There’s No Transformation Without Women

Sometimes taking a step back is the best way to move forward. Daniel Kutschenko has followed an unusual career path. After working for Procter and Gamble and a strategy consultancy, he now heads up the IT Services and Operations business unit at Hager Executive Search. This is a conversation with him about his love of working with and for people, Gen Z's value compass, and why we won't be able to overcome the shortage of skilled workers without women

by Natascha Zeljko | 17 Jan, 2023
Daniel Kutschenko Hager Executive Search

You like to use an image to explain your job; you see yourself as a "marriage counselor for managers." Please explain...

I think there are some interesting parallels between recruitment and personal life. Basically, if you're with the wrong person, it drains your energy. It's not constructive, you operate below your potential. I see my role as listening to the client and finding out what they really want. I do the same with the candidate. And then it's just about bringing the right people together for the longest possible partnership, a partnership with real substance. I'm convinced that if you put these pieces of the puzzle together correctly and bring people into an environment that is good for them, then they can develop further. It's not about going for a cheap fix and quickly finding a place for someone as you would on Tinder. That's not how we work.

It's just about bringing the right people together for the longest possible partnership, a partnership with real substance.

You're a career changer in HR consulting. What attracted you to the role?

I have to take a step back in time to answer this. My father used to work for an American pharmaceutical company in human resources. As a family, we spent a lot of time abroad. As is the case with family dynamics, I consciously wanted to take a different path. Career wise I was interested in everything aside from recruitment – even though I'm relatively similar to my father and have the diplomatic and empathetic nature that you need for this job. So 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 graduation. I found it exciting to look after these big, glamorous brands that inspire so many people and create marketing concepts based on consumer insights. Looking back, this interest in people, in their psychology, was there then as well and is something that helps me in my job today. After another stint at a strategy consulting firm, I finally landed at Hager.

That sounds like a tough step to take...

It was. As far as the position was concerned, it was actually a step backwards at first, both in terms of title and salary. I was 33 at the time and on the verge of becoming a partner at the previous consulting firm, but, as Adorno said: “There cannot be a right life amidst wrongs.” So, a good six years ago now, I found myself sitting in an onboarding meeting at Hager with students, some of whom were just 18 years old. Nevertheless, I was convinced that it was the right step. I moved up the ladder rather quickly, first becoming team manager and then, two years ago, taking over the IT Services & Operations business unit. A lot has happened since then. The unit comprises 12 people, nine of whom have joined in the last two years alone. It's a young, very diverse team, and operations is a broad field that offers enormous development opportunities. It's great fun here.

Looking back many things make sense. To what extent was your first career good preparation for your current role in executive search?

The exciting thing about executive search is that so many paths lead there. You can see that in our leadership team. There are many people who have undergone career changes, which has the advantage that they then have an insight into their industry. As for me, there are two things that help me in my work today. Firstly, I've had to deal with HR consultants several times in my career. I know how it works from both sides; I can put myself in the shoes of both the candidates and the clients. In other words: I know how not to do it. On the other hand, Procter was a very good learning environment. I had a lot of exposure to market research. We had "meet your consumer" events every week where we could interview people ourselves. I learned to listen carefully and find out what's important to the other person. And then there's another crucial point that changed my perspective on things. The strategy consultancy I moved to after Procter, which we rebuilt, was not a huge success, contrary to great expectations and promising forecasts. It just didn't take off. That means I can appreciate quite differently that there is a tremendous need for what I do today. The shortage of skilled workers will keep us busy for the next few years.

Is this your sense of purpose that everyone talks about? No, seriously. How do you know you're in the right place?

You have a different attitude toward work, you are really attracted to it. You seek out work, it is not an inconvenience to you. And of course it also helps that we work in the business of people. We don't sell network cables, we take care of people. I would even go so far as to say: we have an impact on people's lives. We can make sure that they have to travel less in their new job, that they have more responsibility. Whatever is important to them in order to be happier. That brings purpose.

We're in the midst of a big, comprehensive transformation right now. What big drivers and issues are you dealing with?

