Geoff Skingsley is executive vice president of human resources for L’Oreal Global. He recently sat down with Executive to discuss hiring conditions in the Middle East, as well as the ins and outs of managing 65,000 employees.
How do you encourage local hires in countries such as the Gulf states where they are not as readily available?
The GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] is a different place from Lebanon. I think in Lebanon we actually have a pretty good situation. We’ve had a great history of exporting Lebanese managers. But we also have a good record of allowing Lebanese people to rise up inside the company. The GCC is a different story; even there, where there is less of a tradition of having talent moving up the pipeline, it’s still our objective to nurture young talent where we can.
I spent this morning talking to a group of young people with an average age of about 24 — and I do that everywhere I go when I visit our subsidiaries. We always try to make sure we have a bedrock of young management trainees who are our future leadership pipeline. Whether you’re in Lebanon, Turkey, the Gulf, Egypt… it’s the same story.
So you don’t feel a “brain drain” in Lebanon?
If you’re talking about internal to L’Oreal, there is to a degree a ‘brain drain’ but we are encouraging it. We’re moving the Lebanese outside. It’s a retention tool. If we’re offering up these opportunities quickly enough for these young talents then they’ll stay with our company but they’ll get opportunities in markets around the world. And the Lebanese have been particularly good exports. We would rather manage the brain drain in a positive way so that we are keeping them within our company, giving them career opportunities and one day we’ll bring them back into senior management roles here, as opposed to losing them because we haven’t been dynamic enough.
Do you keep your eye on the percentage of local employees to maintain the authenticity and market knowledge of the staff?
If you would ask me what is the ideal management committee in a country, it would be made up of three thirds. The first third is local managers who haven’t moved from the country; they represent continuity, knowledge of the customer, stability and inspiration for young local managers. The second third will be ex-pats: somebody who comes from a long way away, from a completely different environment, who brings a different perspective and is a contrast to the local managers. The third would be locals who we have [sent abroad] where they experienced something [new]… then they come back into their market benefiting from that knowledge. That’s what we strive to get, the combination of those three thirds.
What do you look for in young Lebanese graduates? How can they make themselves more attractive?
At minimum we would say that people have to show an interest in our products, in our categories and in our market. You don’t apply to the cosmetics business like you apply to the petroleum business or to IBM. You have to be able to talk with some degree of enthusiasm about the products because we are a mono-industry company and we are a very passionate company. You’ve got to show a genuine interest in the product field.
After that, over and above someone’s academic qualifications, it’s a great deal about personality. Is their personality going to fit into our organization? Do they have the degree of energy and passion and drive? Do they have the communication skills?
We are still a very entrepreneurial organization. The paradox with us is even though we are very large — $25 billion and 65,000 people — we try to remain entrepreneurial; we have a series of policies that promote that entrepreneurial spirit and therefore that has to emerge from young candidates who are applying to join us. We want to spot that spirit.