A Russian colleague has lived in Nördlingen for three years and is responsible for the tea portfolio. Two junior staff members from Egypt work in the Sweet business unit in Holzminden and Dubai, and were promoted very quickly due to their outstanding work. In Singapore, German, French and local employees exchange information on onions for the entire Asian region. Six junior perfumers are moving from one site to the next to become familiar with regional raw materials, other markets and their fragrance preferences as well as to learn from experienced perfumers. These are just a few examples of the international collaborations taking place at Symrise, where expatriates (otherwise known as expats) play an increasingly important role in the daily exchange of information across continents. These expat employees live and work for multiple months or years in a region other than the one they call home.
More than 120 of these curious, travel-loving people are working throughout the Symrise world – and that figure continues to rise. One factor driving this trend is the desire of Symrise customers (globally operating food and perfume manufacturers) to have their suppliers’ top talents working on their projects. “While this includes the local colleagues who know their region like the back of their hand, these companies also want to work with our specialized experts,” explains Dr. Iñigo Natzel. “These experts understand the global processes involved and have successfully implemented similar projects or worked with these customers in the past,” explains the Corporate Vice President, who has been responsible for Human Resources at Symrise for the past eleven years. Another factor behind the expat trend is Symrise’s own focus on developing its personnel. Men and women who go on foreign assignments gain valuable experience, both personally and professionally. The challenges posed by a new language and culture – along with the different consumer preferences in the new region when it comes to flavors or fragrances – provide the employees with unique inspiration while boosting their know-how. Such attributes can only benefit them throughout their career.
A third driving force can be traced back to the company itself and its industry as a whole. “We need top-notch colleagues at every step of value creation. In some areas, it is very difficult to get the best employees because so few of them exist,” explains Dr. Iñigo Natzel. In product development, for instance, there are only a certain number of highly qualified perfumers and flavorists in the world who can do the job at the level that customers require. “We bring our experts to the projects, rather than the other way around. This requires good planning with short stays consisting of a few weeks or months,” clarifies Natzel. Many expats also work in Holzminden. “They bring a great deal of knowledge about their region, and take new expertise back when they return,” says Natzel. After all, the Symrise headquarters is meant to be the central research and development site from which knowledge is transferred to every region.
To make this process as optimal as possible, Iñigo Natzel’s work and that of his international team has changed over the years. In the past, the Human Resources department played a more administrative role. Today, it is the cornerstone for the company’s knowledge transfer and manages this process. “We analyze our employees’ skills and try to use these as effectively as possible in close cooperation with the business units,” says the Corporate Vice President. In an effort to increase its efficiency, the Human Resources team manages an increasingly number of processes digitally. On the career@symrise platform, the team collects and analyzes data on previous work experience and sites, career ambitions and skills. In 2016, a training module will be added to the platform. Soon, the entire process, from applications to hiring, will be handled in this manner. “This gives us global access to the data and we can see who would be a suitable candidate for job openings around the world. It also allows us to balance out the ‘gut-feeling’ factor, which is obviously important when deciding on potential candidates, with objective analytical methods,” explains Natzel.
Achieving this requires a unified understanding of personnel management – and this is all the more important at a company like Symrise. “Our employees are usually managed by their direct superiors. In international project groups, however, this might be done across the organizational structure,” explains Natzel. “That’s why we need to place a much greater focus on project requirements.” As a result, communication takes on an even more important role and managers need a high level of intercultural competence.
A major portion of the communication in international project groups occurs via online platforms, video and teleconferences or via email. But teams cannot work optimally via virtual means alone, stresses Iñigo Natzel. “To experience the diversity of the markets and customers, face-to-face meetings are very important, particularly at the beginning of such projects, but afterwards as well.”
One initiative that highlights this approach is the “Future Generation Leadership Development” program that celebrated its second year at Symrise in 2015. Its four modules cover the roles of managers, the Group’s strategy, project management and employee management. About 50 young managers from the middle levels of management have participated in the program so far – and 40 % of the participants were women. They were trained for the requirements of their positions while also getting to know colleagues from business units other than their own. In 2015, the team from Diana played an especially important role in integrating the company into the Group after its acquisition by Symrise. The merging of corporate cultures can only work if it is implemented at the person-to-person level.This works best in the context of specific projects. Along with ideas on green chemistry and sales subsidiaries, the leadership program also resulted in the development of a study on “Megatrends in the Flavor and Fragrance Industry” that was the work of six experts from India, the United States, Singapore and Germany. “This was a great example of what can happen when we work across boundaries,” says Natzel. “It results in exciting approaches that derive their innovation from international cooperation.”