We are convinced that Dr. Schär’s success is fundamentally based on the commitment and expertise of our staff. That is why we support our associates in their professional and personal development, for example with our Intercompany Exchange program. True to the motto "When we grow as individuals, we grow as a company," our customized training courses and initiatives foster know-how and competencies while offering employees a wide range of opportunities for personal growth.
Besides professional development, our Intercompany Exchange program is above all an opportunity for our employees to expand their horizons, learn new skills and gain valuable experience. Based on a structured project, individual’s knowledge, development need and experience our associates can relocate across national borders. The nature and duration of this exchange is individually set, so that employees can work at a different location for months or even for the long run.
But how does such an exchange program actually work? What characterizes the exchange experience? We talked about these questions and much more with Elizabeth (Lizzie) Whitehead and Simon Steckholzer, two Dr.Schär employees who took the risk and headed from the UK to Italy and from Italy to the USA – for good.
Lizzie, you moved from the UK office in Warrington and the Marketing department to the Snacks Nutrition World team at Dr. Schär's headquarters in South Tyrol. Your plan was to stay for 12 months to fill in for a colleague on maternity leave. How did that come about?
Lizzie: Exactly, that was my plan but things turned out a bit differently and I have been here for almost two years now. I worked for Dr. Schär UK during my placement year at university and after graduation I joined the company as a marketing assistant in the online communications department. I was looking for a new challenge and in a conversation with my supervisor, he informed me about the position available at head office. He encouraged me to apply, as it would be a great opportunity to gain new experience and grow within the company. After that, everything happened quite quickly. I went to Italy in November 2019 for a handover and then I officially moved in January 2020. I really enjoy it here in South Tyrol so I feel lucky to have the opportunity to stay and remain part of the snacks team.
Simon: For me, it was very similar. I still remember as if it was yesterday that my supervisor asked me in 2013 if I would like to go to the US for two weeks. I ended up staying for two months during my initial trip. At that time, several employees from the Burgstall and Apolda plants came to Swedesboro to train the US employees. Most stayed only a few weeks, some stayed a few months and a few stayed for good. So did I and now I am the plant manager here.
What was the incentive to participate in the program?
Lizzie: I am always very open to new adventures and challenges and this was a great opportunity for me. I really wanted to gain new experiences and get to know a new culture, expand my knowledge outside of the UK. In taking this step, it has allowed me to grow not only in professional terms but also on an individual level.
What were your expectations or concerns regarding the exchange?
Simon: My personal concern was, obviously, the language barrier. Dr. Schär was supportive and provided me with an apartment, transportation and a cell phone at the beginning - literally all you need to start a new life. I found an English teacher and mentor in my colleague, thanks again Daniel!
Lizzie: I had absolutely no idea what to expect (laughs). But that is all part of the experience, you just have to be very open and take everything as it comes. A major benefit to the program is that the company paid the accommodation and supported me by providing Italian lessons. That was a great help right at the beginning, easing some initial worries. Without the company’s support, there are more risks, in my opinion.
Would you recommend your colleagues to an exchange as well?
Simon: Yes, 100 percent! Sure, it is a big step to move to a new country and step out of your comfort zone, but it is an experience that I would not want to miss and that no one can ever take from you. It also gave me a clearer idea of ‘the big picture’. The best experience is not only being part of Dr. Schär’s success story, but actively shaping the future of the company together with my colleagues.
Do you have any tips for colleagues who are planning an intercompany exchange?
Lizzie: The most important learning for me was that you can always ask for help if you are unsure about anything. Moving to another country is a big step and you are inevitably confronted with new things that you are not familiar with, particularly outside of work and within the ‘life admin’ that comes with moving to a new country. It is not easy to manage this by yourself which is why I would advise colleagues to approach the local people or the HR department directly if they have any questions, so that the transition is smooth.
Simon: Exactly, anyone planning to come to the US is welcome to contact me with any questions. I could certainly write a book on Swedesboro tips ;)