Interview with Lukas Nosek, leader of SpenglerFox’s practice group for Industry & Manufacturing
First, it’s important to say that industry is a really huge term. It can involve anything from producers of microchips to construction of airplanes or oil tankers. So depending on the segment, our customers face different or varied issues. Just giving an overview, I can say that some businesses I work with have been impacted, for example, by low oil prices. Then there is the rare metals and mining sector that faces different issues as concerns product demand. If we move on then to the automotive industry, I see a good outlook there. One client recently told us that based on the auto industry you can tell where the global economy is in the business cycle: when a recession starts cars sales drop, but when consumer confidence hits an upswing, car purchases are one of the first things to recover.
Similarly, if I give a further prognosis for the global economy, you can see a fixing of regional roles. I would say that high added-value production comes from the West. Meanwhile, what you might call low added-value production comes from the East. However, automation is changing this status quo. I have recently had conversations with customers who’ve talked about disruptions in this West-East production flow. For example, some American companies are now finding that it makes better sense for them to bring production back to the US. This might be for cultural reasons, for linguistic reasons, what have you. One customer, who had in the past outsourced roughly 40 jobs to India, recently decided to insource (or repatriate) these jobs back to the USA. They found that they could do the
same work with less people and a common language/cultural outlook and generally aligned expectations helped to streamline production processes.
Other companies are rethinking where they hire based on internal research into productivity. One of our clients, a globally-renowned coffee maker, recently decided to keep a majority of its workforce in Switzerland based on a huge battery of internal productivity assessments. Detailed research showed they got more bang for their buck from their Swiss team, despite the fact of higher wage expenditures in that country.
The rare metals and microchip production sectors are currently subject to a regional monopoly. Almost all the manufacturers/producers in this area are
Chinese-owned and the Chinese are very intent on keeping all related production in China. This is not without its challenges, however. New environmental and
ecological regulations and greater internal (domestic) demand for worker protections are slowly starting to make China more expensive than it used to be.
The current global outlook suggests continued growth. You see a lot more cost rationalization in various business sectors. In recent years this has translated to a boom in mergers & acquisitions. Recent purchases that come to mind can be seen across diverse industries; namely Boeing’s purchase of Lockheed-Martin, Siemens acquisition of Alstom, etc. Other industries where I see interesting growth include cosmetics. It is interesting that production and sales of chemicals that go into personal care products is growing fast. I think you could chalk this up to standard human needs: most of us want to look good. So even in lesser-developed markets, where consumers might have lower disposable income, you still see layouts for beauty care products (i.e. lipstick) the moment female consumers have some extra cash in hand. If I speak to a prognosis for global markets over the next 20 years, I think you will see a number of "new" trends.
Oil will get cheaper and producers will have to get used to prices at 60 USD/barrel. I think businesses also understand that they have to invest more in research & development and added value for their products to reap greater returns from product sales. In general, I think the industry segment will grow between 5-10% in the coming years: of course this will all depend on the specific industry and the specific geography. Depending on the evolution of local political-economic conditions in these markets, I can foresee Cuba, Iran and North Korea as rapid-growing economies (should their political regimes allow for this). Looking at growth from a global perspective though, I expect we will see more rapid changes in business cycles. I think the decade-long intervals are now gone: boom-ust periods will now shorten to a matter of 3-7 years and also will affect various global territories differently.
I see sourcing engineering talent as a key problem. The interest among students (potential job applicants) is just not there. A rigorous engineering degree programme is tough: not sexy. What to do with an engineering degree is less tangible for students looking to pursue university studies. I guess engineering is not as fun as politics, business studies (an MBA) or whatever. I’ve definitely seen a drop-off in interest in engineering and see a younger generation of students that has not kept up with studies in this area. This has resulted in an Industry sector where there is sufficient talent on the commercial side, but where the tech skills are lacking. It’s hard these days to find a match-up where talent has the necessary technological knowledge as well as the soft skills needed for leadership roles. This reality has also been influenced by the disappearance of apprenticeships. Those are gone. And what you see is a generation of graduates (job candidates) that lacks practical skills. A candidate may have 5 MBAs but completely lacks practical knowledge.
Technology is taking away the human touch in business processes. If I look at searches and recruitment, I think you need to see people and have human interaction. Technology does make people accessible. But companies are made of BOTH technology and people. You need human interaction to make valid assessments of people. You need to get a feeling or sense of who they are as candidates. I increasingly have a lot of business contacts, who say "send me an email; don’t call me."
And I understand that this can help cut down on costs, but the flipside is that it short-changes recruiters and HR consultants in getting personal insight. I think technology is important, but in our business we need to think carefully about how we use it. It should facilitate the communications process but not become the communications process. Consider the technological tools I use on a daily basis, I would say they are helpful. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to the people using them. For example, FileFinder is a great tool, but the value I get from it is only as good as the people entering, editing and handling the data we collect in it.
