“To be successful in changing a strategy, you have to have the courage to organize, right?” he says. “You have to have the right people with the right skills and you have to have the right systems and processes to reinforce your strategies.” Given his breezy attitude, you might think Mollen was describing some simple operational adjustment. He’s actually referring to the complete HR overhaul he oversaw after being appointed Senior Vice President of Human Resources of EMC in 1999. Through the turbulent years of the dotcom boom and bust, EMC faced some truly staggering challenges. Starting the millennium as a primarily niche data storage supplier, they rode the surging tech wave to become an international market-leader with revenues of $9 billion. Then when the bubble burst, closely followed by 9/11, the company had to make painful decisions enabling it to adjust to a much harsher business environment. Laying off more than a quarter of your company’s global workforce is a task that no HR professional would welcome.
That Mollen made it through such a trying period is impressive in itself. That he made it through with his enthusiasm and sense of humor intact is nothing short of a miracle. Now filling the role of Executive Vice President in charge of HR, Mollen remains exceedingly good company. He describes the extent of the upheaval that the business went through: “Back in 1999, EMC was the fastest growing high tech company in the world,” he says. “We had a very successful high-end product line that was sold through a direct sales force. It was the right product at the right time, but it had great risks with it as markets turn.” Anticipating where the market was going, EMC came up with a radical plan that essentially transformed EMC from a hardware company to a hardware/software/services company.
“We went from pretty much a domestic Massachusetts company to a global player,” continues Mollen. “Then we went from a very narrow high-end storage market to a $60 billion industry, as far as information management is concerned. So it made some pretty significant changes in the scope of the company.”
Mollen goes on to detail the main challenges facing him as he re-imagined EMC’s employment structure. “Often execution of strategies boils down to people issues. So we really focused on helping EMC go through that transformation and position us where we are today to really being a very matrix, broad based information management company.” A major issue was simply having suitably skilled staff in place to cope with the company’s future plans.
“We had to go to the marketplace to find world class software executives who could come in and really help us understand that part of the business,” he explains. “As you change your strategies, you know, you just cannot say, ‘I’m gonna take the same team and try to execute a totally different strategy if it requires basically different skills.’”
Asked to identify what he considers to be his greatest success at EMC, Mollen reflects for a moment before answering. “I think the single biggest achievement is getting the organization and our people to understand that change is going to happen as a part of existence,” he says. “And that that requirement for change is accelerating, not decelerating.” Considering the company’s recent and ongoing history of transformation, the importance of such a concept cannot be underestimated. Mollen continues: “An organization has to accept change as a way of life and know that it has to learn new skills. It has to be willing to move itself around, understand that we’re going to go into new markets, that we’re going bring new people in with new skills and accept that that’s the pace of what we have to do to be successful. I think achieving that is really the number one success.”
In recognition of his accomplishments at EMC, Mollen was named HR Executive’s ‘Human Resource Executive of the Year’ for 2006. But he is admirably keen to claim it as a victory for the company rather than simply a personal accolade. “It was a great moment for both myself and for the team at EMC,” he recollects. “We have gotten a lot of good exposure on it and I think it’s a combination of the success EMC has had and people really understanding that the people side of a company is critical to being able to make those kind of changes.”
One of the key aspects of EMC’s success has been its commitment to promoting a ‘startup culture’ among its employees. Mollen elaborates: “If you think of a startup company, what they’re really doing is they’re moving very fast and trying to get a position in a marketplace because the products they just created make or break their future. You know, really all their new products are their revenue. At EMC, 100 percent of our revenue is from products that have been developed over the last 18 months.” It thus falls to HR to create a fast paced working environment that allows employees to feel empowered and included, where innovation is encouraged and everyone’s voice can be heard. “In many ways, we have to build our culture and we have to set up the expectations for success around thinking like a startup. A startup thinks about new products, how they impact the marketplace and how they can accelerate those new products to grow their revenue,” Mollen continues. “That’s the same thing EMC is doing, although we’re pushing over $12 billion this year.”
Instilling a sense of pride in the company has also been a vital part of EMC’s HR transformation. “We’re very focused on why people would want to join the company and stay with the company,” Mollen says. “We have to create a company that allows people to really feel good about the type of work they’re doing, the people they’re working with and feeling that they have great career opportunities and great impact. And if we can’t accomplish that then we will lose some great talent.”
As medical costs continue to rise, the importance of a good company health plan cannot be underestimated in the fight to attract and retain the best people. It’s a fact that EMC recognizes. Mollen and his team understand the necessity of encouraging workers to take an interest in their own physical wellbeing. “What we’ve found over the last five years is that if we work hard to make our employees take responsibility for their health and give them opportunities such as gyms where they can work out or better food in our cafeterias and better information on our websites, then they will use that and they will stay healthier. And they’ll take it seriously.”
Complementing this idea, EMC has become the first company to develop a personal health record with import data for their employees and their family members. Mollen explains: “Now they can go on their own record and find out how their health is,” he says. “They can find out a lot of information about drugs they’re taking and what kind of healthy lifestyle might be able to eliminate any problems they have. We feel very strongly that if we give our employees that information and encourage them to use it, they will.”
