HR chatter

Richard Vosburgh discusses the implementation of mission- and vision-based HR planning at a leading global electronics corporation and his personal mission to give back to the field

Richard Vosburgh

When Dr. Richard Vosburgh, KEMET Electronics Corporation Senior Vice President-Human Resources and Chief HR Officer, joined the organization three years ago he was immediately put on a team to establish the mission, vision and values of the organization.  His story about Mission is in two parts—(1) How he helped establish his company’s Mission, Vision and Values; and (2) His own personal mission to give back to the HR profession through his involvement in the non-profit professional society HRPS. 

Establishing KEMET’s Mission, Vision and Values

Please begin by telling me a bit about your company.

Vosburgh: KEMET is a leading manufacturer of tantalum, ceramic, aluminum, film, paper and electrolytic capacitors.  It is a very global operation; only 600 of our 10,000 employees are in the US; and we have been in existence since our Union Carbide origin in 1919.  Roughly a third of our $900M business is in each of the three global regions in which we operate: The Americas; EMEA; and Asia Pacific.  You probably haven’t heard of us since our model is purely B2B—Business to Business.  Since anything with electricity going through it needs some kind of Capacitor, we are everywhere.  You’ve definitely heard of all of our largest customers.  Think Automobiles; PCs; Mobile Devices; Sound Systems; Consumer Electronics; Medical Devices; Solar and Wind Power; Down Hole Drilling Rigs; Military and Aerospace and on and on.  I love to say that we’ve been to Mars and the Moon and we are on the Space Station; and we’re also in implantable pace makers and F15 Fighter Jets.

Was your CEO involved with the Mission, Vision and Values work?

Vosburgh: Yes, very much so; he was the sponsor for the project—as it should be but often is not.  This was not an “HR” project and it was a real team effort with people from different functions and countries.  Our CEO realized that over the years lots of “lists” had developed; e.g. Vision; Themes; Guiding Principles; Values; Leadership Behaviors; Code of Conduct and so on; and it was unclear which one represented our “core”.  Our CEO requested a “refresh” that was simple, clear and represented our uniqueness, or our “secret sauce”.  The team presented the results of our first effort to our CEO and the Leadership Forum (a high potential group of 35 leaders undergoing an intensive in-house training process).  We were sent back to the drawing board.  We were essentially told: “You missed it.  That’s just another long list of motherhood and apple pie that could be used by any company.  Discover what it is that differentiates us.”

So how did you approach the project then?

Vosburgh: Well, after picking each other up and dusting ourselves off we went and “listened to the people” and how they talked about KEMET.  It became clear there were some common themes.  We were able to present a redo at the Extended Leadership Team meeting where our top 150 leaders spend 2 days once a year on company Strategy.

And how did that go?

Vosburgh: So much better!  There were only minor tweaks with their input.  We felt we had the content right and then spent time on how to show it.  Most companies use lists down the page that are sometimes so cute that the first letter of each word spells out an acronym so you can remember it.  We decided that was not “us”.  We decided it would be better to show our Mission, Vision and Values in a picture where people could tell a story about what is it we believe in; it’s the classic “elevator speech” approach.

So what was the elevator speech?

Vosburgh: The simplest version was this:  We wanted to illustrate our Values in a picture rather than just have another list of things to try to memorize.  The KEMET story starts at the top and “True North” on the compass, where we find our commitment to Unparalleled Customer Experience.  That’s the reason for everything else we do.  At the center is One KEMET, operating as one global team.  Internally we are committed to Ethics & Integrity and to No Politics.  Our three stakeholders around the outside are the Customer, the Employee (Talent Oriented) and the Shareholder (The Math Must Work).  Across all this, we energetically operate with Speed and agility, because that’s what our customer’s expect and that’s the kind of people we are.

That is the Values part of your picture; what about the Mission and Vision?

Vosburgh:  Our Mission is to help make the world a better, safer, more connected place to live.  This is simple, memorable and passionate, and has the added value of being completely true!  Think of what our capacitors go into and the claim is easy to substantiate.  A few examples that also show up in the Careers section of our website:

  • Green: Sustainable technology; in windmills, solar panels and hybrid cars.
  • Medical: In X-Ray machines, pacemakers and defibrillators that save lives.
  • Space Exploration: On the Space Station, Moon Lander and Mars Rover.
  • Military: Inside satellites, communications and missile systems; and airplanes.
  • Mobile Devices: Helping the world become closer and freer.


Our Vision is to be the world’s most trusted partner for innovative component solutions.  This reflects our long-standing belief that our customer comes first and that we must be very easy to do business with.  We have learned that our customers are also more successful when they engage us earlier in the design process so that we can contribute the talents of our engineers and scientists to finding or creating the best capacitor for the customer’s needs.

Do you also have some examples of that?

Vosburgh: Absolutely, and these are also listed in the Careers section of our website:

  • With a medical device company, developed a better heart pacemaker.
  • With a lighting company, developed long-life electrolytic capacitors for LEDs.
  • With a major manufacturer, developed a unique and tiny polymer capacitor
  • With Auto companies, lowered CO2 emissions and increased fuel efficiency.
  • With major aerospace companies, developed capacitors for the rigors of space.


How did you roll out the Mission, Vision and Values?

Vosburgh: It was actually quite an extensive process that we continue to work on.  Our Leadership Team (top 16 leaders) accepted it June 2011.  Our CEO and a couple of us on the team presented it in our globally televised quarterly Town Hall meeting in July 2011.  Our HR team did translations into about 18 languages and our Facilities team got framed posters made for our plants and office locations in the 28 countries in which we operate.  Globally each plant and office location was asked to send in video clips of employees telling a very short story (15-30 seconds) about what one of the values meant to them at KEMET.  We received and posted on line the best of those.  We asked each location to meet and talk about the Values.

