Alumni Eve with Dr. Ágnes Fábián, President of Henkel Since July 1, 2011, Ágnes Fábián has been the appointed President of Henkel Magyarország Kft. Henkel has three business segments, Laundry&Home Care, Beauty Care and Adhesive Technologies, Ágnes Fábian is also the Managing director of Adhesives Technologies. On November 27, 2014, Péter Szakonyi asked her about her professional career and some of the business strategies of Henkel.
One of the first questions was how it was possible for a woman to reach such a top management position. This is an issue that always comes up whenever the distinguished guest is a woman, think of the evening with Júlia Király. The question somewhat surprised Ágnes Fábian. She has always been a career woman but she never gave up having a family, a husband and kids, the so called traditional female roles. She admitted that a top position woman simply has to take more care of “logistics.” She does not think that a woman could not do what a man could. This might be a wrong question. She has an impressive career and as she says, she never met professional difficulties because of being a woman. She studied economics at Corvinus University (earlier Karl Marx University of Economics) Budapest she was an international economics major. As a student she spent her placement at Biogal, a chemical factory. At the time Helia D was an innovative Hungarian cosmetic product and she wrote her dissertation on Helia D. Thanks to her topic and placement, she was offered a job at Biogal, she began working in the export section of the factory. She spoke Russian and German, but soon, thanks to the political and economic changes in the world following the collapse of socialism, she learnt English. While working in Biogal, she felt the need to be more at home in the world of business contracts and legal issues, so she completed a special post-gradual training at the Faculty of Law Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. Again, she chose a rather neglected topic at the time, Specific immaterial intangible assets. The paper was dealing with issues of intellectual products, copyright, innovation within a company, she carried this topic further in her doctoral thesis. Meanwhile, she had her first son, so she actually wrote her doctoral thesis while she was on maternity leave. When she went back to work a headhunter company contacted her to work for Loctite, a US firm dealing with adhesive materials. She was the head sales manager of their Hungarian branch. Loctite was later acquired by Henkel, so soon she joined the sales force as priority customer relations manager, in Hungary, she was responsible for international retail partners. Soon she was transferred to the headquarters of Henkel CEE in Vienna to work as the regional sales director of the Adhesive Technologies Business Unit. She traveled a lot, after 9 years, however, she needed a change again, and she was not concerned that a second kid might risk her career. So her suggestion to young females is that they should reach a senior position, they need to put down something, and then they have chances. You always need to be good at your job, you never know who pays attention to you and approaches you with an offer. When her second son was born, she was again offered a great job, which she could not take immediately. Great jobs might even wait for you. It definitely waited for her. This is how she came back to her present position, as the President of Henkel Magyarország Kft. and the director of adhesive technologies. As she says, you have to be ready when opportunity knocks. If you want to succeed in business, you have to cultivate your luck.
Another no less provocative question was about brand managing. What happens when a big multinational company like Henkel acquires local brands? These local brands disappear in the “deathly embrace” of the big ones. What intentions lie behind these moves? As Ágnes Fábian explained, when a multinational company acquires a local brand the purpose is to increase the market share. Any local brand that is connected to the well-known and acknowledged brand gains more strength. A well-known brand like Persil helps to sell other products under its umbrella name. This is global branding. However, there are other types, like double branding, when the global brand name and the local one are kept together. There are transitional phases, like the global brand name is dominating the acquisitioned product but some of the visual elements of the local one are preserved. The local brand can also be kept fully when it is powerful enough in the local market. The question is always how the investment returns if the market share is big enough. There are of course a great variety of reasons why a multinational company acquires another local brand. Just a recent example, Henkel acquired Dial, a US detergent brand. Henkel’s brands have a rather European heritage and to build brand awareness in short term or medium length is not easy in the overseas market. In this case, Henkel enters the market through a well-known US brand and this helps the global brand to step into a white spot. To sum up, brand acquisitions are more complex processes than simply destroying and annihilating local brands. Serious feasibility studies precede these moves. Or another example, recently Henkel acquired Spotless because of its high quality laundry products, its colourcather is in the first place. But Spotless has Vape as well, and this will be an absolutely new field for Henkel which has not yet worked with insecticide. So, there are thousands of strategies of brand managing.