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Dr Ilham Kadri’s Recipe of Success


In the past five years, Diversey has transformed itself into a more customer-centric organization where employee engagement has reached 81% resulting in 11 quarters of improved profitability and positive sales growth after a decade of decline in Europe and the US. The woman behind this change, Dr Ilham Kadri, President and CEO of the new Diversey, reveals her recipe of success to Mohana M, Editor of Clean India Journal in a brief interview during her recent visit to India.

Throughout her career, Kadri has committed to mentoring young women and fighting female illiteracy. She is the founder and a Chairwoman of The ISSA Hygieia Network, which has the mission of advancing women careers at the bottom of the pyramid in the hygiene and cleaning sector. She is also an Advisory Board member at Catalyst, the leading non-profit organization dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

In 2016, she was recognized as a winner by the Charlotte Business Journal signature “Women in Business” Awards program. In June 2017, she won the Gold Award in the prestigious Women World Awards, for “Women Helping Women”. In September 2017, she also won one gold and two silver Awards at the prestigious Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

Kadri is a chemical engineer, has a Master’s degree in physics and chemistry, and holds a Doctorate in polymer reactive extrusion. Kadri currently serves on the Board of Directors of A.O. Smith Corp. ($9Bn capitalization), a leading company that manufactures water-heating systems. Kadri is married, a proud mother of one child and resides in North Carolina. She enjoys reading, golfing, running and fitness.

You have had a successful journey in Diversey. What is it that Ilham Kadri has in her that has brought her this far?

Since day one, the strategy has been the same and nothing has changed. It is like the recipe of a meal — when you cook same recipe again and again, it gets better. Like a good cook, I have five to six ingredients: I am blessed to be passionate about what I am doing. Professionally, I love meeting customers and hear about their needs and chatting about innovations as well. I have always been curious about things. Four years ago, when I joined the hygiene and cleaning industry, I was completely unaware of what it meant, for me. I thought it was mops & buckets and if ever I would have fun in this industry. My journey has been full of determination, resilience, ‘never take no for an answer’ attitude and clear focus on the path rather than the destination. The last five years in Diversey were tough, but the experience made me tougher. The last ingredient is a sense of purpose. When I came into Diversey in 2013, I asked the team – why are we in this business? Is this about cleaning floors and toilets? Or is it something else? And at that time, we realized that it was not about cleaning bathrooms or kitchens, but it was about saving lives of people in hospitals and preventing food poisoning.

The problem with clean is that you do not see it; and when you see, it is too late. The value of clean is not there. It is much more noble and better to say that we save lives rather than just cleaning toilets. It is proven that hospital acquired infections could be decreased by 20-30% by using the Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide technology.

Diversey has a new look now.

We have given a new look to the logo, yes, but we have changed much more than that. We took the lotus flower, which was our old symbol from our heritage, and put it on the back of the hummingbird, taking off to a new bright future. This bird can fly front and back signifying the stability, agility and energy that we want Diversey to become.

And besides, we have defined a new purpose and mission for Diversey: “To protect and Care for People Everyday”. So, I think that’s my sense of purpose coming back to my recipe of success.

Your strategy of customer-centric approach.

In the first decades during the development of the hygiene and cleaning industry, as you can see, the value equation has changed. There are some players who are very profitable but if you look at the whole value chain, there is less margin to share between different players. The challenge is that clean is invisible and people do not value cleaning in its own right. It is our duty, and also that of the media to help rebuild the value of cleaning.

Diversey is taking the leading role globally and locally. We try to bring back the pride to this fabulous job in training the invisible heroes. I truly believe that the hygiene and cleaning industry needs to reimagine itself. We all together need to fight for the value of clean, organise it and bring in technologies. I do not fear competition but it is good to see everybody building and bringing technology to this industry because, the more we do that, the more impact we show.

You introduced Hygieia in 2014.

We formed the “The ISSA Hygieia Network™ in 2014 along with other women leaders, targeting to combat illiteracy, promote women at the bottom who are cleaners and the invisible heroes, and building-up a curriculum and job prestige in the cleaning industry. It is a non-profit organisation and a part of ISSA.

Hygieia is a Greek goddess of cleaning and health. The greek understood very well that without good hygiene there is no good health. So, we took it as our symbol and we are telling the story with her help. Last year we launched a book with fabulous stories from those invisible heroes which has been a huge success. It is available in Amazon.

Robotic cleaning penetration in the market.

We were the first ones to lead the conversion and then the penetration. We have 450 robots connected in the world, many of which are in Australia and New Zealand. Where the labour cost of cleaning is above 30 dollars per hour, a robot makes sense. The robotic cleaning market is linked to the cost of labour. Sooner or later, I can see robots penetrating regions where the cost of labour may even be lower.

Adopting the robotic technology has its benefits: Improved productivity in areas of higher cost of labour cleaning; Valuable work rather than doing routine jobs in sectors like: airport, healthcare and schools; They can work in the dark, do not get sick or take breaks.

But they will never replace human beings; they can’t do facility management, they can only clean floors

The scope of digitalization in food hygiene.

Digitalisation is going to make the invisible visible. It could be either a camera or some small chip. We are building a golden curve and telling industries that you have cleaned it for too long or too short increasing the risks because the biggest cost is loss of productivity. Too much is not good and even too less is not good. So, you need to have that understanding. Digitalisation is helping us in our CIP lines to be more productive and that’s why we acquired robotics for professional segments.

With Diversey acquiring a new identity what are the changes in the approach and strategy?

Globally, we are very customer centric. We did an employee survey a few months ago and the number one employee priority was customer engagement. This is important, we need to keep it and augment it.

India is, by far, one of our star countries in the world and our crowned jewel. The Indian team has been always ahead in managing customers, anticipating the market needs, driving innovations and we love it and it is growing. Despite demonetisation challenges and taxation, we are continuing to grow very strongly. The team has earned the rights for continued investment in this country. India has a critical mass population and rising middle class and we have the right infrastructure, people and innovation to deal with it. Wherever I smell growth, I want to be a part of it. So, nothing is changing.

The R&D centre in India is becoming a global centre and we believe India is a global hub for global success.

Besides, from a Social Responsibility perspective, we have a programme called Soap for Hope which converts 11,000 tonnes of soap bars just in India. We collect the soap bars from local hotels, they are recycled and local impoverished families develop new soap bars for a small profit, to enhance hand hygiene in their communities.

Then we have Garima, which is my story of Indian Hygieia and is homemade by my Indian team which I am extremely proud of. The more you educate the cleaners, the more you teach them to be presentable. When you are proud of your job, you are proud of yourself.

It really is an honor and a pleasure to be part of this industry and contribute to create a better world through hygiene.

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