When Donovan Mattole dropped out of his Middle Eastern studies graduate degree program in Jerusalem, Israel, and returned to the United States in the mid-1990s, he didn’t expect the temporary break would become permanent. He accepted a management job with Borders Books & Music, and discovered a new interest outside of academia: employee engagement and training and developing leaders.
“I quickly realized that my true passion was employee engagement and development, and I wanted to make an impact beyond the walls of my store,” Mattole says. He was given the chance when Borders created HR Business Partners in 2001, and he took over their West Coast region.
In the twenty-plus years since that realization, he has translated his passion into a successful career overseeing talent, engagement, and HR at a number of global companies. Today, as vice president of HR for the Americas at chemical distributor Brenntag SE, Mattole leads major people and culture initiatives that demonstrate his commitment to employee engagement and well-being across the entire Western Hemisphere.
After a decade with Borders, Donovan took this experience to global fitness equipment manufacturer Nautilus Inc., where his role expanded outside of the United States to Asia. Over the following fifteen years, he built up his HR expertise through a series of progressive—and increasingly global—HR positions at Nautilus Inc. and then Mars Inc.
When he came on board at Brenntag in early 2016, Mattole faced his greatest challenge yet. “Coming into the role, I had the challenging and exciting opportunity to take a fragmented and decentralized HR organization and bring it all together as a harmonious function that could deliver what the business needed,” explains Mattole, who was hired as the first head of HR for North America.
To create a unified HR strategy, Mattole implemented systems and processes to develop Brenntag’s employees and strengthen the company’s talent pipeline, with a focus on leadership and succession. In 2020, Mattole’s role broadened to encompass a region spanning from Alaska to Argentina. He balances a global HR perspective with regional and national considerations to curate a consistent employee experience and company culture across all geographies.
When it comes to the Brenntag employee experience, Mattole always circles back to engagement—especially when many of the company’s employees shifted to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the pandemic, we made an effort to think about how we are engaging employees in a virtual and diversified manner,” he says.
Mattole will gauge the effectiveness of the resulting action plans through an August 2021 follow-up survey on which he is partnering with the organization Great Place to Work. In the meantime, he will continue to facilitate Brenntag’s latest diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
In the summer of 2020, Mattole facilitated an internal dialogue on race and related issues, and he and his team are focused on looking internally to ensure that Brenntag is truly creating a place where equity and inclusion are a consideration for all. The team has held many conversations about employee well-being, especially during this pandemic.
“Employees on average have been working more per day from home and taking less time off,” Mattole says. This might lead to higher levels of stress and burnout, and the company has been encouraging employees to take time off to recharge, despite travel restrictions.
Post-COVID, the “Brenntag Tomorrow” campaign will include a plan that will appeal to top talent who are looking for a company that is innovative and flexibility-driven, one that will resonate with the next generation of job seekers who are looking for exciting careers and development opportunities.
One such opportunity already offered at Brenntag is the Catalyst Leadership Course, a training program designed to unlock the potential of all company leaders. It has recently been completely redesigned as a virtual training that is now reaching double the number of leaders at the same cost.
“The idea is that the true catalyst to drive our business is our people. We need our leaders to understand what it means to lead by our core values,” Mattole says. “And it has now been redesigned to touch even more employees. The majority of employee engagement comes directly from line managers, and that is why we focus so heavily on developing leaders. I have found it truly is the biggest impact on an employee’s engagement with the company.”
The same core values underlie Mattole’s personal approach to leadership. “I cement every decision in our core values,” he confirms. “It is our role as leaders in HR to truly not forget that we are advocates of both the company and our employees. The company will only truly win when we create a place where employees can unlock their careers and be truly engaged.”
Mattole understands the direct correlations between employee engagement, customer service, and business results. To keep driving all three, he aims to maintain what already makes Brenntag a great place to work—while striving to make it even better.
“We’re very people-oriented, and we have low turnover as a business,” Mattole says. “One of our main focuses is to preserve those strengths while at the same time attracting new and diverse talent.”
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