We also worked on simple behavioral descriptions of what “positive rewarded behaviors” would be for each Value—these would let you work here; and what “negative, unacceptable behaviors” would be for each value—you can’t work here if you do these things.

Can you show a couple examples?

Vosburgh: Sure. . .and these are also posted on our Careers website.


Ethics & Integrity: Having the courage to always do the right thing.
  • Saying what you mean & doing what you say.
  • Knowing and following KEMET’s Global Code of Conduct.
  • “Walking the talk” for all our Values.
  • Holding back needed information.
  • Forcing inappropriate action.
  • Anything that would not be OK on the “News Front Page.”
No Politics:Supporting each other without selfish self-interest.
  • Gaining clear group consensus.
  • Involving all the right people as needed.
  • Giving credit to others.
  • Undercutting others for self-gain.
  • Playing people against each other.
  • Taking credit for others’ ideas.

Have you found other ways of integrating this into your HR processes?

Vosburgh: Great question.  The answer is “Yes” and we’re still working on this.  A few examples:

  • Recruitment: Our MVV is posted on our external Career website.
  • Selection: We are piloting a Candidate Self-Assessment on the 7 Values.
  • On-Boarding: We have asked Managers to at least do the Elevator Speech with them.
  • Performance Management: We added a section to assess employees on the Values.
  • Employee Engagement: In our first Global Employee Survey we asked how well we were doing on each of the 7 Values.

Great examples!  And what did the survey say?

Vosburgh: For the most part, very good ratings.  We learned some things that direct managers could do better to show they believed in the “passion, skills and engagement of our people” (Talent Oriented).  We also discovered that taking care of the Customer was the highest rated set of items in the entire survey, further supporting our “True North” value of Unparalleled Customer Experience.

Do you have any other examples of how you’ve used your Mission, Vision and Values?

Vosburgh: One very important way we used it was to create a conversation with the Japanese company that we were forming a joint venture with as a way to understand what they cared about and to show them what we cared about.  It was a very important first step in our relationship that helped to form some early trust.  As it turned out, they had some things similar to many of our values and they quickly agreed that they could very much support our seven values.  They requested we consider two more, and after we talked about it we really liked the addition.  We added Materials Innovation (realizing innovation by advanced materials technology) and Environmental Sensitivity (protecting every element of our environment).  Then we had it translated into Japanese.


Personal Mission of Giving Back to the HR Profession

Dr. Vosburgh was recently voted to the Board of Directors of HRPS (HR People & Strategy) as Vice-Chairperson.  HRPS is a 36 year old global professional society with membership exclusive to Chief HR Officers, VPs, Directors and other top HR executives.  Although he’s had memberships in many professional organizations over the years, HRPS has, as he says it, “become his professional home”.

I understand there was a Press Release on this and your CEO had a comment.

Vosburgh: Yes, our CEO, Per Olof-Loof stated “This is one more great example of many I could point to where our executives hold influential positions in their professional and technical societies.  KEMET is proud to be able to contribute as key people volunteer their time for the betterment of their profession.”

Have you been involved in HRPS for some time?

Vosburgh: Actually it’s been about 25 years.  Time flies!  I’ve been involved with HRPS most of my professional life.  The way that happens is you get asked to volunteer to help on things.  For five years I volunteered as the Executive Editor for the Quarterly journal People & Strategy; co-chaired one annual Global Conference; once before served on the Board of Directors for four years; and was recently Chair of the Research Committee.  Fast forward to today and I realized that this is an important time for HRPS and the development of HR as a profession and I hope I can make a contribution to that.

I understand HRPS is becoming affiliated with SHRM; how is that going?

Vosburgh: Really very well; we are excited to be with an association that understands HR and can help us grow in the right way.  It was July 2013 when the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and HR People & Strategy (HRPS) announced that they had formed a new strategic affiliation to better meet the needs of HR professionals at every stage of their career.

Didn’t SHRM’s CEO say some supportive words on that?

Vosburgh: Yes; and Hank Jackson isn’t just about words, he’s also about taking the right actions.  He specifically stated: “SHRM’s global community of over 260,000 HR professionals and resources combined with HRPS’s exclusive community of HR executives will bring greater unity within the HR profession.  As a result, together we will be better positioned to impact the practice of human resource management for business results globally, as well as deliver high-quality programming and services to all HR professionals no matter where they are in their career.”

And just to round out this viewpoint, how did HRPS view this?

Vosburgh: The exact quote from Kevin Rubens, the then Board Chair of HRPS was: “Today marks a major milestone for HRPS.  This new affiliation with SHRM will provide HRPS with access to the professionals, resources and platform we need to advance our mission and create a stronger HR community. Together with SHRM, we can better influence the development and impact of human resources as a profession.”

So when you say “give back to the profession” what does that mean to you?

Vosburgh: When I talk about someone volunteering to “give back to the profession” I can’t come up with a more worthy example than Kevin over the two years it took to create this great opportunity with SHRM.  He really gave a lot during his tenure as Chair of HRPS.

For me personally it means giving of my own time to provide the leadership that can help Human Resources in three very specific ways.  We believe that HRPS is the community that will (1) Increase our members’ success; (2) Improve organizational performance; and (3) Advance the Human Resources profession.  As it has been for me, we believe that HRPS can be the one constant “professional home” for strategic HR leaders throughout their career.  The way HRPS does that is by bringing together business practitioners, academics and consultants to creatively find better ways at the intersection of people and strategy.