When you think about cutting-edge technology and talent in an international, publicly traded company, you probably don’t think of Batesville, Indiana. But you might want to pull out a map and familiarize yourself with Hillenbrand, a global diversified industrial company whose portfolio is composed of two segments: the Process Equipment Group and Batesville Casket Company.
The companies in the Process Equipment Group make products that range from systems for monitoring the number of raisins that go into breakfast cereal to extruders for plastics production. Thanks to a variety of acquisitions, Hillenbrand has a presence in over forty countries and has expanded to nearly 6,000 employees.
“I’d like to mentor those who are up-and-coming. Our recruitment activities, the dual-career path, showing someone the ropes to help them succeed—I get a lot of energy and satisfaction from all of those things.”
The man responsible for creating and maintaining the company’s unified global technology infrastructure is Darryl Maslar, vice president of enterprise information systems (EIS). After he and his team successfully brought Hillenbrand’s North American IT infrastructure in-house, he has continued to expand his vision and scope of responsibilities to support the global growth of the company.
Hillenbrand recently acquired four different companies, greatly expanding its IT portfolio and adding 3,000 new associates around the world. These developments prompted Maslar and his leadership team to develop a comprehensive plan to improve global communication and collaboration capabilities.
“We identified four critical infrastructure projects that were essential to supporting efficiency and productivity across the enterprise: consolidation of the wide area network, the data center, the email system, and leveraging our scale to procure hardware and software around the world. Those have become cornerstones of all the work we do today,” Maslar says.
This approach is facilitating the integration of the acquired companies, reducing reliance on external vendors and carriers, and streamlining the company’s networks and data centers. The result is leading to more efficient and functional systems, but it also has provided the same or better service at fifty cents on the dollar.
“We have to understand the IT implications of any given strategy and then ‘skate to where the puck is going,’” Maslar explains. “If we acquire a company that wants to do business in India, for example, and we already have a subsidiary there, our job is to make sure IT capabilities are in place to support the communication and collaboration needed to make that happen.”
Another challenge that comes with keeping on top of IT functions is maintaining the right talent. Although it may not be on a level with Silicon Valley, Hillenbrand still has to compete for IT talent against companies throughout the Midwest. Maslar has developed a grassroots effort to identify talent by reaching out to schools throughout the region, offering project partnerships, internships, and capstone projects for graduating seniors.
He has also learned to take chances. “It can be difficult to get the timing right between a particularly promising prospect and having the right job opening for them when they graduate. I decided that if I come across talent with great potential, I’ll just offer them a job without knowing exactly what the role will be. I can promise them it will be challenging and they’ll know they have a job waiting for them,” he says. “Sometimes we even pick up the last year’s tuition and make a point of finding opportunities to reach out before graduation to make sure they feel like a part of the Hillenbrand family.”
Maslar has created an open-space work environment for his team that is conducive to brainstorming and collaboration. The interactive workplace is supported by a few “toys” like a 3-D printer and a remote-controlled mobile robotic iPad platform (nicknamed Sheldon, after the character on the television show The Big Bang Theory) that enables off-site team members to participate in informal meetings. There is also an arsenal of Nerf guns, allowing for a little fun when faced with the stress of implementing a global vision for IT.
Many corporations typically target training budgets during belt-tightening periods, but Maslar believes cutting back on training in a constantly evolving industry is a sure way to drain the talent he has worked so hard to foster. He even made a pledge to his team to not cut the IT-training budget.
“It took leaders a while to get used to the idea. They’re accustomed to having to make tough decisions on what to cut. Probably 40 percent of the budget was left over at the end of the first year,” he recalls.
At the suggestion of team members, Maslar also created dual-career paths combining technical and management expertise. The program is based on goals, job descriptions, and paths for moving from one level to another—all developed by Enterprise Information System team members working closely with the HR team. He believes having those options will greatly increase engagement, enthusiasm, and job satisfaction.
Now Maslar is preparing to lead the integration of another newly acquired company, thinking about the challenges ahead by considering his own path at Hillenbrand and using it as a way to guide new IT team members.
“I’d like to take what I’ve learned and mentor those who are up-and-coming. Our recruitment activities, the dual-career path, showing someone the ropes to help them succeed—I get a lot of energy and satisfaction from all of those things,” he says. “At the end of the day, it is the talent that propels our company and puts us on the map.”
Photo by Joe Harrison