Technology is important, but the people factor (the human contact) is what is real, i.e. what informs and drives candidate placement.
I think differences are rapidly decreasing. We do live in a global village now. There are, of course, still some differences if you‘ve jumped from a small market into a global city. When you work in a small market, people are still much protected. But if we look at cities like London, New York and Singapore, those locations are what I would call global. I think placements in different global geographies also depend on the general view of that venue among candidates: simply put, it’s less of a problem to attract people to nice areas. So, understandably, we can still come up against problems sourcing people to Nigeria, Angola, Iraq, or perhaps even Nicaragua and Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, we really have to look to find the best talent for our clients: in some cases it’s "local" , in others the search becomes "global". At present it tends to be the Middle East, where we have the smallest talent pools.
However, I believe this will quickly change. I think the typical situation now, where the American or European goes to China to consult or provide insight, will decrease. I believe you will see more Eastern talent flowing into mature markets; namely to fill talent gaps.
In developing markets you can see people getting more or better education . Also, globally, there is the cost: value issue of getting an education. I see a change now where emerging or developing markets are gaining access to better skills and quality education with a lower need for investment. You also have the generational issue now where the "land of opportunity" concept has all but disappeared. Graduates have a rougher time entering the job market. For
example, when I started university as a student in engineering, we were drawing designs on boards with pens and chalk. My father (also an engineer) told me that, during his studies, it would take a team 10 weeks to design a gearbox. Every change had to be drawn on paper using ink – simply a nightmare. Now it takes one person a few hours to manage the whole process using 3D design software and tools. Or look at my grandfather, who worked as an accountant, he used to be part of a division that had 80 employees. Now that division consists of one person working with a SW solution from SAP. I think worldwide we see many
graduates facing the tough challenge of integrating technical skills with market demand. Some people may shout "I have an MBA!", but those degrees have been
largely commoditized. I think, besides technology, there are a number of issues that are causing a "big shift" on world labour markets. In the West, for example, you find you have to overcome issues of entitlement, which is a true challenge in Europe. With the EU’s single market for labour, you see competition getting tougher. Say you’re a logistics company recruiting drivers for long haul shifts across the continent, who do you work with: a driver from a more developed
market that requires a specially-fitted seat, air-conditioning and a max. work day of 8 hours? Or a driver from a less-developed market, who will run a 48-hour shift, needs no air-conditioning and no special seat. The post-Great Recession labour market has changed and it’s not clear when, and if, previous perks and benefits will get back to where they once were.
Be authentic and realistic. Before you launch a recruitment process, think about this one thing: do you know what you want? If the answer is "no", then don’t approach a search firm. I find increasingly that people from the corporate sphere have forgotten what it’s like to be on the other side of the table. Essentially, you need to treat your job candidates the way you’d like to be treated. Also, I think in many cases you know during the interview itself if a candidate should move forward or not. So I find it’s good to go with your instinct. In such cases, I keep thinking back to the book, Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. In that book, Mr. Gladwell notes that, as human beings, our gut feelings are right 80% of the time. So you don’t have to overthink the interview process. If you see the skills, if that personal connection is there, then go for it.
Unfortunately, I think we find ourselves in an era where we have too many choices and this leads us to think too much. Interestingly enough, I recently spoke with a group of clients and asked them who their ideal employer would be: none of them listed the company they work for. And I think that’s something we need to think about – both from the employer and employee perspective. It’s the small things that build relationships and that foster employee loyalty. I think as HR managers and consultants, we need to filter through all the noise and keep things real. We need to be genuine and speak realistically: in the future, the candidate will most remember, and likely appreciate, the recruiter, who was most frank and honest with him/her.
We need to relearn how to step outside ourselves (step away from our own needs) and think how our decision-making affects the other party or other parts of our
business. Mainly, we need to think about how it affects our company reputation. No feedback is no good. This is a message that I continue to emphasize with my clients. We live in a very hectic world, where we are increasingly losing sight of what’s normal and what isn’t. We can’t work solely based on a model or a paradigm. The world works differently and we need to listen to what the world wants.
