Henkel is a company that spans centuries, and the values of its founder, Fritz Henkel, are still evident today.
The German chemicals and consumer goods company is headquartered in Düsseldorf and employs around 53,000 people. But it was born in 1874, on the initiative of a merchant obsessed with science.
Fritz Henkel began his professional life as an apprentice in a paint and varnish factory, where he developed his fascination with chemistry.
At the age of 26, he founded a chemical and paint wholesaler, Henkel und Strebel, then founded a detergent factory, Henkel & Cie. It was there that he developed a silica-based detergent, on whose success Henkel is built today.
Henkel’s three divisions prosper
Henkel has three divisions. Henkel Beauty Care develops, produces and sells products for hair, body, skin and mouth available in 150 countries. Schwarzkopf is one of its standout lines. Its Adhesives division, meanwhile, is a global leader in adhesives, sealants and coatings. Loctite is one of its well-known brands
And then there’s its Laundry & Home Care unit – the cornerstone of the company’s success. Today, it produces laundry and dishwasher detergents, surface cleaners and products for restroom maintenance, as well as insect control.
Today is a very different world from the one Fritz Henkel would have known. It’s unclear what he would have done with the pandemic, but smart money says he would have rolled with the beatings Covid continues to give him.
After all, Henkel found a way to survive an era-defining depression that ended in a series of world wars.
Resilience always serves Henkel well
That same resilience continues to serve Henkel well.
“Being able to adjust our capabilities and processes is embedded in the organization,” says Dirk Holbach, Henkel’s supply chain director for laundry and homecare, in a conversation with McKinsey. “It was a muscle that helped us a lot during the pandemic.”
This resilience saw the company react decisively within days of being hit by the first shockwaves of Covid.
“We introduced a new element to our sales and operations planning process whereby there was daily management of capacity and demand by country,” Holback explained, adding, “Innovative thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit are part of our DNA.
People have always mattered to Henkel
Fritz Henkel also greatly valued his people — another value that continues to serve the company well, says Holbach.
“A key part of our pandemic efforts was empowering our teams. We invested heavily in the talent and tools to support people in their roles. Without the right investment in people development, you can have the best system, the largest footprint, or even the best technology, but ultimately it will not yield the expected benefits over time.”
No one can say what the next 150 years hold for Henkel, but whatever challenges lie ahead, the company is sure to stick to the values that have served it so well, for so long.