Feb 8

Unearthing Young Talent

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

Over the years, I have developed a passion for inspriring young talents while working with them and unearthing their leadership and management talent. In today’s blog, I will focus only on the management internship model that I had developed at my previous company, Merck Thailand, not on our regular employees.

I feel privileged having had the chance to work on challenging projects with more than 100 management interns during the last 15 years, among them many that fall in the category “top talent”. They came from various countries, the majority from Germany, but we had also interns from Switzerland, Austria, the U.S., Australia, India, Philippines and Thailand. I enjoyed a lot working with young top talent. Sometimes, we even had cases of reverse mentoring where I learned from the students, like in the case of  social media or information technology – related subjects.

A key success factor for my management internship concept is the selection of the right candidate. Therefore, I built up strong relationships with professors from a number of highly reputable universities. They helped me in identifying the most suitable candidates. These were often their best students.

It was a triple win situation: 1. The student got a challenging management internship opportunity. 2. The professor and the university were able to place their student at an attractive firm and 3. The company got a talented student to work on a project that is relevant to the firm.

Although the majority of our management interns came through my network of professors, or from referrals from previous interns at our company, we hired from time to time also students who had sent an unsolicited application to us. A proper selection process based on telephone interviews and an essay writing proved to be successful.

The internships lasted between three to six months. It is not advisable to go below three months, since it takes the student quite some time to get used to a different country and culture and to learn about the company and its business. We gave our management interns very challenging topics that they had to handle either as a team leader or a team member. Students who had carried out earlier on an internship in other companies were surprised about the level of responsibility that we gave them and with the (often strategic) importance of their project.

The internship topics were real issues that our company was facing or explored the feasability to launch some new management tool or methodology at our firm. By the way, it is not that difficult to become a subject expert within three to six months when you are focusing exclusively on one single topic. You can do a lot of internet research or read relevant books on the subject.

For the period of the management internship, a mentor was assigned to the student. It was a senior manager of the field / department  in which the intern conducted his project. In case of topics of strategic relevance, I myself often served as a mentor. In many internship projects, I was regularly involved in the project progress review. I was told by interns that in other companies where no mentor was assigned and where nobody from upper management was involved, the student often got lost in the organization resulting in a considerably lower project quality output.

To make sure that everybody of our Leadership Team knew about the management intern and his / her  project and would render the necessary support from their department, the students used to hold a take-off presentation at the beginning of the project and a project outcome presentation at the end.

With the above described approach, we were able to often achieve a project quality that was equal to consultancy firm standards, however at considerably lower cost (and probably with more enjoyment).

To give you an idea about the strategic importance of our internship projects, please let me list some of them as examples:

- Organizational set-up of a call center

- Development of a corporate branding strategy

- Development of a business strategy

- Development of a supply chain strategy

- Development and establishment of a professional recruitment process

- Setting up of an assessment center

- etc.

In the early years, most of our interns were bachelor or master students. However, after having built-up a reputation for our signature management internships, we were able to attract even interns that had already graduated, even sometimes persons with a Ph. D. They had the desire to do an internship abroad in a professional and challenging environment, since many companies nowadays make it a condition for certain career paths that the applicants have gained experience abroad.

The reputation of our internship program enabled us to beat companies in the race for top interns that are much bigger than us. Our employer branding worked well. Even occasionally our head office in Germany benefited when they were sometimes hiring our interns after they had finished their internship.

I can say that I feel proud that I had the chance to work with so many highly motivated young professionals. I am grateful that I could inspire them in terms of my caring leadership approach. They all liked the four stakeholder concept (taking care not only of shareholders, but also of employees, customers and the society) that we had introduced and lived so vigorously at Merck Thailand.

Through the internships, I was able to build up a strong network with professors and students (by now, many of them are in management positions) resulting in close relationships and, in some cases, even close friendship. Even nowadays, I still benefit from my network. Quite a few of our former interns are now at consultancy firms or in other reputable companies. I can always contact them when I have a question and, of course, vice versa. And many of them come from time to time to Thailand for a holiday where we usually grab the opportunity to meet. Therefore, I will launch a comparable management internship program also at my new employer, B. Grimm Co.

This blog, by the way, has also a strong relation to my internship approach. My blogging partner, Stephan Polomski, was a former management intern at Merck Thailand, where he worked with me on the vision and mission statement and developed together with me Merck Thailand’s care positioning . And Damian Kemner who inspired me to write a blog and who did the design of this blog, also is a former Merck Thailand management intern.

Concluding, I can say that I am not worried about the next generation of managers. They are out there. The only thing, of course, you have to make effort to find them, to inspire and to develop them. The rewards can be huge.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 8th, 2010 at 01:33 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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  1. David Pilarek says:

    Dear Mr. Landau,
    your article reminded me again of my time at Merck Thailand 10 years ago. I can only confirm how challenging and unique the internship concept was. The fact, that it was quite difficult to return to the typical university setting (for finishing final exams) after having done “real work” at Merck Thailand.
    This is an opportunity to again express gratitude to all the staff at Merck Thailand that supports this concept.
    B.Grimm should be looking forward to have a similar model in future.

  2. Heinz Landau Heinz Landau says:

    Dear Mr. Pilarek,

    I still remember your internship project very well. The organizational set-up that you developed for our customer care center (call center) was excellent. A consultancy firm couldn’t have done any better. Due to your conceptual work and its implementation, the customer care center became the heart of Merck Thailand.

    I wish you further well-deserved progress in your career.

    Best regards, Heinz Landau

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