One of Symrise’s greatest strengths is its employees. They are committed, knowledgeable and experienced – and use these traits to bring the company forward. Insights into a diverse world where differences are advantageous, young people become highly specialized flavorists and sustainability is a central component of all of the Group’s interests.
“With the integration of the Diana Group, Symrise has become an even more diverse company,” states Dr. Iñigo Natzel. “The management structures and central development units are being further decentralized, which will result in a new level of quality for our international working partnerships.” In saying this, the Corporate Vice President, who has been responsible for global human resources the past ten years, highlights a simple truth that has characterized Symrise for a long time. The Group is international – and this was true long before the integration of Diana. “Around 30 % of the total workforce is in Germany, 15 % is in France and 12 % in the US. In addition, we have employees in Brazil, Mexico, China, Ecuador, Singapore, India and Chile.” One site is particularly intriguing for the trained lawyer with regard to diversity: 20 nationalities are represented among the 580 employees working at our Singapore site.
Even though the majority of employees at the other sites and the headquarters in Holzminden are locals, the company is still very diverse. This is reflected in the various viewpoints discussed in projects or when employees from regional competence centers in other countries are dispatched to provide sustainable know-how transfer. Iñigo Natzel sees this internationality as a key component of the company’s success. It is part of the diversity within the company – be it religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation or culture. “When we talk about diversity, we mean the diversity in our society – at all of our locations,” says Natzel. “As a company, we need to reflect this both inwardly and outwardly and learn to understand and respect the cultures, attitudes and intricacies.”
Dr. Iñigo Natzel is responsible for global human resources at Symrise. The Corporate Vice President knows well that diversity has a strong influence on the success of the company.
His team collected and closely analyzed the various aspects of diversity in 2014. Heading up this effort was Dina Abastillas, who is responsible for Human Resources issues in the Asia/Pacific region. She sees a competitive advantage in diversity, and provides a humorous description of this phenomenon using the segments as an example: “Diversity brings flavor to our communication, delivers nutrition to strengthen the team and generates a scent of internationality with which we can develop a workforce that cares for one another and where everyone has respect for their colleagues.”
Another important aspect for the HR expert is the advancement of women. “It goes without saying that we treat male and female employees equally at every level of the company – and this includes supporting women along their chosen career paths. We can’t afford to, and nor do we want to, miss out on the potential of well-qualified women.” Currently, the share of female employees at Symrise globally amounts to 38 %. This puts the company on average with other companies that have a high percentage of production-based positions. A closer look uncovers some interesting details. In Singapore, for instance, 37 % of the workforce is female; in the US it is 40 % and in France it is 43 %. In Germany, though, it is currently only 33 %. “We want to increase and equalize these figures across the board without losing sight of the regional differences,” says Dina Abastillas.
“Diversity brings flavor to our communication, delivers nutrition to strengthen the team and generates a scent of internationality with which we can develop a workforce that cares for one another and where everyone has respect for their colleagues.”
The plants in Germany have a strong production focus and operate around the clock. Traditionally, women are less likely to work in shifts, explains Iñigo Natzel. With company daycare centers and flexible working-time models, the company is trying to bring some changes to its German sites. “Our goal is to increase the share of women to at least 46 %, which corresponds to the average in Germany,” explains the HR manager. He also places a special emphasis on placing more women in higher management positions in the medium term. “This, too, has vast cultural differences from country to country, particularly when looking at how they deal with the topic of family and career.” From the level of team leader and up, the worldwide share of women in management positions amounts to 41 %. In Germany this figure is only 15 % in contrast to the US (53 %), Brazil (42 %) and France (40 %).
“We have already taken the first steps: By preferring women when all qualifications are equal, we have substantially increased the share of women working in our German research and development departments in the past two years from 40 % to 50 %.” By the year 2020, the share of female managers in Germany should be 20 % thanks to such self-imposed measures.
The third major issue for the HR department is demographic change. Particularly in developed countries, it represents a huge challenge, says Natzel. “Currently, three quarters of our global workforce is under 50, but this is also due in part to our fast-growing sites in Asia and Brazil.” In Germany, the average employee age is 45, which is still pretty young. But: One third of the employees here are between 40 and 50 years old. “Because we have a very low turnover rate of just 1.2 %, this large group of employees will reach retirement almost all at the same time.”
