Case:  Symrise, Inc.

Case Studies

Case: Symrise, Inc.

Dr. Matthias A. Guentert is president of the Flavor and Nutrition Division, North America, for Symrise, Inc. The division employs 300 and does $150 million in revenue. We spoke to Dr. Guentert just as he and his senior team embarked on the first leg of their high-performance journey. In upcoming issues, we’ll be reporting on their progress as they cascade the model down through the North American operation.

What were the pressing business issues that made you decide to move to the horizontal, high-performance team model?

Until this year, our North American division had been too small to make much of an impact. Then, last April, we acquired the Flavorings and Seasonings Division of Chr. Hansen, a worldwide supplier of flavorings and seasonings. The additional employees we hired through the acquisition and from elsewhere, as well as the bulking up of our balance sheet, gave us the boost we needed to become a much more important player.

How competitive is the flavorings industry in North America?

It’s an extremely competitive marketplace—in a way even more so than the rest of the world. In North America, you have the same handful of big, global players that, combined, have about 50 percent of market share, but you also have a couple of hundred smaller companies vying for the other half. In the past we were still too small to be one of the big players. Now, we are the right size and have the right talent to play the same role in this important marketplace that we are already playing in the other regions.

What changes did you make as a result of the division’s new status?

I took over as president of the division in July, and we put in a new management team. They are a great group of individuals—I’ve worked with many of them in different capacities for years. But some are brand new, and we’ve never all worked together as a team, so we lack cohesiveness. I know I have the right players, and we’ve made good progress on our own, but in order to get quickly to the next level we need more of a unique approach.

What results are you hoping to achieve from the high-performance model in the next year or two?

We have a unique chance to come out as a winning team, but only if we are able to stay focused on the right priorities and move quickly. We’ve got to accelerate our speed to market with new products. We have strong technology and very creative people here and around the world, and we need to collaborate seamlessly to bring out the right products, fast. In the next few months, I’d like to see us complete the integration of the Chr. Hansen acquisition and start moving in this direction.

These are also very turbulent times due to the economic situation. We haven’t got much of an idea what we will be facing in 2009, so we have to become a high-performing team fast. Downturns bring problems, and we have to be prepared to solve them. But uncertain times also bring opportunities, and we have to be the best we can be in order to take advantage of whatever opportunities come our way.

If you could wave a magic wand over your business, what changes would you make right away: in your team, yourself, the organization?

First, what I wouldn’t change are the players. But we are not focused or efficient enough as a team. We are too driven by functional self-interest; we have a fear of opening up to one another; we need to work on being accountable and on being fully aligned. As for me, I’ve been in the company for 23 years and have a lot of technical knowledge. I don’t micromanage, but I still tend to focus too much on the technical details. I need to back off a bit, take the larger view, and empower my team members more. For the organization, I’d like to see us start moving faster right away.

How do you plan to proceed after this alignment?

This week we are aligning my team—the core leadership team. There are currently eight of us. Over the next couple of months we will be holding another alignment session, with the extended management team—my team’s direct reports. There will be probably around 25 - 30 of us. We can’t stop at the top. We’ve got to supply the most innovative, high-quality products and the best service in the marketplace. To do that, we need to have great teams not just at the top, but throughout the North American organization.

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