Henkel: Driving business to the next level

For a company that is close to 140 years old, standing still amid a sea of change is never an option. Thomas Holenia, president of adhesive technologies and consumer goods giant Henkel in Singapore, shares that same indomitable spirit when it comes to moving with speed and precision.

Tell me briefly about yourself and about your career journey

Right now, I’m President of Henkel Singapore and at the same time, the Managing Director for our new Henkel global supply chain hub in Asia. I’ve been with the group for 20 years in several roles and locations. Before moving to Singapore, I was in Shanghai, China, for three years, leading our global sourcing for raw materials (which I am still doing). I’m Austrian and have worked in several Western European countries such as France and Germany, in Eastern Europe, and in Asia.


What is your leadership style?

I’m someone who really likes to drive things to the next level. For me especially, everything is about change and speed. At the end of the day, Henkel is a company that is very active in fast-moving consumer goods as well as in technologies.

Our vision is to be a leader in both brands and technologies. Hence, it’s obviously important to be close to our customers and to move very fast with the market. When we talk about supply chain and global sourcing activities, in my role, it’s very important to be close to our markets, partners, suppliers as well to be close to our sales people who must understand what our customers and consumers need.


Henkel employs about 50,000 people globally. What are some key HR challenges for the organisation?

First of all, it’s important to understand our vision as noted earlier. That automatically requires the organisation to have managers and leaders at every level who are capable of driving the company forward.

At the same time, we are expecting our people to have a global mindset. We are a global company, and we want to be a global leader, which is an important requirement of a multinational organisation.

It is also a challenge to find the right talent for the many different brands and products. At the end of the day, the talent market is very hot. There are many multinational companies around. I think Henkel is in a good position with the programmes we have for employees to grow within the company.

However, it is a challenge to find the right people who can operate in a global context and drive the organisation to the next level. In Singapore, you are very well-positioned with a good education system and excellent universities, which definitely deliver a lot of talent to the market and the multinational companies.


How would your employees describe you?

They would definitely say I’m somebody who goes for excellence, and also has a certain eye for details. I’m certainly somebody who is interested to understand backgrounds; why are things as they are? At the same, I also want to know how has that change contributed to our objectives and challenged the status quo or driven things forward.


How do you interact with your staff?

Very directly. When I have the chance to be around physically in the office, I’m very approachable. I have an open-door policy and we work in an open space concept. From that perspective, it’s very easy to interact directly.

The other part of my team is the global team. There is a heavy use of modern technologies such as video conferencing, teleconferencing and Skype. Parts of my global team are based in Europe and the Americas; so this is how I spend the evenings.


You have more than 20 years of international experience. What are some key differences of managing employees in both continents?

There are quite a few differences. Europeans tend to be much more direct and straightforward. Asians, however, tend to hold a little back. But at the end of the day, this doesn’t say anything about the effectiveness or efficient use of time or knowledge in either region.

For us, it’s important to value our people as they are. Hence, diversity and inclusion is very high on the agenda and we truly believe that diversity is a competitive advantage for this company. If we really want to be a global leader in brands and technologies, then we definitely need to have a diverse team.

For us, diversity not only means nationalities; but is very much also about gender and a multi-generational workforce. It’s about really bringing teams from all over the world with different experiences and backgrounds together, and then forming a common agenda.


Can you describe Henkel’s corporate culture?

The company culture is very much driven by our claim that “Excellence is our passion”. It’s everything about driving change very quickly. We simply want to be the best in everything we can do. Hence, it’s a very performance-driven culture and one that is rewarding for our people.

It’s one more reason why we really need a diverse set of employees to really understand the different markets in the world.


What kind of career progression programmes do you have in place?

We have several programmes in place but I want to emphasise mainly on one part.

We have an annual evaluation of the performance and potential of our employees. We call them Development Roundtables where department heads evaluate each individual.

Afterwards, there are development dialogues with employees to really talk about their respective development areas and assets. It is formalised as a once-a-year initiative, but there is also continuous dialogue, which depends on the respective managers.

For our top talents, we offer additional opportunities. We have a concept which we call “Triple Two”, which allows people to move regionally within different functions and business units to acquire additional knowledge from across the company.

It’s obviously different when you work in adhesive technologies compared to beauty care. It’s also different when you work in China as compared to in Brazil or Germany. With this concept, top talents really have the chance to rotate to different functions and businesses, as well as geographically.


What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

I think it’s really bringing together a diverse team that is striving for a common objective. In my role, a diverse team is starting a new Centre of Excellence global supply chain hub in Singapore, which we launched in November last year.

At the start, we only had 16 people there, but these 16 people were from 10 different nationalities with totally different backgrounds and experiences. We are bringing them together into one global team and coordinating towards one common goal.

For me, that is the biggest challenge. At the same time, it’s also finding and attracting the right new talent with this global mindset.


What is your top tip for aspiring leaders?

The most important definitely is to be yourself and to be passionate about what you’re doing. At the end of the day, the passion makes the difference between “good’ and “great”. The more you can show that and the more you can drive this eagerness forward, and if it’s visible and perceivable, the greater the difference for your next career steps.


Bio Brief

Henkel appointed Thomas Holenia as President of Henkel Singapore in February 2016 to oversee the company’s businesses and operations locally. Concurrently, Holenia is the Managing Director of Henkel’s global supply chain hub in Singapore.

Before moving to Singapore, Holenia was based at Henkel’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Shanghai as the Corporate Vice President of Global Purchasing (Raw Materials) and Head of Purchasing for Asia-Pacific. Today, he continues to hold both positions.

Since joining Henkel in 1996 in his native Vienna, he has been instrumental in directing Henkel’s global sourcing and purchasing business.

With a Business Administration background, he brings with him 20 years of international experience, having lived and worked in Western and Eastern Europe, as well as in Asia.

Prior to his career with Henkel, Holenia worked in sales and business management for the construction industry in Italy and Austria.


A new chapter

The Henkel global supply chain hub was established in Singapore in November 2015, following the successful operation of the global supply chain headquarters in Amsterdam.

The role of the global supply chain organisation is to align the company’s purchasing, production and logistics processes across all business units and functions. This includes supply planning, sourcing, manufacturing, inventory and distribution.

“This harmonisation across the entire company will lead to higher process standardisation, improved customer service levels, and enhanced efficiency,” says Thomas Holenia, President of Henkel Singapore. “The goal is to enable a scalable business model and strengthen Henkel’s competitiveness in terms of speed, agility and efficiency.”


Me  Myself  I


I love: Good food and drinks – and watching a great game of ice-hockey


I dislike: Dishonesty


My inspiration is: “Impossible is possible”


My biggest weakness is: Impatience


In five years’ time, I’d like to:  Have established the global supply chain hub in Singapore as a Centre of Excellence within the Henkel group and developed many of our people to take up leading roles in the organisation


Favourite quote: “A target is a target” (Henkel’s former CEO Kasper Rorsted)


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