Last November, Jean Paul de la Haye and Adrian Nicolini walked side by side into Wilkhahn’s annual board meeting in Bad Münder, Germany, ready to present a united vision for the future of the furniture manufacturer. At the time, they held the titles of Director of Sales in Asia and General Manager of Australia and New Zealand respectively. But their proposal was to trade in those positions to be appointed dual managing directors of the combined Asia–Pacific (APAC).

“We felt that since we had a common Asia–Pacific border, similar clients, and we already met up once a year as a team to catch up, why wouldn’t we align our targets, budgets and P&Ls [!profit!]?” Jean Paul says of the strategy.

“We could bring the teams closer together, increase the communication, team spirit and culture, and improve our ability to move people around the region. We had a lot of examples of great advantages for the company, and probably the most important one was aligning with the needs of our customers. Most of our larger customers are APAC focused, so it made a lot more sense to approach a client at an APAC level.”

Adrian Nicolini brings the managerial know-how

Adrian, like Jean Paul, had experienced the APAC business model before Wilkhahn split it into ANZ and Asia, so he knew it was important to revert to the company’s former structure. “It was initially one region under one leadership before the managing director departed and the leadership was divided between Jean Paul and I over the two regions.”

Adrian Nicolini, Managing Director of Wilkhahn APAC
Adrian Nicolini, Managing Director of Wilkhahn APAC

“We both saw how effective it had been under the one leadership. There is plenty of fluidity between the two regions and, as we have so many competitors, re-establishing that APAC reach was a competitive edge we could not afford to lose. So it was a natural step to re-merge the regions under one leadership.”

As we have so many competitors, re-establishing that APAC reach was a competitive edge we could not afford to lose.

Dr Jochen Hahne, President, and the executive committee had rubber stamped the amalgamation proposal by December, and it was formally communicated to both teams in February this year. The only request that was not given the green light was the official joint-leadership arrangement.

“We pitched dual leadership because we knew it worked well at other companies,” Jean Paul continues. “Our skill sets complemented each other, considering I had the sales and marketing background and Adrian had the operations and finance experience. But [!the!] wanted a single managing director to simplify the chain of command. There was no question it had to be Adrian; he was already general manager of ANZ, had headed our operations in New York, and he had been at the company for 16 years.”

Jean Paul de la Haye keeps the business growing

Of course, Jean Paul was not floored by Wilkhahn’s open-mindedness. He saw the company’s flexibility firsthand when it offered him a double promotion in 2012. He jumped from senior project consultant in Singapore to head of the entire Asian operation, skipping a management rung in the process. “Wilkhahn has always been very forward-thinking. It is international but still a medium-sized, family-owned company, so we can act faster than the billion-dollar companies that are restricted by layers.”

Jean Paul de la Haye Director of Sales and Marketing at Wilkhahn APAC
Jean Paul de la Haye, Director of Sales and Marketing at Wilkhahn APAC

Adrian says the transition has been made easier because of their mutual respect. “We have always worked very well together, Jean Paul and I,” he explains. “Plus, we have a common understanding of the objectives of the business, a shared vision, so that has made the development of this plan a lot easier.

“Jean Paul has done a wonderful job building the business in Asia over many years. He has produced solid year-on-year growth, and now we are leveraging that in Australia.

“It has been almost a year now in our new roles and it is going exceptionally well. The same team that was reporting to me when I was general manager of ANZ are now reporting to Jean Paul, and they are learning a lot from him. It is great that we can have this consolidated leadership in our sales and marketing across APAC.”

Wilkhahn APAC thrives under dual leadership

With Wilkhahn’s APAC base to remain in Sydney, the company is moving to a plush new showroom of its own design in Surry Hills, and has invested in a new manufacturing facility too.

“It is an exciting new chapter for the business and, with the two relocations, it has taken a significant amount of time. All the while, we have been working at a strategic level to develop a medium-term plan for the business across APAC,” Adrian explains. “Jean Paul has been instrumental in setting up a clear plan to ensure we remain a highly profitable business.”

It helps that they very rarely have conflicting views on strategy. “We are almost always on the same page,” Jean Paul reveals. “But if one of us says we are not sure, for whatever reason, then we’ll find a compromise. As I said, we have different strengths and that is why we work so well together. Even though Adrian is the number one in the region, he treats me like his peer. There are no egos; it is about what is best for the company.”