Long before Marcelo Ballario Yoshida went to China in 2005 to build a recruiting organization that would hire thousands of workers for Siemens AG, he read The Art of War.
It is a book he returns to often. Even today, the 2,000-year-old treatise on strategy written by Sun Tzu, a Chinese warrior-philosopher, offers guiding principles for him.
“It was 12 or 13 years ago when I first read The Art of War,” he reflects. “I was not interested in war. I was trying to understand oriental philosophy. I was looking into yin and yang, Taoism, those things.”
Asians have a “different approach to the way they solve problems and see life. Interestingly enough, it was also a couple of years later when I saw the first books and articles about the ‘war for talent,’ ” he says.
That first time he read The Art of War, Ballario Yoshida was a new HR professional in Siemens’ Brazilian hydro-power business. He had moved to HR in 1999 after originally joining the company in finance.
As a third generation Italian-Japanese Brazilian, he was drawn to the book by a desire to understand his Asian roots. The lessons for HR would become clear during the next decade—lessons he emphasizes today in conference appearances and professional articles.
“Sun Tzu does not offer absolutes. It is about fluidity and adaptability,” Ballario Yoshida says.
From 2005 to 2008, Ballario Yoshida had many opportunities to practice those two principles in China as head of Siemens’ HR center of competence for recruiting. The China center of the German electronics and electrical engineering company didn’t exist until he built it.
“In China, all these companies came in and took a very Western approach in their assumptions and expectations about what people are supposed to do, how they would behave and the management styles to implement. There was a lot of failure. Some companies recovered, and others didn’t and closed down,” Ballario Yoshida says.
He then joined Alstom Power in Baden, Switzerland, the largest division of Alstom Holdings SA, a French company based outside Paris. Today, he is global HR director for talent management at the division with 50,000 employees in 70 nations who build equipment and provide services for oil, gas, wind, solar and nuclear power generation.
At Alstom, he has experienced a different cultural environment. “With Germans, direct confrontation about a problem is fine. They don’t take it personally,” he says. “With the French, you never directly confront people. The French take it personally. On the other hand, there is more room for creativity because the French are more flexible regarding processes,” Ballario Yoshida says.
With an analytic mind, he prefers a combination of strategy and data-based decision-making. Siemens executives loved data.
“When the Germans complained about something, I would analyze it and bring them the data, and then they asked for more. And then they’d invite me for a beer,” he says. The French are less data-driven; internal networking is more influential, he notes.
Ballario Yoshida manages a team of six that develops programs to support business-unit managers and HR partners in training, performance reviews, succession planning and other talent management. “We provide the strategy and tools, and the HR practitioners in eight business units do the implementation,” he explains.
One internal customer, Angela Osborne, is the Baden-based HR director of a manufacturing division with 8,000 employees at 14 factories in 10 countries. Ballario Yoshida “has a phenomenal scope of responsibility,” Osborne says, “but you never see him having a bad day.”
Attitude is key, he says. This is especially true for difficult assignments abroad, when many expatriate workers are thinking about where they will be tomorrow instead of what they are doing today: “People fail overseas because they think of being somewhere else,” he notes.
Respecter of Tradition
When he arrived in Beijing in 2005, Ballario Yoshida began gathering data about Siemens’ recruiting, the needs of the business units and recruiting practices in China. He built a 15-person team that largely replaced outside recruiters.
Every company in China was hiring as quickly as possible. Engineers, factory workers, research and development staff with doctoral degrees, managers, and his own HR team—the recruiting challenges never ceased. Siemens’ workforce in China grew from 35,000 to 50,000 during his years there.
When visiting universities, he encountered confusion about Siemens because each division operated autonomously. He spent two years developing a brand. By the time he left, faculty and students knew that Siemens’ medical, automotive and information technology services were the same company.
“He was a very good learner on the fly,” recalls Grace Wu, one of his recruitment managers who now works for a global pharmaceutical company in Beijing. He used every chance “to learn and understand the Chinese. And he always respected Chinese traditions.”
His Japanese father, an engineer, married a Brazilian, an architect of Italian descent. Given his background, Ballario Yoshida understands that cultural differences can impact everything, including recruiting.
Compared with Americans, he says, Chinese workers are reluctant to relocate. If they do, they usually want to return home at some point to be with their families. “When trying to hire people, you need a much better understanding about local conditions and how they vary,” Ballario Yoshida says. For example, during his time in China, labor law was local- or city-specific. “This is equivalent to Sun Tzu teaching that you need to know the weather and the landscape.”
Lessons from Sun Tzu regarding leadership apply to HR. Research has shown that there is a strong link between success “and morale, as Sun Tzu would say, or values as we would say. The values are the basic components of how companies and managers engage people, how they motivate their teams. And, in this sense, you have to ensure that the values are very clear and easy to communicate and understand. They have to be aligned with the way business is conducted in the company.”
Morale starts with the generals in Sun Tzu’s world, and values start with executives, Ballario Yoshida maintains.
“No company can afford to have leaders that do not behave like leaders, that do not follow the values and do not give the example,” he says. “Employees are very fast on analyzing the disparities between what is said and what’s done.”
Marcelo Ballario Yoshida
Education: Working on a master’s degree in consulting and coaching for change from HEC in Paris and the University of Oxford in Oxford, United Kingdom. 2000, specialist degree in HR, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, São Paulo, Brazil. 1998, bachelor’s degree in business administration, Universidade Mackenzie, São Paulo.
Current job: 2009-present, global HR director of talent management, Alstom Power, Baden, Switzerland, a division of Alstom Holdings SA, Levallois-Perret Cedex, France.
Career: 2008-09, global HR director, manufacturing, Alstom Power Systems, Baden, Switzerland. 2005-08, head of HR center of competence for recruiting, Siemens AG, Beijing. 2003-05, international HR manager, Siemens IT Solutions and Services, Munich, Germany. 2001-03, HR consultant, corporate recruiting and sourcing, Munich, Germany; 1999-2001, HR consultant, São Paulo, Brazil; 1998-99, assistant controller, São Paulo; Siemens AG.
Personal: Age 39; born in São Paulo, Brazil; married; two children.
Diversions: Family, travel, photography, people, music, dance, modern art, skiing, electronic gadgets, languages, golf.
Connections: www.alstom.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, +41 (0)56 205 77 33.