, , , , ,

This is my kind of town. Laid back. Gives new meaning to the term business casual.Woke up at 10AM this morning (Monday, November 28). Thought I overslept and then realized that we were three hours ahead so it was only 7am in the East (and besides we weren’t going to head out to our first company meeting until 1pm.) Plenty of time. Got into my Copacabana garb- T-shirt, shorts and flip flops and went for a 2 mile walk in the mist by the beach. Stopped half-way for a coconut.It doesn’t get better than this! And I’m not even wearing a hat. Haven’t found one yet.First Meeting for the SHRM delegation was with ChemTech, a Brazilian firm founded 22 years ago by three engineers, the last of whom recently left. The company, transitioning into its post-founder phase is involved in the engineering of automation and industrial processes for the oil and gas industry and lately has been riding the boom of oil discovery and development in Brazil.What is so special about ChemTech? The founders, and now the current management, have won a series of “Great Places to Work” awards. The awards, based primarily on anonymous employee ratings as well as other performance criteria, ranked Chemtech as the #1 firm in Brazil to work for twice and, most recently, number one in South America. They’ve also won an award from a major business magazine as the most innovative firm in Brazil. Not a bad run. We’re about to learn why. Our delegation of 23, mostly HR execs, is meeting with the new president, the company’s CHRO (HR General Manager), her team and the VP of R&D.Before reflecting on some of the comments offered by Daniel, ChemTech’s CEO and, Daniella, their HRExec, here is a quick summary to set the stage.ChemTech had fewer than 100 engineers as recently as 2001.They have nearly 1300 employees today with most of them (800) in Rio and branches in several countries including the US and Middle East.They have 250 interns in 2011 and expect nearly all of them to convert to F/TThey have about 150 projects going on at any time.They are growing, very profitable (a subsidiary now of Siemens) and have an excellent position to play in the big leagues with the likes of GE, Schlumberger, Hallibuton, EMC and others who have joined with the Federal University in Rio to create an energy research center for the development of an estimated $1 trillion in oil reserves off the coast of Brazil and improve other forms of energy.80% of their employees are 25-35 years old! 50% are GenY! (Almost every other firm in their industry is the reverse -and not just in Brazil)ChemTech provides 110 hours of training and development per employee per year.Daniel, the CEO, started with ChemTech 15 years ago as an Intern. And Daniel, as one might expect, was a very able and articulate fan of his people and his firm.Below are snippets from his conversation with minimal paraphrasing that I’m stitching together:ChemTech was founded when Brazil was still an ugly duck, not so much on the world stage– a terrible time to start a firm with inflation…The founders wanted a place where they could make money AND start something differenta setoff core values that mean something to the way our employees are treated.The problem (in differentiating) is everyone wants experienced engineers and there just aren’t enough of them.We decided to do something very different- to hire, train and develop young engineers and, very quickly, give them significant project responsibility that other firms might not trust their junior employees to take on for years. We give them full responsibility, prepare them and then trust them with real challenges.So, when we seek a very few senior professionals we don’t look for competence and skills alone, we actually look for people who are ‘teachers without a class’ who are desperate to share what they know. We tell them “You are going to work with a lot of young people and this is their first experience. And some turned us down. Some claimed the risk of failure to large. They were wrong. We are changing the way this industry does thingsAs a result our biggest problem is retention. We are a target. I tell our engineers “Please, when you go out to lunch, remove your badges. (laughter) I’m not kidding it has happened twice that offers we’re made.It is my mission today to create the same opportunities for more than 1000 people.Another challenge is that we are trying to scale our HR efforts. In the past the CEO could be involved in every hire.  The HR dept started in 2008 is viewed as the ‘front of the shop’.(In response to a branding question vis a vis Siemens) Siemens is a great multi-national with 400,000 employees. Their core values include Responsibility, Excellence and Innovation and we can fit what we do into their language and we can show it is perfectly compatible without diluting our DNA.(In response to a question about redeployment & mobility) Part of answer is that we still have a small company attitude where folks have to do whatever it takes. We can say to someone whose project is coming to an end that we like you but we don’t have similar work right now but maybe we can give you training, or have you work outside your comfort zone. That way we do not lay off as our competitors do.We have a saying “we will always find a volunteer” We are a Jedi company and I use the Star wars Jedi Knight analogy to teach our students about our core values.If we deliver a quality product on-time at the price we promised but at a cost that destroys our (engagement) connections with our employees then we have failed ( told story about removing a leader who had pushed his team too far despite the project’s success. Daniel brought the team together and was transparent about the reasons.)(In Response to whether Great places to Work survey is only indicator) No, a second annual external survey provides level of job satisfaction by job family and it is a big subject at the board level.(Movie reference) It’s not the game. It’s the people.Daniella, ChemTech’s HR leader and her team filled in some of the details already noted above but focused as well on the details related to their success in hiring and on-boarding students.Three strategies are used to source, engage and woo the highest quality engineers from what appears to be a pretty solid pool of graduating engineers attending Brazilian Universities. Obviously the pipeline relies heavily on interns but these are vetted much more on their ability to learn and accept rapid growth in responsibility for major projects.For the moment (I want to go over the details in more depth) each of the strategies employed offering intriguing learning opportunities (training, continuing ed., engineering challenges, etc.) to a broad range of students to help them compete – whether they joined ChemTech or not. Very well-balanced creative tactics went along with the strategies as a way to surface and meet the prospects, engage and assess them.At the end of the day, it was apparent we were all impressed by the commitment and passion of the folks we had met. I remember thinking about F.W. Taylor’s comments (which always seem as relevant to me as they were when he first wrote them) which went something like: “Never before has there been a greater need for large numbers of quality workers at every level from president to assembly line worker. The problem however is that we all want them now…people someone else has trained.” (liberally taken from the Principles of Scientific Management published in 1911).After taking our leave there was only one thing to do….head out to Sugar Loaf Mountain where I had my first Caipirinha.
Original source article: CareerXroads