Natzel is therefore responding with a series of measures. First, the company is investing in apprentices and trainees. “We are raising the quota to 5.2 % and therefore training a disproportionate amount of young people. This counteracts both the aging process in the overall workforce as well as the growing shortage of qualified personnel.” Symrise is also training and developing staff with no background in the field in order to fill certain positions within production. Lifelong working time accounts should also make for smoother transitions into partial retirement. Finally, the company is working to keep its employees fit with a comprehensive, preventive health management program that includes information about healthy eating and physical fitness. “The company benefits from this too – and the employees stay healthy for longer.”
The working conditions for severely disabled people vary greatly around the world. Some countries, such as China, are using Western standards as a guide and setting statutory minimum quotas for disabled employees. In China, this is currently set at 1.5 % of the workforce. If this figure is not met, a compensatory payment must be made.
At Symrise Germany, 3.6 % of employees have a severe disability. The average employment ratio of people with severe disabilities in German companies is currently 4.6 %. Due to the conditions in production, employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities are limited. To counteract this effect, Symrise also submits orders to workshops for the disabled.
Since 2012, Symrise has been training young talents at its new Flavor Academy. Seven men and women from all over the world are learning to create new flavor compositions from aromatic substances, essential oils and extracts. But know-how isn’t the only thing the Flavor Academy conveys. The international relationships that form here establish a network between top employees that will help them share information and experiences in the future.
Morine Verwohlt lifts a brown vial, dips a thin strip of paper into it and whiffs it carefully. “The oil is very peely-aldehydic. It reminds me of freshly grated orange peel – unlike the one before it, which had a more juicy and fruity smell.” She looks at her boss, who is also sniffing a test strip. “You’re absolutely right – it’s unmistakable,” says Gerald Glaubitz and nods approvingly towards Morine Verwohlt and Eric Diaz, who is sitting next to her. “Now try to describe the character of the fragrance even more precisely.”
The 24-year-old German and the American, twelve years her senior, are currently evaluating the “Naturally Citrus” collection – a portfolio of Symrise citrus flavors with intense, authentic impressions. The two young people are training at the Flavor Academy that opened in 2012. Together with their supervisor Gerald Glaubitz, they sit in a newly furnished conference room, which was built at the same time as the two laboratories. The place has symbolic value as it stands for a new approach: Symrise has been training flavorists for as long as the profession has existed, and the company began offering a global, two-year training program in 2006.
Gerald Glaubitz (left) tests the citrus portfolio, one of the many elements of the Flavor Academy, together with Eric Diaz.
There actually is accounting for taste during training.
The talents come from Symrise sites all over the world. Symrise looks at the needs and growth of the regions when selecting participants. Last year, the seven participants came from Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Singapore and the USA. In order to be accepted into the program, they had to pass two sensory tests. The first test centered on their ability to recognize tastes after several hours while the second tested their ability to distinguish flavors according to their sweetness intensities. They also had to undergo a personality test, give an oral presentation and pass a written examination on topics such as chemistry and food science as well as knowledge of the industry.
Those that get accepted into the program undergo training that spans the full spectrum of creating flavors. They also learn about cost calculations, how the flavors they create are later mass-produced, the legal fundamentals regarding international markets as well as how to deal with customers. Finally, there is the “Symrise special knowledge”: The future flavorists learn how products with reduced sugar, fat and salt are made and receive insight into the area of taste modulation, where bitter taste notes or the aftertaste of sweeteners in reduced sugar foods, for instance, are masked.
The employees rotate through stations in every application area, working with powdered, liquid and encapsulated flavors in various applications. They create sweet flavors for candies and beverages as well as meat and vegetable flavors for savory applications – and later sample the results themselves. They also gain more in-depth knowledge of chemistry in cooperation with Dr. Verena Pietzner, Professor of Chemistry Education at the University of Oldenburg.
Morine Verwohlt recreates the aqueous phase of an orange in the lab.
