanghai Henkel Teroson in 1996. Before joining Henkel, she worked in transportation and chemical industries, and had also served at the Chinese Sports Ministry for four years since 1988. Monica holds a diploma in Business Administration from China Europe International Business School and a BA in English Language and Literature from Beijing Foreign Studies University.