Executive Interviews

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Ranjeeta Rai - Head of Packaging & KAM Supply Chain (Laundry & Home Care) at Henkel

  • December 15, 2021

Ranjeeta Rai is the Head of Packaging & Global KAM Supply Chain for Laundry & Home Care at Henkel. She has been with the business for over seven years, working within the Netherlands, Singapore and China.

Previously, Ranjeeta was a Senior Analyst and Team Leader within investment banking.

How does your company work to retain high potential employees?

Henkel has a robust talent programme with various aspects. The focus is to find a holistic evaluation of how we define a high potential employee. This programme enables the employee to have frequent feedback on what we define as areas of improvement, strengths, opportunities individually, and it’s also structured towards a succession plan.

Personally, I’ve had for the past three years a clear vision and roadmap on how I would evolve from a Category Team Lead, so a functional title as well as grade, to Director. I benefited from an external assessment as well, where a company comes in and you’re put on a three-day roleplay scenario workshop, and they assess you together with a fellow senior leadership from Henkel. They give you a very detailed feedback report defining competitively how you performed.

A different status is the profession planning. There is a structured way of assessing how ready you are to grow vertically in the company, but also how you can expand horizontally from a skill base, so it’s kind of a two-tier approach. That’s an assessment that’s conducted in the entire management circle (MC) level. So, the session plan and future talent pipeline is discussed every quarter cross-functionally, as well as across the organisation, so you have the ex-comms of each function sitting together throughout the year. Here the high potential talents and their profiles are shared, and you really make people aware who is available to move and location preferences in obviously a closed group.

There is another aspect that you asked in the question: How do you retain? When you speak of retaining, you must also think about why people leave and what are the reasons that motivate people to switch companies. A big aspect of retention is to give people a safe environment where they can talk about issues that could be related to their private life, work life, but topics that often lead to disgruntled employees, and them wanting to look out and switch over. So, creating that kind of safe environment for employees to bring up their concerns, to be able to talk openly with their managers, this is a big part of this family culture that Henkel talks a lot about.

From my point of view, I think those are the two key approaches and, of course, you have the compensation and benefits, which for a lot of people play a big part of why they choose to stay with a company, and that’s quite specific to the locations. From what I’ve seen working in the four geographies with the company, I wouldn’t say that there is one set of good practices, but I see it's very, very customised to the local preferences. So, if people really like to meet on the weekends, for example in Asia, I think it’s a big thing that you have these employee get-togethers on the weekend, whereas here, nobody wants to meet up on Friday afternoon, so we don’t do that. That plays a big role and then of course the local HR designing those programmes.

What changes have you seen to the employment market in the Netherlands over the years and what in your opinion have been the drivers for these changes?

I think it’s a very relevant question, especially in the context of the post-pandemic environment. A lot of the trends that we talk about in 2021 would be a consequence of this slow economic growth and lockdown, and people’s lives changing permanently.

I believe first of all there has been a drop in economic activity in the Netherlands, so, you do have a lot of sectors like hospitality, retail, which it’s clear that they were in six months of prolonged lockdown, so that definitely had an impact. But when you look at the vacancies, when you look at the job advertisements, when you look at the activity amongst the headhunting companies - personally speaking as well - it hasn’t changed. So, there is definitely a drop of economic activity, but there is no such drop in a search for talent or a search for vacancies being advertised. That’s quite unique, because in other parts - for example, Singapore - I hear it's quite different now; they’re not really recruiting. There’s a lot of focus on hiring locally and promoting a balance of Singaporean versus expats, but in the Netherlands, there is no such shift from hiring high potential expats for the key roles compared to other locations.

Secondly, I think job-hopping has become a big thing at the moment, so there is a trend. More and more, people are open to it, which meant that they passively are looking out to change. There’s a renewed confidence for people to say: “Yeah, this is what I want”, and “This is what I don’t want from my professional life and if my job doesn’t fulfil it, I am definitely looking to change that”. It’s like they really want to take control in their hands to change that. So, there’s this job-hopping phenomenon and a lot of competition naturally for the top jobs.

Companies are also looking at people with less niche talent and not really trying to match them with just one position, but really seeing where this person can fit the best and where they can add the most value. So, that’s a second phenomenon, this kind of passive search approach. I spoke about the expat community; there is nothing really diminishing the growth. In terms of strength and diversity of the expat community, I think it’s still quite robust.

Part-time, flexible employment became a big thing in the Netherlands. I think a lot of people are coming with the expectation to have defined upfront that they have a certain number of hours of flexibility in their jobs and the ability to work from anywhere, for example. This is a problem here, because a lot of companies are based here for tax purposes, which requires them to have the people really stay in the Netherlands, and this is definitely a big challenge, because more and more people are arguing: “Why do I need to be here if I can be in Greece with my family and do the same job and the same time zone?”. This aspect requires rethinking a lot of these policies for HR in terms of the contracts and taxes set up by employees.

I think benefits and compensation plays a big part, but you have a higher focus on the pension contribution and health insurance. I think these are two components from COVID that take even more attention than before. Employees are pushing to have these as part of their compensation package and they are not flexible about going in without health insurance, for example.