Of course, the omnipresent topic of the last few years was and is digitization and automation. Corona has provided a leg up towards digitization equivalent to several normal years. After a short phase of hesitation, the situation concerning orders has really been improving since February 2021. There were many projects that had previously been put on hold and then had to be implemented quickly. There was an immense backlog. Many, many positions had to be filled, which further exacerbated the existing shortage of skilled workers. If you look at cybersecurity alone, how these stocks perform even in a difficult stock market is remarkable. This will not change for the next few years. In the manufacturing sector, 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 that cannot be imagined without digitization and, specifically, the use of data. And finally, unsurprisingly, sustainability is what is becoming increasingly important among candidates from the Gen Z generation. In the application process, they ask specifically about the sustainability strategy and are no longer fobbed off with empty words.

People are no longer loyal to their employer, but to their own values.

Purpose is an important factor in the search for talent. Which specific values and topics are particularly important?

There are some very revealing figures on this. One statistic, for example, says that 64% of 23–38-year-olds would decline a job offer at a company without a social purpose strategy. They need meaningfulness and this is naturally reflected in their choice of job. People are no longer loyal to their employer, but to their own values. If the employer offers a good platform for this, great. Incidentally, people are happy to work more than nine-to-five. The larger companies or consultancies have already adapted to the young talents and their needs. Smaller and mid-sized companies, especially those that are family-owned or patriarchal, are still struggling. It's a real clash, even though these companies in particular are often very value-based and down-to-earth. I think this is chronically underestimated. Moderating between these two groups, accompanying this integration process, is an incredibly exciting role.

What criteria do you yourself use to recruit employees? In other words, 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). One thing we've had very good experience with is placement students. They are there for three or four years, learn the job from scratch, are given responsibility early on and are involved in decisions. We don't make any distinctions. It takes time to look after these people, but in the end, it is time well invested. We have also had good experiences with trial workdays. Both sides can get to know each other better and develop a feeling for whether it's a good fit. Of course, the situation is different at senior level, where a lot happens through the respective networks of the leadership team.

We touched on the subject of the shortage of executives at the beginning of our conversation. There is an exciting "Handelsblatt disrupt" podcast on this topic with Monika Schnitzer, Chairwoman of the Economic Experts. In it, she describes three ways in which the shortage of skilled workers can be fundamentally countered by ‘more women in the workforce, more immigration, and more automation.’ Where do you see the greatest leverage?

I also listened to that podcast. It's actually very interesting. All those three levers are important, although very different. Let's start with number three, automation. That's a little bit double-edged. On the one hand, you have the effect that automation and digitalization can lead to not needing drivers anymore. Nevertheless, at the same time, we see that people in the UK are desperately looking for truck drivers as a result of Brexit. Headhunters are currently getting a higher fee for truck drivers than for IT experts. Another example is Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, which has such an aging workforce that it will not be possible to replace all the employees who retire. It will inevitably have to face a redesign through digitization and automation. This will actually increase the shortage of skilled workers in the tech sector in the short term. We need more cybersecurity experts, cloud architects, and SAP consultants. I also find the topic of skilled immigration very exciting. You would need 1.5 million people per year to enter the country including older relatives and children to reap a workforce of 400,000. However, this raises the question of where the labor force will come from? Other European countries are struggling with similar problems as we are in terms of birth rates. In my view, the attempt to bring more women into gainful employment has the greatest leverage. To achieve this, however, several things have to change, from culture to infrastructure.

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

Our sons are two and six years old. My wife works full time, she has an international role at Pepsi. Since Corona, at least the long business trips to the US have been eliminated; a lot is now done via video call. That helps a bit. Otherwise, we try to share the childcare as much as possible. Juggling a job and children is not always easy, of course. What moved me a lot, because it shows that this commitment is worthwhile, was an anecdote at Christmas two years ago. Our then 4-year-old son was asked by his grandma, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He didn't say firefighter or policeman. He said, “I want to be a daddy.”

This article is part of a content cooperation between FemaleOneZero (F10) and Hager Executive Consulting. The company, which specializes in executive search, has repeatedly been named one of the best personnel consultancies in Germany by the magazines WirtschaftsWoche and Focus. Hager Executive Consulting employs around 110 people and, in addition to its extensive know-how in the field of digitalization, is also considered a specialist in issues relating to diversity and innovation.



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