HR in Henkel

by 19 Oct 2009

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 acquisitions.

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 Gamble).

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

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

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.