The young flavorists learn different application techniques such as how candy is manufactured.
Like Morine Verwohlt, who is in her second year at the Flavor Academy. At the moment, she is sitting in front of a scale that has a beaker on it. With a pipette, the chemical laboratory assistant adds drops of raw materials into the beaker: 0.05 g of ethylbutyrate, 0.2 g of linalool and 0.01 g of octanol for instance. Her task: Replicating the aqueous phase of an orange using roughly 20 raw materials. “The condensed water that results when producing a juice concentrate still contains very important aromatic substances. These are later added to the concentrate when it is diluted with water,” explains Gerald Glaubitz. “This is the only way you can achieve the full flavor.”
The first attempt is not quite up to the experienced Senior Flavorist’s standards. “It still isn’t fruity-sweet enough,” he says after comparing the original aqueous phase with the composition. Morine Verwohlt goes back to her desk and keeps working on refining the formula.
“It is very difficult to put together the right compositions,” says Glaubitz. This is understandable when one realizes that Symrise’s standard repertoire consists of 2,500 active raw materials. The young colleagues are tasked with learning 600 of the most popular raw materials during their first three months of training. They smell, taste and memorize them like words for a vocabulary quiz. In a second phase, they start making simple flavors made up of five or six components. “This is an immensely important skill that our colleagues have always had to learn. With the Flavor Academy, we now have the great advantage of having the young people together in one place where they can talk and exchange information and ideas with one another,” says Gerald Glaubitz, who has worked for Symrise in Brazil, Shanghai and Singapore.
Qinyi Phua from Singapore developed a goulash flavor for her final exam.
The time spent at the Flavor Academy is not only more fun this way, it also has positive effects on the future cooperation between the colleagues. The trainees learn to speak the same “language” for describing flavor impressions. That may sound trivial at first, but it becomes more understandable when you look at the wide range of terms and flavors. “With the flavors that primarily contain the group of substances of pyrazine alone, which are responsible for the smell of roasted coffee for example, there are more than 20 different variants. Putting those into words is not easy,” explains the Academy Director. “On top of that, a flavorist should never create and evaluate a flavor themselves – there is too great a danger of developing tunnel vision the longer one works on something.” Exchanging thoughts and communicating with trained colleagues is therefore very important.
The flavorist occupation has always been marked by close cooperation and this trend continues to intensify. Products are becoming increasingly global – and the same flavor should not be developed twice in two different regions. The division of labor must be precise on an international scale. “Good international teamwork is also important because we gain know-how from our colleagues around the world. This allows us to account for typical flavor preferences for specific regions,” explains Eric Diaz, who went back home for a year after spending six months in Holzminden. In his case, “home” is the Symrise plant in Teterboro, New Jersey, where he developed and refined his skills under the guidance of a more experienced colleague.
After some time in the divisions, where he helped support customer projects, the American is back in Germany and was recently promoted to Junior Flavorist. He is finished with his training and successfully completed his final exam. For the exam, he was tasked with composing a natural grapefruit flavor, incorporating it in a food application and developing a presentation for potential customers. “We received very different tasks, which was pretty exciting,” says the father of two, who has been with Symrise for eight years as a laboratory technician. “The program has taken me to another level, as I gained completely new insights into the business.”
The trainees’ relationships, however, aren’t necessarily limited to the classroom and workplace. “All of the trainees from my class attended my wedding,” explains Qinyi Phua, now a Junior Flavorist for Symrise in Singapore. “The group is very tight-knit and that is something special,” says Phua, who studied Food Science and Technology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Qinyi Puah began working at the company immediately after finishing her degree. She had already been an intern there during her studies. Her first job was in quality control. After two years there, she transferred to the “Mint” area, where she worked on oral care products. “I find it fascinating to combine raw materials and find out what happens when they are mixed and how they taste,” she explains. As much as she enjoys experimenting with mint flavors and searching for the right combination, she found her task for the final exam to be a real challenge: “A goulash flavor. I managed to get a great result in the end, though. This, too, is due in part to our support for one another – sampling each other’s work, discussing it, critiquing it. It was really a great experience.”