The Governance Revolution: What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Now! SpenglerFox CEO, Jens Friedrich, invites Deborah Hicks Midanek to discuss her recently published book 'The Governance Revolution: What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Now!' Deborah is a veteran independent director, a pioneer in the corporate restructuring industry, and a serial entrepreneur. Widely respected for her turnaround skills, she has diagnosed and remedied problems for over 60 corporations and facilitated the growth of nearly 30 other ventures, including her own. Described by the late Fletcher Byrom, CEO of a Fortune 25 company, as a “pure thinker” – quickly gaining a deep understanding of complex problems and demonstrating an extraordinary ability to assimilate information and craft resilient solutions. More_on_Deborah_Hcks_Midnek.pdf Size: 161 KB Deborah_Hicks_Midanek_Slide Deck.pdf Size: 920 KB
A White Paper/Conversation with Industry Leaders What GlobalBusiness Leaders Have to Say about Successful Product Roll-outs and Meeting KPIs. The following paper includes insights from executives representing a handful of global companies. These individuals serve in roles such as general manager, business unit head, regional marketing leader and supply chain manager. They have experience working all over the world and represent markets such as Asia, the Middle East and Africa, North America and Western Europe. When speaking with them, the team at SpenglerFox sought to map the current environment for acquiring new leadership and managerial talent. Our discussions also focused on how this talent helps their organizations ensure the success of launching new products on the markets where these businesses operate and how these manager-leaders set KPIs to evaluate and measure the success of said launches. WhitePaper_TheEssentialsOfTalent.pdf Size: 1.07 MB
Rex was hired as a Project Director for a multinational factory in China. He held a similar role with another multinational before accepting this new position. The recruitment process was rigorous and exhaustive with many rounds of interviews with various department heads at regional and global levels. Rex was offered the position and accepted, reporting to his new boss (The Global Head of Supply Chain) who was based half way around the world. In his new role, Rex did not directly manage a team, however, he was responsible for managing several department heads that did not report to him. Rex was also responsible for updating all key stakeholders at headquarters on a project’s status. Sadly, Rex only lasted one year in this role, since he was not able to match the performance expectations of multiple stakeholders. This is a situation where Rex would have benefited from executive coaching. Amidst the daily demands of his job and the expectations of his stakeholders, Rex needed to better manage his focus while making strategic decisions at every moment to achieve goals and make progress. Like Rex, every level of management can benefit from coaching. But the individuals who benefit the most from executive coaching are those who are motivated to pursue growth in their personal and professional lives. In most cases, new hires at every level do not receive enough support for grasping an organization’s culture. Michael D. Watkins, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD and author of “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels,” explains that all new hires at every level must gain insights into the values, norms, and guiding assumptions of an organization. At the same time, they must navigate the very fine line between working within the existing culture framework and seeking to change it. Executive coaching is a natural next step in working with companies transform their businesses and aligns perfectly with my own life purpose and passion. I have been working as a retained executive search consultant for over 10 years, helping companies succeed by finding the right leaders as a search consultant, and then coaching these senior executives to reach their fullest potential. Transitions are always difficult for any organization. Whether through an internal promotion or an external hire, most senior executives receive only a basic orientation and onboarding. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Onboarding Isn’t Enough,” co-author Michael D. Watkins finds most companies are doing little to support the onboarding process. “Nearly all large companies are competent at the administrative basics of signing leaders up, but that level of onboarding does little to prevent the problems that can arise when working with new colleagues and grappling with unfamiliar cultural norms and expectations,” Watkins says. In my discussions with HR decision makers and business leaders about their biggest challenges, I have learned that many companies are trying to transform their organizations in a marketplace where disruption is constant. In this VUCA environment, some of their strongest business leaders were not performing as successfully as they once had and were having difficulty adapting to change, new market landscapes and new processes. These are very common themes and challenges that I consistently hear from companies in my travels. I realized that as an executive search consultant, my value in impacting a company positively stopped at the recruitment and hiring process. I knew that I wanted to continue helping clients and executives succeed beyond the appointment of a senior leader, and this is why I began executive coaching. Technology advances in the last several years have created a much faster and more complex world. According to the renowned mindfulness expert Rasmus Hougaard, our attention in the workplace is under siege. We are constantly under pressure, always on, overloaded with information and trying to work in distracting environments. Executives today face many more challenges in adapting to change and successfully keeping pace with these complex work environments, compared to ten years ago. Authors Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck in their book, “The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business”, advocate that understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success. Coaching positively impacts a company’s bottom line by helping executives remain present, be focused and make optimal moment-by-moment decisions that deliver optimal results. As I look back at my work as a search consultant, my most fulfilling moments were helping executives achieve their goals. Many senior executives in Asia, Europe and the US have reached out to me to explore job opportunities, but also seek career guidance. With every inquiry, I always tried to take the time to share my thoughts and advice. In doing so, I felt I was giving back to those who mentored me throughout my own corporate career. Many search firms like SpenglerFox offer executive coaching and HR consultancy services in addition to traditional retained executive search. To receive further information about the executive coaching services, please contact Mary Kramer at firstname.lastname@example.org. About the Author: Victor Filamor Victor Filamor was SpenglerFox’s Country Manager Hong Kong and Asia Consumer Practice Leader in 2007/8. He is currently a Partner and Certified Executive Coach with a retained executive search & leadership advisory firm in Hong Kong and Singapore specializing in the Consumer & Retail and Industrial sectors. Prior to his executive search career of over a decade, he had 25 years of P&L management, as well as marketing, sales and operations management experience with Consumer and Industrial Fortune 500 companies and Asian multinationals. He has lived in four countries across Asia Pacific.