Although the city was Boston, it seemed as if the day's agenda should have centered on world relations or some other intriguing international topic. Rather, the subject of our meeting was to discuss Gillette's international-trainee program-a unique strategy that the organization uses to develop young managers to work in Gillette's operations worldwide.
In the mid-'80s, Gillette made a significant recruitment and management-development decision. In addition to parachuting high-priced executives in on a just-in-time basis to supply talent for its global operations, the company decided to develop managers internally. Nine years ago, Gillette's international human resources department implemented its international-trainee program. The program supplies the company with a steady stream of managerial talent from within its own ranks.
Since the program started, 113 trainees have passed through the program on their way to Gillette jobs worldwide. Of those 113 graduate trainees, 60 still are working for Gillette-a 53% retention rate. Trainees who have graduated from the program have returned to work in Gillette facilities in their home countries, later to become part of the organization's global management team. Many graduates have risen within the ranks to such positions as general manager, controller, production manager and personnel director.
Gillette's international-trainee program helps the company meet its need for internationally minded employees, allowing it to succeed in the world marketplace. For creating and implementing this outstanding business strategy, Personnel Journal has awarded Gillette the 1993 Personnel Journal Optimas Award in the Global Outlook category.
Gillette's rapid expansion creates a need for managers.
Gillette is a globally focused, consumer-products company that has had more than 90 years' experience in the international marketplace. The firm competes in three major consumer businesses: personal grooming products for both men and women, stationery products, and small electrical appliances. Some of the company's products include such brand names as Braun™, Oral-B™, Jafra™, Liquid Paper™ and Paper Mate™. Gillette distributes its products through wholesalers, retailers and agents in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
The company holds 60% of the domestic razor-blade market, but has expanded steadily its blade market share overseas. In the past two years, Gillette has created, through joint ventures and acquisitions, a nearly captive market in China and India. During 1992, Gillette entered into joint ventures with razor-blade companies in Russia, Poland and China. Gillette also is rolling out its Braun and Oral-B products in Eastern Europe and Asia.
The organization continues to expand internationally by tapping into other new and existing markets. Its growth in markets abroad has continued to outpace its solid performance in the U.S. International markets now generate approximately 70% of Gillette's total sales and operating profit. This figure has grown by six percentage points in the past five years.
In his April 1993 address to stockholders, Gillette Chairman Alfred M. Zeien confirms the company's plans for further expansion: "Each of the core businesses is on the same aggressive growth track in heading to the year 2000." Currently, Gillette has 57 manufacturing facilities in 28 countries. More than 75% of its employees work outside the U.S. This rapid expansion has created a need for individuals specifically trained to work in Gillette operations. Through strategic planning, the company already has a training program in place to supply the necessary employees.
The international-trainee program began with interns.
Gillette's international-trainee program first started in 1983, when the company hired students from countries outside the U.S. to come to Boston as interns. New York City-based AIESEC (an international student-exchange program) helped Gillette identify the students. At the time, Gillette's reasons were purely philanthropic. After a few years, however, the company's HR staff realized that some of the student interns took positions with Gillette in their home countries after graduation.
At the same time, Gillette was expanding its operations in Latin America and lacked English-speaking, entry-level managers to fill positions in those countries. After a few years, Frank O'Connell, vice president of human resources for Gillette International, realized that he could turn the internship program into a traineeship program. The objective was to bring recent graduates to Boston specifically to groom them for Gillette jobs in their home countries. For a few years, O'Connell, who initiated the program, continued to identify foreign students through AIESEC. Now the personnel director and general manager for each of the company's worldwide operations are responsible for identifying the top business students in prestigious universities internationally.
What do they look for in prospective trainees? Trainees must be:
- University graduates from a business background
- Adaptable, having good social skills
- Younger than 30 years old
- Mobile and internationally career-oriented
- Fluent in English
- Enthusiastic and aggressive.
Junior trainees typically work at the Gillette subsidiaries in their home countries for six months. After that, Gillette management may choose to transfer them to one of the firm's three international headquarters for 18 months. The headquarters are in Boston, London and Singapore. The assignments usually depend on which world region their subsidiaries fall into.
Gillette now also hires senior trainees-individuals who have had more than two years' experience working for Gillette. While in training, trainees get $1,000 (net) per month, paid housing and transportation to and from work, medical insurance, tuition reimbursement, vacations and bonuses.
