No transformation without women


Daniel Kutschenko

Sometimes a step back is the best move forward. Daniel Kutschenko has followed an unusual career path. After positions at Procter & Gamble and a strategy consultancy, he now heads the IT Services & Operations business unit at Hager Executive Search. A conversation about the love of people's business, the GenZ value compass and why we won't be able to cope with the shortage of skilled workers without women

You like to use a picture for your job. They see themselves as "marriage counselors for managers". Please explain...

I think there are some interesting parallels between recruiting and personal life. Basically, it's like this: when you're with the wrong person, it drains your energy. It's not constructive, you stay below your potential. I see my role as listening to clients and finding out what they really want. It's the same with the candidate. And then it's about bringing the right people together for the longest possible partnership, a partnership with substance. I am convinced that if you put these pieces of the puzzle together and put people in an environment that is good for them, then they can develop further. It's not about, like Tinder, relying on cheap effects and quickly placing someone. That's not how we work.

You are a career changer in the Executive Search Consultancy. What attracted you to the role?

I have to take a bigger turn there. My father used to work for an American pharmaceutical company, in human resources. As a family, we traveled a lot abroad. And as is the way with family dynamics, I wanted to do everything, but no staff - even though I'm quite similar to my father and have the diplomatic and empathetic manner that is needed for this job. I consciously wanted to take a different path and after studying business administration I went in the direction of marketing. I did internships at L'Oréal and Procter & Gamble and started at P&G after college. I found it exciting to look after these big, glamorous brands that inspire so many people and to create marketing concepts based on consumer insights. Today, looking back, there was also this interest in people, in their psychology, which helps me in my job today. After another station at a strategy consultancy, I ended up at Hager.

That sounds like a tough cut...

It was. In terms of position, it was actually a step backwards, both in terms of title and salary. I was 33 at the time and about to become a partner at the previous consulting firm. But, as the saying goes: 'There is no right life in the wrong one'. So, a good six years ago, I sat at Hager in onboarding with some 18-year-old dual students. Nevertheless, I was convinced that it was the right step. It then went up pretty quickly, first I became a team manager and then two years ago I took over the IT Services & Operations business unit. A lot has happened since then. The unit consists of 12 people, nine new employees have joined in the last two years alone. It's a fairly young, very diverse team, Operations is a broad field and offers enormous development opportunities. It's great fun here.

The exciting thing Executive Search Consultancy is that there are so many ways to get there. You can see that in our leadership team. There are many career changers, which has the advantage that they then have one in their industry Track Record to have. There are two things that help me in my work today. On the one hand, I have dealt with personnel consultants several times in my career. I know it from both sides, I can empathize with the candidates and the clients. In other words, I know what not to do. Second, Procter was a very good school. I had a lot of exposure to market research. We had “meet your consumer events” every week where we could interview people ourselves. I have learned to listen carefully and find out what is important to the other person. And then there's another crucial point that changed my perspective on things. The strategy consultancy that I switched to after Procter and that we had rebuilt was not a great success, contrary to great expectations and promising forecasts. It just didn't go through the roof. This means that I can appreciate the fact that there is an enormous need for what I do today in a completely different way. The shortage of skilled workers will keep us busy over the next few years.

That has to be that purpose everyone is talking about. No seriously. How do you know you're in the right place?

You have a different attitude towards work. You could also say: you really attract them, you look for work, it's not a nuisance. And of course it helps that we work in the people business. We do not sell network cables. We care about people. I would even go so far as to say that we have an impact on people's lives. We can ensure that they have to travel less in their new job and are given more responsibility. Whatever is important to them to be happier. That has a great purpose.

We are in the midst of a major, comprehensive transformation. What are the big drivers and issues that you deal with?

