Erwin Rengers - Global Chief Human Resources and Marketing & Communications Officer at Hyva

Human Resources
08 September, 2023

Erwin Rengers is the Global Chief Human Resources and Marketing & Communications Officer at Hyva in the Netherlands. He previously spent over 20 years in FMCG with Kraft Heinz, becoming VP HR for Continental Europe, Russia and European R&D. He was also Global HR Director at discount retailer Steinhoff International and has acted as an HR consultant.

What excites you about Hyva and the mission that attracted you to the business?

Initially, I had never heard of Hyva, although it was founded by Jaap Vaandrager in the Netherlands, 44 years ago. Nevertheless, what was interesting was that I was approached by an executive search company, and I had a couple of conversations with Alex Tan, the CEO of Hyva.

From these conversations, I realised that Hyva had experienced strong organic growth over the past four decades. Reflecting on our discussions and looking at the business, it became clear what the company’s future journey needed to be, moving into the next stage of the business lifecycle and change.

This realisation was a very personal reason for my decision to join the company. I like to leave a legacy - not just for the sake of leaving a legacy - but to add value to an organisation; that’s where I get my energy. Looking back at my career, I've worked with mid-sized companies like Heinz to big corporations like Steinhoff, with a turnover of 20 billion and 130,000 employees.

But it’s not about the numbers; it was the complexity and opportunities ahead that were my main drivers for joining. I loved the product - I like concrete products. I had previously worked with products like Heinz ketchup, for example, and now I'm dealing with cranes and cylinders. These products aren't rocket science, but it’s very interesting to see where you can add value both from an HR perspective and for the organisation.

Two years ago, in July, I joined Hyva. After about a year and ongoing discussions with Alex, it became clear that changes were necessary. Factors like the impact of COVID-19 and the global supply chain issues - our cost price is for a large extent based on steel prices – meant our past strengths became our weaknesses, which was magnified due to COVID.

The organisational structure did not have many professional processes across various functions, such as HR, Finance, Business Operations, IT, and SOP processes – it was like “spaghetti” trying to manage that globally. This prompted us to consider a shift in the company to create focus for both the business and people.

We have five LOBs [lines of business], but they were merged in how they were managed globally. The nature of the products - either route to market (selling) and production are different; some products are for different markets and totally different customers, some with tailor-made or specific specifications and requirements, which is very project based, and others standardized and made to stock.

So, we needed to change and enhance focus, accountability, and clarity within the business, which will create a lot of value in the long run. We initiated a project, called “Project Rainbow”, which was inspired by a rainbow I saw on a rainy November morning while driving to the office, and it symbolises a transition into brightness, aligning with our goal.

We recognised the importance of external support to make transformation happen – to be successful, you need to make sure your execution of such a big transformation is successful. So, we collaborated with McKinsey, drawing from their expertise. This partnership extended over six months - the first month with the management team and finally the entire organisation.

Mid-July, we unveiled the new structure, consisting of three vertically integrated business units: Components (core of the business), Cranes, and Recycling (Container Handling & Waste Handling). We still have some regional structure, as well.

This shift includes the globalisation of HR, IT, and Finance functions, using a matrix organisation. So, the full HR community will report to me, and someone else will take this responsibility for Finance, IT, etc.

The next step is working on processes, clear accountabilities, and data. The processes are fundamental for the new organisation. We have a clear strategy and vision, but we need to execute that and look at processes and other elements like culture to gain a holistic view to change the organisation.

For example, HR will invest in HR systems for global management and employee self-service, as well as digitising processes to support locations without HR support. Overall, really driving functional excellence.

The transformation is a natural progression, mirroring the evolution observed in many companies after decades of growth; adapting to a new professional structure is an organic evolution in its journey.

How do you define what you want that culture to be like in Hyva as a business?

As I am responsible for Marketing as well, we recognise our strong brand in the market, consistently recognised in the industry. The brand strength translates globally, evident from our surveys and high net promoter scores, consistently ranging from six to seven. We should leverage that for our employer brand; so, we'll start focusing on various efforts, such as LinkedIn posts, social media engagement, and updating our career website, combined with internal and external communications.

But, before that, we want to reshape our values. When I joined, we had seven values - best practice is three to four. Entrepreneurship and customer relationships remain central. Fundamentally, I want to create a purpose. The “why” is crucial for attracting and retaining talent, especially among the younger generation. Sustainability is also becoming much more important.

We need to align the vision, mission, purpose, and strategy. While the strategy might change in detail, this structure remains. Simultaneously, reshaping our structure, processes, and culture to elevate our business. A lot of work still needs to be done.

Currently, we have a purpose, but we are not clear on that. We need to make it explicit. Our waste handling, for example, yields impactful solutions, a prime example being China, where we orchestrate comprehensive waste management for governments. Beginning with street collection, we transport waste to dedicated stations. These solutions contribute to a healthier world, particularly in countries like India, where the streets remain cluttered with garbage. India's government emphasises not only infrastructure development, but also an improved quality of life. Having personally witnessed this during my recent visit, the potential is there.