Gillette has four primary divisions and subsidiaries. Its divisions and subsidiaries are: the North Atlantic Group, the Stationery Products Group, the Diversified Group and the International Group. The International Group makes and markets the company's shaving, personal-care and stationery products and staffs the operations throughout the world, except for Western Europe and North America. Gillette's International Group consists of three geographic regions: 1) Latin America, Africa, Middle East; 2) Eastern European; and 3) Asian Pacific. The Asian Pacific headquarters are in Singapore. The headquarters for the Africa, Middle East, Russia and Eastern European areas are in London. The company's Latin-American and International headquarters are in Boston.
The trainee program is essentially the same in each headquarters location, although currently there are fewer trainees in London and Singapore than in Boston, where the program originated.
There currently are 28 students in the program. Four are in London, three are in Singapore and 21 are in Boston. The trainees come from Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and Venezuela.
The intent of the program isn't to fill short-term vacancies, according to O'Connell. He says that his objective is to hire and develop people who want careers with global proportions. "We're looking for people who look at international assignments as a challenge, not as a burden," says O'Connell.
Once they hire on at Gillette, program graduates usually work in their local Gillette facility for six months. After that, based on their performance up to that point, trainees may spend 18 months at one of the three Gillette headquarters. Upon completion of their terms, graduates return to their home countries to take entry-level-manager positions. If the graduates continue to be successful, they usually move on to assignments in other countries. Eventually, they end up back in their home countries as general managers or senior operating managers.
"Clearly, we're looking for these people to be our next generation of expatriates," O'Connell says. Many who have graduated from the training program five to six years ago now hold mid- to senior-management positions within Gillette. Beyond expatriate assignments, the company looks toward these individuals as the organization's future senior international leaders.
Expatriate experience is common throughout the organization. Of the 40 top Gillette executives, approximately 80% have had at least one foreign assignment. More than half of these executives have worked in at least three countries. From 1985 to 1992, more than 470 employees participated in more than 660 expatriate assignments. Today, the 269 employees on expatriate assignment represent 38 home countries and 47 host countries.
This kind of international experience makes better managers, according to Gillette executives. Zeien also stated in the shareholder address: "I contend that the transferability of management is the glue that holds the various parts of the company together." Gillette typically shares skills and resources among business units to optimize performance.
The trainee program's goal is to develop talented individuals to work in all the company's facilities worldwide. However, the focus of the program for the past few years has been on recruiting managers for its operations in developing countries. This coincides with the company's expansion into those areas.
"If we didn't have this program, we wouldn't be as successful in those developing countries," O'Connell explains. Gillette considers its manager trainees the second level or bench strength of its international-management team.
Before implementing this program, Gillette didn't put as much effort into developing managers from the ground up as it does today. Although there always has been a need for managers who have had international experience, the firm's heavy expansion into many different countries has created a greater need for them during the past seven years.
"The program has been instrumental in helping us expand geographically," says Gaston (Tony) R. Levy, executive VP for Gillette's International Group. Levy says that he thinks that this program should continue indefinitely because the organization continually needs good managers.
Although Gillette had had a long-time presence in such areas as Western Europe and Central America, it didn't begin breaking ground in the areas of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe until the past few years. "Where are the Polish, Russian or Chinese managers going to come from?" O'Connell asks. "They certainly aren't going to come from here [in Boston]." Gillette needs managers who know how to work effectively in those countries.
Gillette has just entered into a joint venture with a company in Shanghai, China. To fill the seven managerial positions that will be available there, O'Connell says that he'll have to pull managers from other countries, such as Australia, England and France. He says that he's hoping that some of the former trainees will be able to step into the positions that these people have left behind and can hit the ground running. "We would like the companies in those countries managed by people who are familiar with Gillette," O'Connell says.
He adds, "It's a way of eliminating the need to hire expensive U.S. expatriates, but it takes time. It takes from five to 10 years before we see these people rising into the middle- to senior-management ranks of our overseas operations."
Although it costs $20,000 to $25,000 per trainee per year, expatriates can cost five to 10 times that. The total trainee-program budget in Boston alone is $1 million per year. O'Connell estimates that he could hire only three expatriates for that amount of money. Although it may take longer to develop employees in this way, he says that the cost is worth it to Gillette. "This is the core of our international recruiting. All of our efforts and resources are directed toward this program," O'Connell says.
Trainees perform real jobs while on assignment.
The international trainees perform jobs that someone else would have to fill if they weren't there. O'Connell estimates that if the 21 trainees who currently are on assignment in Boston were gone tomorrow, the company would have to hire 10 to 12 people to replace them. As some of the lower-level assistant positions in the company's headquarters become vacant, O'Connell works with other managers to fill those spots with trainees rather than local professionals.
