Career Path

Choosing the right tools

by Rachel Sproston

Julian Michel, marketing director
Hilti (Hong Kong) Ltd
Photo: Edde Ngan

Human resources practitioners in sizeable companies are typically tasked with placing a specific number of people into vacant posts within the firm every year. However, Julian Michel, marketing director of the global partner for construction professionals Hilti, sees recruitment from a different angle. At Hilti, people with potential are snapped up immediately, often before an obvious vacancy becomes available.

Mr Michel is one such talent. Just before completing his studies in Switzerland, Mr Michel underwent an interview with a panel of Hilti executives. "I remember thinking I could see myself working with these people," he recalls. There was no immediate position available for Mr Michel, yet the panel could see his potential and did not hesitate to reach out and seize it. He was asked to start the following week.

Take the plunge

Eight years later, Mr Michel heads the marketing department in Hong Kong. Initially thinking he would last about two to three years with Hilti, Mr Michel admits he has surprised himself by staying with the company. "The job really allows me to 'build a better future', which is Hilti's aim and maxim," he explains, underlining the importance of retaining a position where people value their own input into both their chosen profession and society at large.

"I explain to all candidates that they will spend 50 per cent of their waking hours at work," Mr Michel says. He is unsure how many people actually consider this and seriously contemplate alternative options, especially those straight out of university. "Life doesn't just happen. People have the ability to direct its course," he notes.

Mr Michel's advice to fresh graduates regarding career choices is to test the water, get out into the professional world and try different things. "At Hilti this could entail developing different projects, moving into departments or countries, but it is essential to have a stab at something so 10 years down the line, you can reflect on what you really want," he recommends.

"It is essential to have a stab at something"

One of his own discoveries is his personal belief in the Hilti culture and the fact that associates at Hilti do live and work to build a better future. The company has made quantum leaps in the construction industry in terms of efficiency and how things are built. "For example, in the past you simply could not drill into concrete," Mr Michel says. Thanks to the innovative culture at Hilti, this is now an everyday norm.

"Twice a month I spend a full day in the field, talking to salespeople and customers and listening to their feedback," he remarks. "Interestingly, I recently asked one customer if he preferred Hilti tools and he responded by explaining he was the purchaser so did not work directly with the tools. What the purchaser had noticed though, was that his construction workers regularly arrived early in the morning and picked the Hilti tool from a selection of branded tools to facilitate their work."

Solid ground

Mr Michel moved to Hong Kong some 18 months ago and perhaps one of the reasons he is flourishing so well professionally is attributable to personal stability. "My wife and three young children and I live in Tuen Mun," he notes. "Rather than living in a European bubble in Hong Kong, we proactively integrate with the local community sharing cultural and culinary ideas."

Similarly, Mr Michel appreciates the learning opportunities he often encounters with his Asian associates at work. He constantly strives to ensure the working environment at Hilti is open and supportive so everyone's ideas are valued. "It took time for my team to open up to me and give honest feedback," he recalls, but now he finds a local perspective indispensable when doing business in Hong Kong.

Bringing young people on board to take up intern positions further illustrates Mr Michel's quest to share and learn fresh ideas from alternative perspectives. "We give our interns real responsibilities, not just photocopying tasks," he says.

In essence, the opportunity Mr Michel received to prove himself when he first started at Hilti was a break he has never forgotten, and this culture of encouraging new people to embrace challenge and take a chance clearly self-perpetuates at Hilti.


Taken from Career Times 05 September 2008, p. B14
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