This is a perfect fit for us, as well, with growth opportunities. It's a mutually beneficial scenario, benefiting governments, collaborating businesses, people, and our own business. At Hyva, it's not just about products - it's much more.

Sustainability is clearly something that businesses are focusing on so much more now than they perhaps have in the past.

Recently, while visiting our Pune factory, which is about 160 kilometres from Mumbai, I gained a fresh perspective. We essentially serve as bodybuilders, modifying trucks and the body, and we build upon that by incorporating cylinders where necessary. However, this process consumes significant energy, for example, welding and other tasks generate a lot of heat within the factory. It's clear that we need to drive change and see what we can do differently in our processes to reduce our environmental impact as an organisation.

To address this, we've started investing in solar panels. This initiative is gaining momentum; even the Pune factory now has solar panels. The business has picked this up more over the past one to two years.

Is there anything that stands out to you as being a defining moment or maybe a risk that you've taken that has helped you reach that leadership role?

Having spent two decades at Heinz, I grew with the business and progressed through various roles. Then, the business was taken over by Warren Buffet and 3G Capital, and almost the top 200s needed to leave, including myself. I then moved to Steinhoff in a strategic role and decentralised organisation, which was totally different from Heinz.

Thin margins, managing quantity, having logistics right, and having Sales staff fully dedicated to do the best for the customer – a very interesting period.

I tried self-employment and did some project-based work at TE Connectivity in a Business Partner role, but found myself needing more challenges and to be able to leave a legacy. So, I put myself on the market. I reconnected with e-llis, a 4PL [fourth party logistics] organisation, a family-owned business. I worked temporarily on the company's purpose and market development as Business Development Director, but as I said, I wanted to leave my legacy and have more responsibility as a CHRO.

Finally, I was approached by an executive search company. I shared my limited industry-specific experience, emphasising competence over industry knowledge, as he was saying Hyva was looking for industry experience.

After that, there was a period of not hearing anything, but I held onto my belief that industry experience reaches a point of relevance, while competence holds more importance in a certain organisational context.

Suddenly, I was approached by another consultant from the same executive search company - someone I knew ten years ago at Heinz - and she put me forward again for the role at Hyva. She explained they couldn’t find the right candidates, but she said I would be a fit candidate from her perspective. The following day, I spoke with Alex (Tan) and, after three interviews, they hired me.

What struck me was the challenge, but also being at the top and being able to influence within the organisation.

If you didn’t choose HR, were there any other professions you’d like to explore?

In my youth, I was interested in many jobs, like a vet, architect or - like many - a professional soccer player. I also wanted to be a pilot; I even did some tests for the Royal Air Force. I had never even heard of HR. A good friend, who was studying HR, suggested that it might suit me. I joined him at school one day, and the combination of economics, philosophy, social studies, and psychology that HR offered was interesting. So, I decided to pursue it once I finished my secondary education. I went on to earn a degree in Business Administration, as well, achieving university-level education.

While at university, I worked for a food company for three years and, after, I worked at Heinz for the next 20 years - although I hadn't originally planned to become an HR Director or CHRO. My career within the company evolved gradually. I began as a factory HR Manager and the company expanded across the UK, Europe and Russia.

At one point, Heinz faced a decision about consolidating its European production. With government incentives, the Netherlands-based subsidiary was selected. During my time there, I worked on innovative projects, introducing concepts like lean production and flexible labour solutions to adapt to seasonal demands.

Throughout my career, there has always been a point of improvement, being innovative and looking for change. I never aimed for the next step up; instead, I focused on adding value and generating energy in whatever I did. As my career progressed, I took on roles of increasing responsibility and worked on diverse projects.

For this role, I wanted to be responsible and contribute to the organisation at the highest level. I find fulfilment in being close to the top where the communication is direct and I can influence decisions.

Was there anything else that you wanted to share about your own personal story or Hyva itself?

I can tell you about my personal life. I'm married and have a 12-year-old daughter, along with a golden retriever. I've always tried to balance my life, even though I make long working hours. When I do have free time, I focus on quality. Alex, the CEO, often tells me that, too. In fact, we recently went out for dinner, and I push him as well to also enjoy life outside of work.

For me, it's not the number of hours, but the quality of those hours spent. Maintaining the right balance is important in my life.

I believe in running the extra mile and driving passion and energy in everything you do. I always say there’s always a solution to a problem and don’t make things overcomplicated. After all, we are just selling cylinders and cranes - or ketchup, as I experienced at Heinz.

Be open and honest, respect others, and treat others as you want to be treated, as my grandmother always used to say – simple values in life. As the CHRO and Alex the CEO, we remain very humble, and I see that gap of perception some may have about our role, but we don’t feel that.

We want to serve the business and do the best for the business and for our people and grow further. We are accountable for 4,000 employees and their families. The ultimate goal is to be successful for our employees and customers – that’s it.

Thank you to Erwin for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our Human Resources recruitment team in the Netherlands.

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment