How to Attract the Best Young Talent

The Bertelsmann recipe for creativity, entrepreneurship, delegation and empowerment
Virginia Stagni
Dec 07, 2017

In this cybernetic, digital world, finding the brightest and most gifted minds to lift the lid on the next big idea is a huge challenge for any company. And holding onto talented employees, especially Millennials, is a key test of any good manager – and their HR department.

Bertelsmann, the global media, services and education company that operates in around 50 countries, has declared its stand for creativity and entrepreneurship. To find out more about Bertelsmann’s rounded talent strategy, we met Hays Steilberg and Nico Rose in Berlin.

‘Most scientific studies have revealed that differences between Millennials and other generations have been vastly exaggerated,’ says Nico Rose, Bertelsmann´s Head of Corporate Employer Branding, University Relations and Recruiting Programs. ‘In fact there are barely any negligible differences. All people have strong innate needs for connection, autonomy, mastery, and a sense of pride and meaning. This is why Bertelsmann fosters a leadership culture that focuses on delegation and empowerment.’

Millennials are in themselves a very diverse group: some wants a fast-paced, start-up experience; others are very willing to find a specific purpose to work for.  ‘We try to provide an environment for people with all kinds of career goals,’ says Hays Steilberg, Executive Vice President of Corporate HR, Executives and Talent. ‘The unifying element is that we seek people who desire to be empowered, who want to make their own decisions and chart their own course.’

When it comes to the start-up world, Bertelsmann is focused on identifying attractive fledgling businesses to integrate into its portfolio. ‘Our broadcasting group RTL has acquired a 75% stake in the Berlin-based multi-channel network, Divimove,’ says Hays. ‘So we have strengthened our strong footprint in YouTube content and influencer marketing. For us that’s a different take on introducing new creativity and entrepreneurship to the group.’

‘All people have strong innate needs for connection, autonomy, mastery, and a sense of pride and meaning.’

Active community

Nico believes that Talent Meets Bertelsmann is a great way to retain talent and create an active community of talented individuals. ‘It is more than just a recurring event,’ he says. ‘Right from the start it was meant to be an emerging high-potential community. We consider each former participant to be a valuable part of a growing talent family, the TMB Alumni network, and we stay in contact with them through social media. Plus, we have regular face-to-face events.

‘Some of the TMB alumni now work for Bertelsmann, some for our competitors, some for consulting firms, or the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of this world. Many go on to become entrepreneurs. We believe they all make a valuable contribution to the TMB family.’

‘Of course, we´re there for them when they consider their next career move,’ Hays adds. ‘As a result, only a fraction of the people we ultimately hire are recruited directly after their initial participation in the main event. Most join Bertelsmann or one of our divisions three to five years after taking part in TMB.’

Looking at the big picture, Hays thinks that TMB will be one of the global top communities in the media and adjacent industries. ‘That’s one of the reasons why we consider this event a long-term commitment – after all, we are now in our 10th year.’

Leaders of tomorrow

‘When you put eight people on a team and tell them they´ll have to give their first boardroom presentation with real board members 24 hours later, you get a feeling for the leadership potential,’ Nico says. ‘Under time-pressure and scarce resources some people will naturally step up to become leaders. With the mutual consent of the group, some may even be gently pushed in that direction by other team members to assume overall responsibility.’

Hays identifies useful ways to identify and support leaders in the company. ‘We use a competency-based development management system that focuses on the how of a leader’s performance. Our talent pools make it possible for us to experience established and emerging leaders close up. Once they are in a pool, we help them cultivate their competencies and leadership skills in training programmes that are mostly hosted by first-tier business schools.

‘I think it is fair to say that Bertelsmann has enjoyed the reputation for being a kind of leadership accelerator for a long time. But the main driver of leadership development at Bertelsmann is our culture. We give people broad responsibility early on in their careers. Leading is largely about doing, and we like to give people the chance to learn and grow by tackling real-life challenges.’

Ambitious companies like Bertelsmann seek to fill very specialised roles – perhaps above all in strategy, technology and data management – by running a multitude of initiatives to attract the best talent. The group has launched several programmes to develop a range of talents:

  • Bertelsmann Entrepreneurs Program: an international rotational scheme targeting recent MBA graduates.
  • Creative Management Program: a trainee programme launched in 2017 exclusively for humanities and social science graduates
  • Talent Meets Bertelsmann: an international case-study event, now in its 10th year, hosted for 60 students in Berlin every year, working with experienced Bertelsmann leaders on the strategic challenges of the group’s different business units. This is a very successful example of a ‘total company’ initiative to bring together bright students from all over the world.