Lauren: Hi, I’m Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the Career Success podcast. Today we’ll be joined by Hugo Lehmann. I’ve invited Hugo here today to share with us his experience on his change from Heineken; and, even though he was top rated in the organization, why he thought it was a good time to make a change.
Hugo is currently the senior global sales director for Danone Waters, which globally has 4.5 billion euros in sales, and 11.500 FTEs. He’s been building his international career for quite some time, and before joining Danone he worked for Carlsberg and Heineken in local roles in Italy and Brazil, and global roles in Denmark and Amsterdam. Welcome Hugo!
Hugo: Thanks for having me Lauren! Pleasure.
Lauren: Yes, thank you for joining us. So I want to discuss a topic that’s quite debated, and usually I can’t give my opinion as a headhunter because people usually think that I’m biased. But I’d like to discuss with you around changing companies and, specifically, when you’re highly rated in a company. I know that it can be something quite risky to leave a network and to leave behind something that you’ve built. If you’ve built quite a good network and a good reputation in a company.
But, yeah, I know that you were having a great career in Heineken: you were top rated, promoted quite quickly… Why did you decide to leave your network behind and move companies when you were so well taken care of?
Hugo: Good question. Normally, when I assess a possibility of a change – of jobs, companies… – I look into 4 things. The first one is the challenge ahead. The challenge on the position – do I feel like I’m going to learn, do I feel that I have something different that I can bring to the table…
The second point is if there are growth opportunities in the company where I’m going.
The third is to whom I’m going to report. So, if it’s a person senior enough, with an experience from which I can benefit, where we can complement ourselves, where I’m going to feel comfortable working with.
And, obviously, the economic offer.
So those are the four things that normally I assess. And, when I assessed them for Danone, for me they were all ticks. Saying that, that for me it says the first point to validate or to assess a possibility of a change. Then, of course, I need to understand a bit the culture of the company and see if I’m going to feel comfortable. And also if my style, my way of working could be successful there.
Finally, as it was a headquarters job – the one I took -, a global role, I also knew that I could build up very quickly a network. Because as being in headquarters, normally you have the opportunity to work with different markets. You build a network much faster than working in one market itself.
Lauren: Yeah, were you, at all, questioning that? Because of course we’ve filled multiple global roles and I think that that’s something that I have heard both sides of people saying that they don’t want to do a global role as their first role because they feel that you need to have the network to be successful there; versus what you’ve said – which is also something I’ve heard – which is it’s a great starting role, because you get to build the network in the company very quickly. Had you thought of that before hand?
Hugo: This is the second time in my career that I do this. When I joined Heineken 8 years ago, I also joined Heineken in a headquarters role. For me that worked really well both times, because you build your network really fast, you know to whom you need to talk to move faster in your career.
If you start from a headquarters role and you deliver, it’s very easy, at least in my opinion, to get a promotion and move to a next senior position. Of course it also has the risk, and you have to manage very well stakeholders, and normally some more politcal roles. Of course it has its risks. But if it works, for sure it’s going to be easier to give a step-up in your career.
Lauren: Sure. Yeah, I guess it you’re not, let’s say, syloe into a market, you have more touch points with more individuals who will get to know you in the business, as well.
Hugo: Sure, yeah. That’s a whole point. Normally the very senior people who are deciding who goes to each one of the individual markets and managing global talent, let’s say, are in headquarters. And someone with my background – you know, I’ve worked in around 7-8 countries in my career – a lift in work (4:36**), that is esential. Because I’m flexible, also, in what I could do in my next step.
Lauren: Ok. And what do you think from the overall experience? What did you learn from the overall experience?
Hugo: I learnt a lot of different things. One of them, Danone is very different to Heineken. So, Heineken, being a dutch company, it’s very structured, with processes. Danone is much more, in a way, entrepreneur. It’s a company that doesn’t have a lot of processes. So that means that you’re… in a way you build your job description; you build your job role. You have more flexibility to define the boundaries of the things you are going to do, how you’re going to do them.
For me one of the key learnings was that I felt comfortable working in both environments. An environment where things are more controlled, more process oriented. And an environment where you can actually build more your agenda. That was one of the key learnings for me: knowing that I could work in two different set ups. And then the second one, again, for me was key this year to have some experience in markets like China, Indonesia – where I had worked before -, Turkey for instance. Getting more exposed to Asia and to new markets for me was also very interesting.
Lauren: And how did you know it was the right time for you to move from Heineken when you did?
Hugo: Well, you never know when is the right time if you’re doing really well in a company – that means that you’re always going to be taking your chances. It’s easy to take a decision of moving when you’re not happy where you are, or where you can not progress, or you’re not being rewarded as you want. But in my case it was totally different. I was working in a company that I loved, where I had a great career at, where I was being rewarded very well, where I had an opportunity to continue growing. So it was… I took my chance – it was not easy at the time. I think there was something that went through a process, there was a very long process – it was more than 11 interviews I think I did. It was like a 6 months process. So I think that also allowed me to think things very well: to meet a lot of people from Danone, to find out about the company. So I think that that, on the one hand.
And on the other hand, in Heineken I was already reaching the moment where I needed to move to my next step. I think that also helped, because I was ready to move. And actually Heineken offered me an opportunity to stay with a promotion, but I thought it was my time to try a new category, go back to a global role where I could benefit more from my international experience. Whereas in Heineken I was going to continue working in Brazil.
I think it was a mix of different things. But you are never 100% sure, at least in my case. I mean, you’re always taking chances I think.
Lauren: Yeah, I think as well from my experience as a headhunter, I think even after candidates accept the offer, the first month – two months, they are still not 100% sure. I mean, even after those first weeks there is always going to be questions when you make a change that’s so big in your life and in your career I think.
Hugo: For sure, it’s like this. You know, imagine, you’re changing a company, you’re changing countries, changing the place where you live, your social environment, your boss… There are a lot of things at stake. Even not only the professional part. It’s also, you know, am I going to adapt to a new country? Am I going to learn the language? Am I going to be socially happy? Is my family going to be happy there? So I think that in the case you have a family, I think there are many things to take into consideration.
Lauren: And what would you recommend to someone that’s in a similar situation that you were in, or that is thinking about a change?
Hugo: The first thing, to know what’s more important for you. What do I mean? I mean, is it more important the position I am going to take or the challenge? Is it more important the company where I want to work? Is it more important the geography? Is it more important the salary I am going to get? Is it more important the impact I can get? You have to understand what is more important for you, because I think you can not get it all. It’s difficult. I mean, hopefully, if you could get all that together, that would be fantastic. But normally you’ll have to make some choices. So it’s really important to understand from all those things what you prioritize and what’s more important, what you can sacrifice, and then see if the offer you have in front is good enough for you to move.
The last point, I think, it’s very important to understand the culture, both of the country where you are going to go – if it’s an international move -, and also the company. Because I’ve seen a lot of people, for instance, coming to Danone and in the first three months realizing that it was not the type of company for them. So my advice would also be to investigate a bit the profile of the company, the culture, and see if you would be comfortable and successful in that type of culture and environment.
Lauren: Yeah, well I know that these are, let’s say, doubts and questions that most people have throughout their career, or at some point in their career, so I’m sure that your story and insights have been very helpful. And thanks for joining us today on the Career Success Podcast.
Hugo: Great, Lauren, thanks for having me. Let’s keep in touch and count on me whenever you need me.
Lauren: Thank you.