Of course, the omnipresent topic of the last few years was and is digitization and automation. Corona has also provided a digitization boost of several years. After a brief phase of restraint, the order situation has really gone up since February 2021. There were many projects that were previously put on hold and then had to be implemented quickly. There was an immense backlog. Many, many positions had to be filled, which has exacerbated the existing shortage of skilled workers. If you just look at the topic of cybersecurity, how these stocks perform even in a difficult stock market, then that's remarkable. Nothing will change about that in the next few years. In the manufacturing industry, I see the linking of OT and IT as a major topic for the future. Another important aspect is resilience as an organization in times of multiple crises. Building flexible and robust supply chains, for example, is a topic in which digitization and specifically the use of data are indispensable. And finally, unsurprisingly, sustainability is something that is becoming increasingly important for candidates from the GenZ generation. The questions in the application process specifically about the sustainability strategy and can no longer be fobbed off with empty phrases.

Purpose is actually an important factor in talent scouting. Which concrete values ​​and topics are still particularly important?

There are revealing figures on this; a statistic [Source: ConeCommunications;] states that 63 percent of respondents could not imagine working at a company without social purpose. There is a great need for meaning, and of course that is also reflected in the choice of job. You are no longer loyal to your employer, but to your own values. If the employer offers a good platform – great. Incidentally, people like to work there more than nine to five. The larger companies or consultancies have already adapted to the young talents and their needs. In the case of small and medium-sized companies, especially if they are family-owned or patriarchally managed, there are still some problems. This is a real clash, although these companies are often very value-based and down-to-earth. I think that's chronically underestimated. To moderate between these two groups, to accompany this integration process, is an incredibly exciting role.

According to what criteria do you hire employees yourself? So: How does a recruiter recruit?

In my team we now have more women than men. Now we sometimes think: We should hire men again (laughs). What we have had very good experiences with is with dual students. They have been there for three or four years, learn the job from scratch and are given responsibility early on and are also involved in decisions. We don't differentiate there. That also takes time, yes, looking after these people. But in the end it is a very good investment. We have also had good experiences with trial work days. Both sides can get to know each other better and develop a feeling of whether it fits. Of course, things are different at the senior level, where a lot happens through the respective networks of the leadership team.

We already touched on the topic of managerial shortages at the beginning of our conversation. There is an exciting "Handelsblatt disrupt" podcast with the chairwoman of the economic experts Monika Schnitzer. She describes three ways in which the shortage of skilled workers can be countered in principle: more women in gainful employment, more immigration and more automation. Where do you see the greatest leverage?

I also heard the podcast. It's actually very interesting. All three levers are important, albeit very different. Let's start with number 3, automation. That's a bit double-edged. On the one hand, you have the effect that automation and digitization can mean that you no longer need a driver. Nevertheless, at the same time we see that the UK is desperately looking for truck drivers due to Brexit. Headhunters currently get a higher fee for a truck driver than for an IT expert. Another example: The "Federal Employment Agency" has such an aging workforce that it will not be possible to replace all employees who will retire. It will inevitably, in one redesign of the processes through digitization and automation. In the short term, this will even increase the shortage of skilled workers in the tech sector. We need more cybersecurity experts, cloud architects, SAP consultants. I also find the topic of qualified immigration very exciting. It would take 1,5 million gross people a year to enter the country with grandmothers and babies to create a net workforce of 400.000. However, the question here is where should the workforce come from? Other European countries are struggling with similar problems as we are in terms of the birth rate. In my opinion, the attempt to get more women into gainful employment has the greatest leverage. However, a lot has to change for this to happen, from the culture to the infrastructure.

You have two children. How do you deal with that in your family?

Our sons are two and six years old. My wife works full time, she has a global role at Pepsi. Since Corona, at least the long business trips to the USA have been eliminated, and a lot is now done via video call. That helps. Otherwise we try to share the care work as much as possible. Of course, juggling work and children isn't always easy. What really moved me, because it shows that this commitment is worthwhile, was an anecdote from Christmas two years ago. Our then 4-year-old son was asked by his grandmother: 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' He didn't say fireman or cop. He said: 'I want to be a dad.'

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