What does your organisation do to drive its sustainability agenda and how is it driven out within the business?

The commitment to sustainability for an FMCG needs to be at the forefront, so we are not one of the only ones doing this. What becomes important is how you differentiate yourself in terms of the agenda from your peers and how you put yourself at the forefront, rather than jumping on every trend in sustainability that’s emerging.

It is an integral part of the Henkel corporate culture, so it's not new; it's very much embedded in what we call our strategic framework. We have launched the agenda of purposeful growth and this is different from what Henkel used to do in former years.

Now we’ve given ourselves one agenda without the frame of a four-year cycle or a fixed time period. The Purposeful Growth Agenda is continuous, ongoing relentless work, and sustainability is the cornerstone of this Purposeful Growth Agenda.

What we do - and I think this where we differentiate a bit to our competitors - we focus a lot more on activating sustainability amongst our people, so really leveraging the employees, starting by what we call ambassador training. Every single employee must go through compulsory sustainability ambassador training and be certified as an ambassador, and what that really means is you, as an ambassador, are aware of what you do every day and what effect it has from a sustainable point of view on the environment, and how you are equipped to identify sustainable practices in your work.

Also, employees are empowered to launch their own initiatives, so these could be small, mid-sized initiatives in their own communities that they are really passionate about, and they also have a budget from the corporate to actually push these forwards. There are some cornerstone sustainability targets that are at the forefront for us moving towards 2025, and, amongst that, transparency, safety, circularity is key and top of the agenda at the moment.

And how is that going for you at the moment? Are you on target to reach those goals for 2025?

Each business unit has specific and sometimes differentiated target, also depending on the readiness of the eco-system around. There is still a large gap in the market and that is where the need to bring in more people to focus on this. This can only be achieved via focus and perseverance of large organisations like us. We are on a very good track to support this.

What are the current recruitment challenges that the business faces, if any?

We still have a problem getting women in the workforce at senior level. This is really the quality of female talent at senior positions; there is a very, very small pipeline of good resumes. There is also a need for the local government to try more and offer better plans around childcare. I think if both parents are working, you are entitled to a childcare subsidy, but if either parent is not working, you are not allowed and then you are obliged to take care of the kid. And, in the Netherlands specifically, I think this limits the female workforce from going into very time-consuming senior positions where they need to be very hands-on.

There is also the challenge of translating the vision of the company to potential new employees - how do you really bring that across? We focus a lot that you need to come in understanding what the corporate culture and fit is, but how do you really translate that at the recruitment stage to people? This is something where I think a lot of work needs to be done still.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in Procurement, particularly as a woman?

Procurement is one career where you can easily find transferable skills from anything you have done before. You could be a lawyer, you could be a scientist, it does not matter. You will always find some transferable skills that you can bring to Procurement. Having said that, I think if there is one function where communication really is at the forefront - written, spoken, presentation, negotiation, stakeholder management - this is definitely a skill you need, so if you’re looking to get into Procurement, you need to do a better job at storytelling in your interviews or in your CV.

From my experience working in Procurement, I feel the gender parity is not yet there. It’s not yet as exciting to work in Supply Chain for a lot of women. It's seen as very operational, and sometimes tactical and not strategic enough, but more and more companies are separating strategic Procurement from the Purchase to Pay operational activities. That really allows you to come into Procurement and drive strategy; what you would typically think a management consultant would do. My advice would be work on your communication skills, do a good job at storytelling, and don’t be afraid to negotiate and demonstrate assertiveness.

What would have been your second career choice and why?

I would say a parallel career, because I believe you can have parallel careers as a second career, and I honestly wouldn’t change my current career for anything else. I don’t regret that I could have done something different. I did try different things; I’ve tried being a banker, I studied to be a psychologist, I’ve lived that for at least a short period of time. So, I am very happy where I am, but I think I need to have other things that are interesting to me beyond my job, such as wine.

If I could choose a parallel career, I would happily own a vineyard somewhere. I am pursuing advanced sommelier certification; just finishing level three exams. I do have a brand of my own, C.O.R.K.Y, which is a side hobby. The brand is supporting to bring European wines to Asia and I do a lot of consulting to understand the logistic part of shipping or importing wine. So, really advising Indian retailers on how to approach winemakers in France, how to negotiate, how to bring the brands into India, so that’s something I would see myself doing once I retire, which would be at 40 by the way!

Who do you admire most or who did you admire most when you were a child and why?

Both my parents. I grew up in a close-knit family where my exposure was limited to school and to my parents. I personally admire them both. First, my father is a self-taught, self-educated, self-trained professional. He never went to school, no university, nothing, but he made a career in insurance all his life, so the drive to learn something totally new and to have the courage to go into it I really get from my father.

My mum, because I know secretly she wanted to be an actress, but instead she raised five children. I think the one things I find quite unique in her character is how she found a routine interesting. For over 40 years, I saw her do the exact same thing every single day, but she still found it appealing and did it with passion. That is something I need to learn from her, how to appreciate and enjoy what you do and how to bring that routine into your day-to-day life.

Thank you to Ranjeeta for speaking to Michelle Ewing, our Netherlands Country Director. 

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