Numero Uno: Hilti Australia

by 08 Jun 2012

Fluent in four languages and the youngest country head for Hilti Group globally, Jan Pacas shares his thoughts about HR, his career achievements and the elements that have made up his brilliant career

Human Capital: What is your current role and how did it come about?

Jan Pacas: I’m managing director of Hilti Australia. I started working for Hilti straight after university in their graduate program, so it goes back some 10 years. They told me about the potential prospects of an international career if I proved to be doing a good job, and it has turned out as they said. I was chief marketing officer for the global business unit power tools, based at Hilti’s headquarters in Switzerland and I managed to build some international experience working on projects in the US, Europe and Asia. The MD role here in Australia was highly regarded because it’s a very attractive place here to be – people want to come here. So it was a mix of hard work and some luck – I was only 33 at the time and now I’m three years older but still the youngest in the group. I said early on in my development that it would be my dream job.

HC: You are renowned for being quite involved in the HR practices at Hilti – why is that and do you believe other MDs and CEOs in other companies should take that interest in their human resources?

JP: Personally I consider it important and find a bit of a myth in terms of what HR is responsible for and what line managers are responsible for. You’ve got to be leading by example. The concept where HR says ‘we have strong values, the people are important’ – and then it’s not really being lived and modelled by senior management means you lose credibility. On one hand you must have strong HR processes and initiatives but you can take any concept and put it in PowerPoint and say you do it, but the real difference comes when you start living it. I’m a big believer in that because it’s something I’ve seen from some of my great bosses – leading by example. I’m involved because I believe it’s the best way to set an example.

HC: How do you view HR’s role at Hilti?

JP: I view HR as being very integrated to the business. I think the HRD must be closely aligned to the CEO and his or her expectations. I always see it as a business enabler: 80% of our costs are people costs so if you can make those assets in your books more productive, you’ll reap the benefits. In a lot of companies it’s treated separately – ‘this is HR’s job, this performance issue is HR’s job and we’re here to run the business’. That’s fundamentally wrong in my opinion.

HC: How would you recommend HR professionals learn more about the wider business world?

JP: It’s important for HR professionals to be involved and understand the wider business. It’s also important that they grow their credibility – you don’t want to end up being labelled as ‘the person from HR who has idealistic opinions’ – that’s not the real world. Prior to your HR role it helps if you’ve had some experience in a further business field. I think anyone in HR, whether a business partner or HRD, can sit in the meetings and listen to the challenges of the wider business – because it shouldn’t be two separate roles.

HC: Do you have any role models professionally or personally?

JP: I’ve been lucky to have had really great bosses. And from there it’s really what you make out of it, how open you are to learn from them, to take on the feedback. We all have egos but you must be open to improvements and suggestions. I was also so lucky that these people invested so much of their time into helping me.

HC: Describe yourself in a few key words?

JP: High energy, passionate, people say I’m quite visionary, curious, and sometimes I’m more than honest – too frank. People know where they stand with me.

HC: Last year Hilti was ‘best of the best’ on AON Hewitt’s Best Employer list. Why do these lists matter?

JP: There are two aspects to it. One is the internal aspect. We had a feeling we were a good place to work but we didn’t know for sure – you really want to benchmark yourself against the likes of Microsoft, Nestle and others. When we received the result that we were the best of the best I think it made all of our employees, from senior managers down to the workers in the warehouse, extremely proud. They told their friends and posted the photo of everyone in The Australian – it makes you proud. For the right people it’s an even more reinforcing reason to be here.

Externally it makes you an even more attractive employer. Once results were out we had it on our ads on LinkedIn and our responses to ads from applicants tripled. That helps – it means you can be even more selective in who you recruit.

HC: Will you aim to get on the AON Hewitt list again?

Yes we are. We’ve done the Hewitt survey again this year and I’m optimistic we’ll be a best employer again – whether we’ll be best of the best I can’t say but I’m reasonably optimistic we’ll become a best employer again. [Results are released early June].