For example, one Boston-based financial analyst recently had received a promotion into another job within Gillette. Rather than recruiting a local professional to fill the financial-analyst position, O'Connell probably will bring in two trainees from developing markets.
Convincing managers to take trainees hasn't always been easy. "In the beginning, I used to beg the managers here to take a trainee," O'Connell says. "They often would say, 'No. I don't have time to wet-nurse some young kid. We're moving too fast.'" As time passed and managers worked with trainees, they began to see not only the immediate value of the trainees but also their long-term value to the organization as a whole. Gillette now has made working with trainees part of many managers' job descriptions. "Now they come to my office and say, 'Jose is about to return to Colombia in five months. Where's his replacement? I can't live without someone,'" O'Connell says.
Here's how the program works on a day-to-day basis. Gillette's international HR staff pairs trainees with a Gillette executive mentor in one of the organization's five major business areas. They include: marketing, finance, manufacturing, personnel, and market research and sales. The two biggest areas for trainees are the finance and marketing groups, followed by manufacturing, human resources and sales. Trainees typically work in two of these areas during their training assignments.
No matter which business areas the trainees work in while in training, they have two main objectives:
- To learn everything they can about that particular functional area
- To learn how to work effectively within the Gillette organization.
For example, Henry D. Mauer, financial-planning manager for the Latin- American group based in Boston, currently oversees three senior trainees from Colombia, Argentina and Venezuela. The trainees help produce monthly financial reports for the Latin-American markets and analyze capital-expenditure requests. "Those are the types of things they may not get exposed to in their home countries, especially if they're from a smaller market," Mauer says.
Once they've finished with their assignments, trainees can expect to go back to their countries and take jobs as senior analysts or supervisors. Which jobs Gillette offers them depend on how well they've done during their assignments and how big the markets are in their home countries.
By working in headquarters offices, trainees see a different side of the organization than they see in their individual countries. "They get a real perspective of the corporation and how it works," Mauer says. "People in the various markets have a tendency to look at us in headquarters and wonder what we do. While they're here, they see how we add value."
Trainees have interaction with the most-senior executives of the company. When they return to their home countries, and throughout their careers at Gillette, trainees agree that they'll be more knowledgeable about how the headquarters staff works. They also will know whom to call when they need to get information.
"People get a better understanding of what the company is by being here," says Maria M. Vallejo, a senior trainee. She says that people who work at Gillette in her home country, Colombia, often are reluctant to call headquarters because they often don't know anyone there. Having had experience working in headquarters helps the business run more smoothly.
As a junior trainee in 1986, Vallejo worked under O'Connell in the international-personnel group. Now on an expatriate assignment, Vallejo works for Mauer in finance. With an educational background in economics, Vallejo had wanted to go into finance as a junior trainee, but there had been no openings in that group. That wasn't unusual. Although HR tries to match trainees with assignments in the functional areas that interest them most, it isn't always possible. Gillette managers assume that all experience is good experience and will be useful to them as they progress.
While in her personnel assignment, Vallejo focused on compensation and later returned to Colombia as a compensation supervisor. Having been successful in compensation, she's back in Boston, learning about finance. About her experience as a trainee, Vallejo says, "By coming here, you feel more a part of what Gillette is."
Mine Ozuak, on the other hand, wanted a personnel traineeship. Ozuak, who's from Turkey, had worked there for three years as an executive secretary at Gillette. In that position, she followed personnel matters, then formally transferred to personnel in 1992. There, she became a benefits supervisor and later received a traineeship in Boston. As the personnel trainee in Boston, Ozuak administers the international-trainee program on a daily basis. In addition to working closely with O'Connell and learning personnel concepts, she processes visas, makes housing assignments, provides orientation for new trainees and generally serves as a troubleshooter.
In addition to their daily jobs, trainees participate in monthly seminars on such topics as dressing for success, finance for nonfinancial managers and presentation skills. Gillette places a top priority on presentation skills, so it allows trainees to sit in on some of the important meetings that take place at the headquarters offices. Many trainees make presentations to managers while on assignment, which helps them hone their presentation skills.
"We learn a lot by observing managers in the budget- and strategic-planning meetings and presentations," says Rosser, the trainee from New Zealand. "I think that this is a positive step that the program's taking, and I hope it develops further." Matveev, the Russian trainee, agrees. Sometimes they've participated in preparing presentations with their managers. "If you actually are present for those meetings with your manager, you see the whole picture. You see how your project-your particular little brick-fits into the wall," Matveev says.
