As an eight-year-old boy, Jerry Perkins was already riding about the place on a motorcycle. But it wasn’t just motocross races that dirtied up his clothes. The boy once took his father’s chainsaw apart in order to repair its gas engine. Remarkably, the machine worked afterwards, Mr. Perkins remembers.
Oil, dirt, sometimes blood stains were frequent in his mother’s weekly laundry back in small-town Connecticut. Perhaps it’s fitting that Mr. Perkins is now the president of Henkel North America.
The German consumer conglomerate is busy making a splash on the U.S. market. Henkel last year introduced the laundry detergent Persil, a popular German brand, to the United States – and has had its first successes. “Persil is developing splendidly,” Mr. Perkins said.
That product introduction had one goal: to challenge global leader Procter & Gamble on its home turf.
Just a few months ago, the Düsseldorf-headquartered adhesives and consumer care multinational spent €3.2 billion ($3.5 billion) to acquire the U.S. detergent manufacturer Sun Products Corporation. It was one of the first major undertakings of Hans Van Bylen, who became chief executive of Henkel last May. “North America is one of the most important regions in the world for us,” Mr. Van Bylen said.
Having taken over Sun, Henkel is now the second-largest supplier of laundry detergent in the United States, behind Procter & Gamble. With brands such as All, Snuggle and Sun, the newly-acquired U.S. company based in Wilton, Connecticut, has sales of $1.6 billion, predominantly in North America.
“One of Henkel’s greatest strengths is the successful integration of acquired companies.”
This raises Henkel’s sales in North America to $5.6 billion, around a quarter of its total revenues.
“We have great respect for Procter & Gamble as a rival, but we are competing quite successfully,” Mr. Perkins said.
It’s hardly the first time Henkel has used takeovers to expand into new markets. Since the 1960s, the multinational has been growing through a series of acquisitions: Standard Chemical Products in 1960, then General Mills Chemical Products in 1977. In the mid-1980s, the consumer care giant acquired a quarter of Loctite, the U.S. manufacturer of industrial glues, then absorbed the company entirely in 1997.
In 2004, Henkel purchased Dial, a supplier of consumer goods. The firm is known in the United States through the same-named soap, as well as for Right Guard. A few years ago, Henkel introduced the shampoo and shower gel for men into the German market as well.
Mr. Perkins came to Henkel nearly 20 years ago via Loctite. Since then, he has been working his way up the hierarchy, a rise he attributes to a passion for marketing and production. “I’m fascinated at how products are made,” said Mr. Perkins, who is also the operational head of Henkel’s adhesives business in the Americas.
Mobile phones, cars, refrigerators: Mr. Perkins has toured almost every factory with customers. But instead of tinkering with his motorcycle or his dad’s chainsaw like in the old days, he now devotes his attention to glue: How can screws be replaced by adhesive agents in order to reduce the weight of airplanes? How can seals in dishwashers be glued so as to assure energy efficiency?
An important part of Mr. Perkins’ job is integrating the many new companies that Henkel takes on. The 56-year-old has already been involved in 10 acquisitions.
Now the focus is on Sun: More than a dozen taskforces are analyzing and planning the integration. A first result: Henkel’s North American consumer goods business will be moved into a new building and headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
Every acquisition must be approached differently. “There is no one-size-fits-all plan,” Mr. Perkins explained. According to their size, field of business and culture, some companies remain independent subsidiaries while others are legally dissolved.
What matters is to give the new colleagues a say. So the Sun integration taskforces consist of employees from both Henkel and Sun. “One of Henkel’s greatest strengths is the successful integration of acquired companies,” said Mr. Perkins.
Mr. Perkins declined to say whether Sun products will come to Germany. Instead, he prefers to highlight the success of the Schwarzkopf and Persil brands in the United States.
Granted, the German laundry detergent has a market share of only 2 percent, compared to the 40 percent that Procter & Gamble enjoys with its flagship Tide. But Henkel hopes that has more to do with initial marketing pains that can be changed: In its first year, Persil was sold exclusively at Walmart, but now Henkel is busy expanding its sales channels.
Mr. Perkins didn’t mention names, but said all the “usual” vendors will be on board. With Sun, Henkel now has more leverage with retailers. Mr. Perkins believes this is exactly as it should be. Whenever he goes to the supermarket, he looks at the shelf space occupied by All, Snuggle or Sun and thinks: “Impressive.”