John Havenaar, global director of talent acquisition at Whirlpool, recently chatted with ERE about his decision to depart the company after five years and pursue talent consulting.
During his tenure with Whirlpool, Havenaar served in a variety of global positions. Most recently, he was the global director of talent acquisitions, but before that, he served as the director of HR for global product development; director of HR for Whirlpool of India; director of HR of the Clyde, Ohio, division; and senior HR manager of consumer care.
Below, he shares a sneak peek into his new plans, as well as his candid opinions on opportunities in Michigan, skill development, and college recruiting.
ERE: What led to your decision to leave Whirlpool?
Havenaar: I really don’t feel like I’m leaving Whirlpool. It’s a great company, and I have a lot of great relationships there. It’s been a wonderful 5+ years. Frankly, the career opportunities I desire are not easily afforded in a big company. I want to run a small business and deal with multiple clients across multiple industries. Consulting in a space that I love — talent — just sets [it] up a bit better.
ERE: Is there still opportunity in Michigan? A new Bizjournals study of the 10 coldest job markets included three cities in Michigan: Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids. How does news like this thwart efforts to recruit the brightest to the region?
Havenaar: Great question. Yes, there is opportunity! The struggles of the auto industry get too much press. Other great companies in the state need more attention [such as] Stryker, Kellogg’s, Alticor, Whirlpool, Dow, Herman Miller, Spectrum Health to name a few. The seasonal weather does have an impact on the ability to recruit people to the Midwest, but I know a lot of people who don’t want to live in Florida in the summer either. The thing I try to remember is a lot of people call Michigan home. We’ve graduated students from more than a dozen universities in the state for decades. I believe strongly those people — if not already living in the state — would strongly consider a return if the right company called.
ERE: Are you staying put in Benton Harbor, Michigan? If not, where are you headed next?
Havenaar: Lots of people are asking me this question because of [your previous] question. Living on the Michigan shore is exceptional. I have a shorter commute to downtown Chicago – one hour and 15 minutes — than almost everyone I know who lives in the Chicago suburbs. Plus, my wife, daughter, and I love the seasons, so the Midwest is perfect for us.
ERE: You said you are going to pursue talent consulting on a full-time basis. What does that mean, exactly, if you had to explain your new day-to-day routine?
Havenaar: I’m going to try to avoid a daily routine if at all possible. Most important, I’m helping great companies identify talent solutions. The space is ripe for unique thinking and a new approach. Too many firms are providing talent solutions that don’t solve real problems or address business issues. Further, there are far too many silos in the talent arena — few firms attempt to understand a unified approach to talent management starting with competitive intelligence and ending with retention of great people. In my opinion, the best talent advice starts with a broad understanding of the entire talent spectrum –encompassing all silos. This is something I feel my colleagues and I understand.
ERE: Starting next month, you’re going to formalize a partnership with Workforce Strategies, Inc. Can you explain what your focus will be? How did you get involved with them?
Havenaar: WSI is a boutique talent firm founded on entrepreneurial values and a commitment to clients. Jeff O’Brien, CEO, is one of the first talent practitioners I’ve met who really wants to provide solutions across the spectrum rather than focusing on a niche in the talent space. We have a shared vision that talent leadership is vital in all organizations and unique solutions are often required.
Funny, I was introduced to Jeff — and WSI — during his attempt to recruit one of my recruiters away from me! I like the competitive spirit.
WSI has a very strong core recruiting business today. I will partner with Jeff and his team to add a consultancy model and executive search arm to the existing business. [Regarding] competitive intelligence, we will utilize business analysis and competitive research tools to support all three business arms. Additionally, we will provide CI solutions to client organizations. We expect these organizations will utilize these tools to improve recruiter capability [candidate sourcing], conduct market analysis, understand talent availability, create executive profiles, and talent target lists. By injecting traditional business analysis tools into internal HR and talent functions, we achieve a core goal of improving the internal talent [business] capability of the clients we serve.