Where many large businesses are looking increasingly to outsourcing HR functions, EMC generally prefers to maintain a hands-on role in respect to its recruitment processes. Chief among the company’s methods is maintaining close links with universities around the world. “We have very significant relationships with universities in India, China, Russia, UK, Israel and Ireland. So, it’s a global effort,” says Mollen. “What we’ve done is set up an EMC storage curriculum in hundreds of universities, which is being used in their engineering schools. So they’re able to have certified storage as one of the programs that they give to their new college grads.”
This is an approach that is clearly paying off, providing a steady stream of high quality candidates. Most importantly, these candidates emerge from campus with a strong understanding of how to manage information. Coupled with an extremely successful intern program that sees 75 percent of those involved go on to become EMC employees, the company’s internal recruitment setup seems to be in rude health. Mollen agrees: “We have a number of programs to make sure we’re really attracting the best people to EMC, so very seldom would we use an external search company.”
This is all very well for lower-ranked, college-age hires, but surely filling executive roles might require more specialist assistance? Not at all, according to Mollen. “What’s really important at the executive level is to understand our business and what it takes to be successful in our business,” he explains. “With executives, it’s about their experiences and how they go about solving problems or tradeoff decisions, it’s very hard for a third party to understand how EMC thinks.”
Recent reports suggest that as many as 75 million baby boomers will be reaching retirement age within the next decade. As the conversation moves to more general HR issues for a moment, we ask Mollen about the implications of such a dramatic demographic shift. First off, he expresses a certain amount of personal satisfaction that most of that massive number of retirees will be using the internet at home, guaranteeing a continued demand for EMC’s products and services. As for the impact on the employment environment, he goes on to make a few predictions: “You’ll see more part-time employment. You’ll see a lot more of these individuals doing special projects from remote distances,” he says. “Will it effect EMC in a big way? When you’re really at a point where potential candidates want to work for your company and you’re an employer of choice, it probably would not impact us as much, but it certainly is a public policy issue.”
As our time together draws to a close, talk turns to the future. Mollen tells us about one of the company’s key growth areas: “We’ve created some significant centers of excellence in India and China where we do engineering development,” he says. Quick to counter the idea that this might simply be a cost-cutting exercise in outsourcing, he explains the value of such a move. “This is about expanding EMC’s reach into those markets, getting the best and brightest talent in the world and being able to then give those workforces some very, very challenging engineering assignments as part of the future development of our products.”
This expansion is an integral part of EMC’s future success, and it is clear that Mollen relishes the challenge it brings. “We’re talking about significant growth and headcounts in these areas,” he continues. “So, how do we successfully integrate their ideas, bring them to the table for decision-making and make sure that their communication back and forth is really effective?” Based on previous experience, you would definitely put your money on EMC’s HR organization. under Jack Mollen’s leadership, finding answers to those questions.
HRM. Networking sites such as Facebook and Linked In are becoming a new avenue for locating fresh talent.
JM. We’ve been very fortunate at EMC over the last five years because EMC’s become one of the few companies that when we go after a passive candidate, that they’d want to return the phone call to. So, you know, we’re in a very fortunate space in our high tech world where if you get a phone call from EMC you kind of take it because you don’t know if they’ll call again.
So, we’ve been fortunate there. And I think the next challenge for us would be all the new technologies, be it Second Life or Linked In. I mean, there are a lot of these new technologies that us old timers have gotta get smart about.
HRM. Which of these technologies do you foresee you might be using in the future? I know some people are using Second Life already and there are some companies that have put thoughts up on YouTube and sites like that. So, are there any specific ones of these you’ll be looking to?
JM. We’ve used Linked In. And if you come out of the colleges, it’s Facebook. And then we have been exploring Second Life. We’ve got our avatars, all right. But EMC is also getting pretty heavily into the blogging, the podcasts and so on. So, those new technologies are great because the social networking, I think, gives us a whole new level of exposure to passive candidates.
The job search process has changed in that most people do their job searches online already. So then Linked In and all these different sites are just another way to touch those candidates. It makes it easier. It’s pretty logical in a way that if you work for a company and you want to look at other opportunities, that’s a pretty big effort. But if you’re part of one of these social networks, then it’s a lot easier. So, I think that that’s good. In a lot of ways, that’s going to be very good for America because I think it’s gonna allow transitions for people. And that can only be good for companies.
Jack Mollen joined EMC in September 1999. Since that time the company has grown internally as well as through several strategic acquisitions and has developed industry leading talent and employee-oriented programs and systems to support EMC as the market leader in Information Infrastructure technology. EMC currently has major operations in the Hopkinton, MA area where EMC is headquartered, North Carolina, California, India, Ireland and Sales and Service Centers in more than 50 countries.
Mollen is a director of the Human Resources Policy Association, a leading public policy group of senior HR executives of the largest US employers. He is also an advisory board member for Working Mother Magazine, which promotes opportunity for women in business. Community activities include service on the board of directors of the United Way of Tri-County in Massachusetts and as a trustee of Angel Flight New England which provides free flights for adults and children throughout the northeast United Sates so that they can access medical care.
Prior to EMC, Jack was with Citigroup Inc., where he was Vice President of Human Resources for Citigroup's 80,000-person Global Operations and Technology organization. He played a key employee-integration role following the 1998 merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group, Inc. Before joining Citigroup, Jack held a number of positions with Harris Corp., where as Vice President of Administration he was responsible for IS, Quality, Engineering Services, Human Resources, Mergers and Acquisitions, Facilities and Security for the company's 12,000-person Electronic Systems sector.