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He started his career in recruiting, and soon discovered how powerful the potential was for HR to contribute to the business. Meet Wolfgang Lirk, director of human resources for Asia Pacific at Waters China.
What was your first HR job?
I already had my first HR job during my time at university. During semester breaks I used to work as an intern for an international chemical company, and my job was to recruit graduates. It was a great experience, with the chance to interact with hiring managers and candidates from countries across Europe.
Why did you choose HR as a profession?
In my second internship, I worked for a fascinating HR director, who has been my mentor for many years and has even become a close friend. He had a major impact on developing my passion for human resources.
Besides, I like the variety of challenges you face in the HR field, and that you can operate in an intriguing environment, with a mixture of business and personnel issues.
How do you think the HR function will evolve in the next five years?
I believe, in many organisations in Asia, HR is still undervalued and has to go through a transformation process. Jack Welch recently commented: “HR should be the most powerful part of an organisation.”
The understanding of the value an HR function can create for the business needs to be further developed with local leaders, but Asia is progressing very fast in this direction.
Based on your experience, what do you think can be done to enable HR to contribute better to organisational success?
HR needs to use a more data-based approach to its processes such as recruiting and talent management in order to better demonstrate the benefit and value that it can bring. Also, understanding the business and establishing a trustful relationship with senior management is key to acting as a strategic partner for decision makers.
Which HR function do you like best and why?
Talent management. I’m not sure whether I would call it a “function”, but I believe that an effective talent management “process” is crucial for the success of any organisation. Especially in Asia where the talent shortage will continue for the next five to 10 years at least, so building the competency base and the talent pipeline will be crucial.
Enabling managers to drive talent management and have a stringent process for it across the organisation will be the key success factor and will help companies to win in the market.
What is the best career advice you have received?
It may sound simple, but it has served me well throughout my career as well as private life: Be open and tolerant, always willing to learn new things and enjoy what you are doing, and don’t take yourself as too important.
Can you describe a regular workday at your company?
I normally quickly browse through my emails before breakfast just to check whether any emergencies happened overnight (which do occur occasionally when you work in a global firm). Once at work, I’ll plan and prioritise my tasks for the day, and then get on the phone or into meetings.
I spend 70% to 80% of my day with my HR team as well as my peers in the management team to coach them through HR issues and projects. Towards the end of the day, I try to clear out my emails.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Every day and every situation is different. In addition, the variety and complexity of the work and business environments across Asia, as well as the cultural diversity, makes HR a very exciting field to be in.
You’ve worked across Asia with a focus on China. What makes the HR role unique to the region?
That would be the unique opportunity for HR in this part of the world to really develop into a key driver and to make a difference when building organisations and businesses. You can hardly find that anymore in other regions.