Kenneth B. White, director of marketing research for Gillette's international-business management in Boston, currently oversees one trainee: Semih Yalman from Turkey. As a trainee, Yalman helps White conduct retail audits and compile data consolidations of advertising research for all Gillette brands. In addition, he's helping put together an international market-research data bank, which will hold information for all the company's individual markets.
Because market research is complex and specialized, White usually spends the first four months bringing each new trainee up to speed with terminology and operational procedures. "After that, we spend a fair amount of time together, but he or she has to be able to work independently. It's an open-door kind of thing," White says. As a prerequisite, trainees must be computer-literate.
"Good English-language and writing skills also are important to me," White explains. He remembers one particular trainee who had a heavy Portuguese accent and was difficult to understand. The trainee also had poor writing skills. It was a daunting combination of skill problems because the trainee needed to make many interdepartmental calls from the headquarters office during his tenure and needed to dash off faxes, reports and memos. Managers evaluate trainees for all of these skills.
"Trainees aren't clerks, and they aren't analysts. They do a little bit of both jobs in an energetic way," says White. "These are very real jobs, and the trainees are measured carefully while they're here. If they don't make it in the trainee program, then they aren't recommended when they leave. They can't come here for 18 months and goof off." Trainees receive two performance reviews at nine-month intervals while they're on assignment.
To most trainees, goofing off would be a waste of valuable time. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime," says Jorge Andrino, a trainee from Guatemala who's working in the marketing group in Boston. Andrino had gone to school in the U.S. before hiring on with Gillette in his home country. So had Jan Rafal Saykiewicz, a trainee from Poland.
Most of the trainees, however, have had limited experience with different customs and with people from cultures other than their own. "For many of them, this is their first time away from their home countries," O'Connell says. "They come here, and live and work with people from more than 15 different countries. It's like a United Nations."
Levy says that the benefits of the experience directly affect the trainees' professional lives. "They live for a year and a half with people from different cultures and naturally become more open-minded managers when they go back to their own countries or to any other country," he says.
Because of their cultural differences, trainees sometimes have problems learning to live with one another at the company-provided apartment complex. Junior trainees share an apartment with two other trainees of the same gender. Senior trainees get their own apartments. Sometimes the problems have to do with religious practices or interpersonal differences. These problems, however, have been rare, according to O'Connell. He has learned that it's better to have at least three or four trainees in training at the same time. Because they're all in the same boat, they tend to help each other out with any difficulties that arise.
Despite their cultural differences, most trainees develop a true sense of camaraderie with their fellow trainees. "It's pretty ingenious. We work together, we eat together, we live together and we socialize together. When you first come here, it's the differences between us that you notice. In the end, the similarities are more obvious than the differences," Rosser says.
The trainees say that they also develop a deep appreciation for Gillette and how the company operates. They like the hands-on experience that the program gives them. "I needed a lot of practical experience because I had never worked before I graduated from school," says Naik, the trainee from India. "It's really a good experience."
Makhele says that he has learned more in the six months that he's been in the program than he had in the nearly two years that he spent in Gillette's operations in South Africa. "Right now, I feel that with what I've learned here, I could go back to South Africa and be an exceptional employee. It's been intensive."
International training breeds success.
Gillette executives agree that the program is a success. For every 10 trainees who go through the program, Gillette generally extends permanent job offers to nine of them. Of those nine, eight usually accept. Of the eight who accept, six stay with the firm longer than a year after returning to their home countries. Sometimes trainees are lured away by job offers from other companies back home. It isn't unheard-of for trainees to receive job offers of double or triple their salaries, according to O'Connell. "We believe that if we can keep them for one year after they return home, then we'll have them for their entire careers."
To encourage them to stay with Gillette, O'Connell meets with trainees and tells them to expect job offers, especially in their first year. "I ask them to commit to working for us for one year," he says. Within that time, the graduate trainees have moved back home, have had a performance review, a salary upgrade and sometimes a job move.
Whenever O'Connell (or another company executive) travels to Gillette subsidiaries in other countries, he makes a point of visiting with ex-trainees. This helps foster a management clique concept, so that graduates continue to know that they're part of the organization's international-management team.
In the company's 1992 annual report, Zeien wrote that the company's world-class products and people are fundamental to continuing to build a successful worldwide enterprise in a challenging business environment.
Whether the international-trainee program helps contribute to that success or not remains a question yet to be answered. One thing seems certain. Although it may not be possible to look at any one face within the Gillette organization and see the future of global business, it may be possible to look at the newest faces on the firm's management team and see a brighter future for Gillette.
Personnel Journal , August 1993, Vol. 72, No 8, pp. 64-76.