India is among the top 5 in terms of Siemens’s people and growth: Janina Kugel

Siemens managing board member Janina Kugel on how she helps preserve the company’s legacy in the country while tapping the energy and talent of its workforce

Janina Kugel, head of human resources, people and leadership, and chief diversity officer of Siemens. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Janina Kugel, head of human resources, people and leadership, and chief diversity officer of Siemens. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

New Delhi: At 18, she wanted to work for the United Nations, presumably attracted by the breadth of experience the global body seemed to offer. Eventually though, Janina Kugel landed up in Siemens AG, the 165-year-old global engineering and technology giant that reported a revenue of €75.6 billion in fiscal 2015. Born in Stuttgart, Germany, the 46-year-old member of the managing board, head of human resources, people and leadership, and chief diversity officer of Siemens, studied economics at the University of Mainz in Germany and Università degli Studi di Verona in Italy.

She started her career with Accenture and worked as a management consultant in Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, the US and Germany before joining Siemens.

On a recent visit to India, where Siemens employs 18,000 people at its 22 factories, Kugel spoke to Mint about how she helps preserve the company’s legacy in the country—the world’s first telegraph line was built in 1857 between Calcutta and London by Siemens founder Werner von Siemens—while tapping the energy and talent of its youthful workforce. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What brings you to India? Is there a context for this visit?

I have been coming to India regularly, at least once a year, though usually I try to come twice a year. The reason for that is that India for us is a very relevant market not only in terms of business but also in terms of talent. India is playing a major role in our business. For instance, in everything we are doing in digitization, in software, but also in terms of the infrastructure. The prime minister’s point about growing India, bringing India forward by growing the infrastructure... India is one of our top five countries in terms of people and growth.

Indian talent is for us global talent. We have an increasing number of people of Indian origin who are in management positions worldwide. One of the most popular of them is Sunil Mathur (managing director and chief executive officer of Siemens in India). It is a coincidence that he is heading India, but he has done a number of roles in management outside India.

We move people around because in a global business, it is very important that people get to understand our global businesses and that means we have to all leave our own country and live and work in different businesses.

For us, what matters most is what is the talent of the people. I am always asked the question: Where are these people from? And I say I honestly I don’t know what passports they have. Global understanding is what matters.

Your designation is a bit long and complex. Can you explain what it means to be member of the managing board, head of human resources people and leadership, and chief diversity officer?

HR is about everything to do with people. People matter for us. Leadership always defines every company and its culture. People usually join a company but if they are not happy they leave a manager not a company and that is because there is missing leadership and missing management. And that is why we put a lot of focus and energy in the investment of people.

How do you measure your success in that—by low attrition levels?

There are several ways. There is, of course, attrition rate but that is only part of the story. We also have a regular engagement survey every second year where we ask all of our people worldwide how they feel in the company, what are the good things and those that they would like to change. Within that, there are categories like diversity, employee retention, leadership. We also make a distinction between what happens on a global scale and what happens locally.

In between, we have what we call a “pulse check” where we are standing with very few distinct questions like are we changing? Are we moving in the direction of transformation?

With all of these things that you do, is there a Siemens way of doing things?

There is a definite Siemens culture, but if you would ask me is the Siemens culture everywhere is the same in all the 160 countries we are operating in, I would say there is something unique about Siemens India that you would not find in Siemens Germany. We are a global company, but we have been in India for so long that we are also an Indian company and it is important for us that we recognize what are the local requirements.

You have been coming to India for over 10 years now. Have you seen changes in the country from your visits here 10 years ago?

I first came to India, for a longish period, in 2004. When you see the changes that are happening, they are dramatic. Of course, I don’t have to tell you how big India is. But when it comes to infrastructure, education, development of society, the topics that are addressed and discussed in the government, I see a very steady growth.

What about the expectations of the people, is there a change?

There is, but that matters not only in India but everywhere. What makes the big difference for the millennials today is that they are interconnected at a global level in a completely different way than we were connected when we were 25 years old. Starting with the fact that we didn’t have social media for example. That’s part of our employee engagement. We first have internal social media and we engage with our people on that. So now, if you talk of someone who is privileged enough to have an education, who is 25 years old, the difference between a 25-year-old Indian or American or European is not that big any more than when we were 25 years old. Because they get to know much more about the world. And even though they may not get the opportunity to study abroad and work abroad, they still know what is happening. That’s had a major impact on all our generational aspects in India as elsewhere. Having said that, India for us is one of the top countries in the advancement of our social media culture.

Siemens is a traditional company and the perception from outside is that it is hierarchical in structure.

You said very correctly that the perception is that we are very traditional. I would say there are parts to it where we are traditional. When you have a history of 150 years, you also have to carry that history. But interestingly, we have parts to our business and not very few, where we are very dynamic. And in these parts, I have no hesitation in saying, we can compete with many of the younger companies in the market. The point of course is that it is very easy to set a completely different culture if you are a monotype business, where you have a certain group of people and where you have a history of 150 years. It is something else when you have software engineers in Bangalore whose average age is 27-28, average age of management is early 30s, compared to having remote areas where we are talking decentralized energy or we are building power plants. The dynamics of a software environment is completely different from that in a manufacturing environment. The beauty and the asset of Siemens is that we have it all.

Even the perception that we are traditional is changing and it is a good thing that it is. If you talk to people within the company, they see a lot of differences and a lot of changes that are happening.

What is Siemens’s approach to diversity?

Diversity is everything. It is about gender, it is about different experiences that everyone has been accumulating by working in different countries and different businesses, it is ethnic, where are we coming from, cultural diversity but it is also about sexual orientation. All of these matter to us as a company at the global level. I do know and I realize and respect that in certain cultures some of what means diversity to us isn’t socially respected and expected. But still what is of value to us, we see these are our Siemens values.