Profile: Diversity, His Priority

Ignacio Herrero, vice president of human resources for Latin America for MetLife Inc., seeks diversity on a global stage.

By Robert J. Grossman Apr 1, 2013

0413cover.gifWhen Ignacio Herrero looks for opportunities with a global employer, he studies the backgrounds of each organization's leaders to make sure there are no cultural roadblocks that would inhibit his advancement.

"If you are an Argentinian in a managerial position and see that everyone above you is from China or Brazil, you can see the limitations," he says. "To attract top global talent, a company has to be truly diverse at the top, suggesting that nationals from any country can advance without limitations."

And Herrero has fresh experience applying his criteria: In November 2012, he left a comfortable berth at Nestle in Vevey, Switzerland, where he was global head of HR business excellence, and became vice president of human resources for Latin America at MetLife Inc., with headquarters in New York City. In his new job, however, Herrero is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and will devote himself to expanding and accelerating growth of the insurer's business across Latin America. MetLife, with 67,000 employees in 46 countries, had revenue of $70.3 billion in 2011 and is ranked 34th on the Fortune 500.

At Nestle, Herrero sought to develop managers who provide leadership in diverse cultural settings and to provide HR expertise that supports business leaders wherever they may be throughout the world. Fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English, and with a varied HR background, Herrero recently talked with HR Magazine about global HR leaders' primary challenges.

What motivates someone to take an expat job?

The money has to work. Positions contain allowances and conditions that take into consideration the particular assignment. And allowances tend to change over time. Ten or 15 years ago, the location allowance for Brazil was much higher. Now, employers don't have to offer as much—Brazil has become much safer and cleaner, and it enjoys more infrastructure. In Africa, that's not the case.

When a high-ranking executive calls and tells you about an opportunity, people think about it.

But money can't be the primary reason an employee wants to go overseas. Organizations need people who are committed to creating resources that don't exist yet, and that requires dedication.

How do you persuade managers that these assignments are worth considering?

Leaders' role in communicating opportunities is critical. When a high-ranking executive calls and tells you about an opportunity, people think about it. They're willing to explore the option because they know the leader wouldn't propose it if it isn't safe. They might not follow up as readily if they learn about the job from an HR posting on the Internet.

What was the biggest challenge for HR at Nestle?

Asia, Africa and Oceania—one of Nestle's zone business regions—accounts for 83 percent of its business growth. That company needs a lot of managers and leaders in those areas. But the region is not branded as an attractive location to people who have thought of making their professional lives in the United States or Western Europe or Latin America. This is a mistake of perception because, from a professional point of view, the opportunities you have there are incomparable. You can fast-track while working in a rapidly growing market where consumers are gaining mobility and becoming increasingly sophisticated.

How does a country's culture impact selection and placement of expats?

You need to understand the person and the leadership style they use to determine whether they will adapt to the workgroup in the particular culture. The culture we already know, it doesn't change so quickly; it has a longer time frame. In some cultures, you are looking at the rule of positive reinforcement, where the leader needs to emphasize recognition. If a leader doesn't know how to recognize, he won't survive. Other cultures follow the rule of politeness: They require leaders to be very cordial in the way they exercise authority. Others follow the rule of silence: The fact that someone doesn't speak doesn't mean he doesn't know what the leader is talking about.

In upgrading the business partner role of HR team members, do you have to change the candidate profile?

You can teach specific competencies that will enable HR team members to provide more value to their management teams in areas such as organizational effectiveness and HR analytics, for example.

What advice do you give HR business partners to help get them on course?

Have a deliverable, not a doable. It's a simple thing to say, but not so easy. A doable would be participating in meetings to get to know what's going on. Of course, you have to do doables, but that is not enough. To be respected in the business, you must produce deliverables. A deliverable might be a document in the strategic planning process that explains what HR elements need to be in place and by what date to execute the business plan.

The interviewer, a contributing editor of HR Magazine, is a lawyer and a professor of management studies at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.


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