Article Continues Below
Guide: Practical Tips for Remote Hiring
When consulting to client organizations, our goals are simple. First, hear what our clients are saying and identify talent solutions that will positively impact business results. Second, ensure our clients understand the competitive talent landscape so they can make the right decisions in the development of their long-term talent strategy. Third, ensure clients are building internal talent capability and an understanding of the entire talent arena. Finally, facilitate the development of relationships with the right talent partners.
Our search business will develop great pipelines of talent for client companies. We understand that most clients want to rely on a trusted partner to identify great people for their organization. It is my experience that a balanced model of internal and external recruiters enhances the talent organization at most firms, allowing for resource scalability, enhancement of non-core capabilities, and cost effective/innovative solutions.
ERE: Whirlpool was the recipient of ERE’s 2006 award for “Best College Recruiting Program.” What do you think most companies are doing right, and wrong, in their college recruiting programs?
Havenaar: I actually believe far too many companies are choosing to recruit on campus. Sounds funny, I’m sure. The reason I say that is, most companies cannot even begin to be competitive on campus. This is a strategic talent tool and the companies that treat it that way win. The best companies are on campus every day — in some medium. If you plan to go to the career fair with trinkets to lure students to your firm, you’ll get blown out of the water. My advice?
- Hone your approach and go to a few schools.
- Build exceptional relationships with everyone on campus: deans, faculty, student faculty, sports teams, diversity groups, social groups, charitable organizations, the lunch lady, you name it.
- Be on campus all the time, in a variety of media. Be the first person or company they think of when they are helping a great talent select a role.
- Follow up with every exceptional talent that you don’t hire, so you can pluck them out of other great developmental programs at other companies down the road.
- Don’t let the relationships slip. If you take a year off, you will be replaced.
- Don’t spend any time counting your losses — be aggressive. Great companies don’t sulk, they spend all their time trying to find ways to win.
ERE: What are your thoughts on Whirlpool’s “global rotation program” to ensure skill development? The program includes seven programs, from brand portfolio leadership to global supply-chain management, with each participant paired with a mentor. What are some of the basics companies should know if they want to incorporate a similar model?
Havenaar: It really does take resources from all functions. It’s not something that you can easily implement with a group of university relations experts. Companies that position themselves well in this area identify their best leaders and expect their participation in early career development. Our best results are always achieved on campus and in these programs when we position our best leaders to make an impact — including Jeff Fettig, our CEO.
Additionally, companies that hone in on their target schools tend to make more significant impact. Whirlpool is still in the middle of a course correction in this area. Two years ago, we went to 40+ schools to recruit 250 students. This year, we are targeting 10 to 12 core schools for the same number. That said, real results take a few years because establishing a meaningful relationship on campus takes time.
Finally, invest in your programs annually. You always need students entering and graduating from the development programs. This is an investment that could yield a number of significant leaders. However, students are savvy; if you take a year off or don’t send someone through the program in a function, students will have a negative perception of the program. Beware, if you manage these programs well, companies and recruiters will target the participants and graduates. Loyalty has been replaced by career curiosity; you will lose great talent from these programs if you don’t protect them.
ERE: What is your best — and worst — memory as the global director of talent acquisition for Whirlpool?
Havenaar: Most of my memories are extremely positive — probably my nature. I happen to be extremely proud of our most recent award from ERE on Most Innovative Recruiting Infrastructure (2007). The award acknowledged our talent assessment methodology. Essentially, we created a certification program for business leaders to deeply enhance their ability to select the best talent in a timely fashion. The program includes classroom and practical experience. The project stemmed from the real need created by our acquisition of Maytag Corp. — and the resulting 5x hiring volume. The tools have demonstrated significant return in quality of hire during the last 18 months. As importantly, I think we’ve developed a world-class team of talent acquisition professionals. Rebuilding the team in the last two years has been a dream opportunity.