Pernod Ricard's Andre Muller led a charmed life before joining the company

Andre lived on a Kibbutz and ran the affairs of celebrity singer/songwriter Sting's private home.

Pernod Ricard HR director Andre Muller lived an unusually interesting life before he joined the company. After completing his B.Com Industrial Psychology degree at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg), he lived in a Kibbutz in Israel. A Kibbutz is a voluntary society where people live in accordance with a specific social contract, based on communal principles, which operate under the premise that all income generated by the Kibbutz and its members goes into a common pool.

He says:

“I got to work with people from across the world in a culture based on social values, where doctors and teachers earned the same and basic living necessities such as food and accommodation were provided free of charge. Everyone is treated well and has access to the same services. There were 270 kibbutzim with around 600 people and 20 to 30 volunteers from around the world visiting each of them at any given time.  As it is such a different way of life, it broadens your perspective from immensely being exposed to so many different cultures and religions all working and socialising together.”

He later went to work for Sting – yes, the acclaimed English singer, songwriter, and lead vocalist of new wave rock band The Police. He worked from their family home handling all their administrative requests, paying all their bills, running errands and even doing their shopping on occassion. On how he managed to land the job, he says an agency noted his experience working for the owner of Getty Images and recommended him to the family.

He met with the singer’s wife and his sister and they chatted informally about what kind of person he was before he was offered the job.

Says Andre: “I think they liked me because I was a shy person and I kept to myself a lot of the time. I just got on with what I was supposed to be doing. I met a lot of his friends and fans. Also, his wife Trudie Styler co-directed and produced two well-known films during my time with them – Snatch and Lock Stock ‘n Two Smoking Barrels – so there were always a lot of famous people in their home. People like Madonna and Guy Ritchie were around often. But I’m not a talented actor and I don’t play a musical instrument so I stayed out of their way most of the time.”

Joining Pernod Ricard

At that stage, a friend of his had started working at Pernod Ricard. He would often pass through London en-route to his visits to the Chivas Brothers and Irish Distillers. Those frequent visits eventually resulted in a job offer to join the company as a whiskey ambassador for Jameson, which wasn’t a very well known brand at the time.

He would later become the HR manager, handling recruitment and employee relations in 2004. At the time, the company had approximately 45 people nationally. His role mostly involved balancing the pay structures so that all employees were equally remunerated and received the same benefits. Fifteen years later, he is now the company’s HR director. In that time, Pernod Ricard has gone from having four bases in South Africa to ten, plus an office in Namibia, and from selling 100,000 cases of their premium liquor brands per year to now selling around 1.2 million.

Labour turnover is not a problem

In a time when it is very uncommon for employees to remain with one company for an extended period, Andre says that 15 percent of the Pernod Ricard’s 286 employees have been with the company for more than ten years.  He attributes their impressive retention rates to the satisfaction that employees get from working there.

In a nutshell, Andre says he doesn’t have any sleepless nights about high turnover because the company offers an excellent 'Employee Value Proposition'. He says:

“I often say that working in HR at Pernod Ricard is like coaching the All Blacks. The motivation and the talent are already there. We just have to provide the right kind of support. On our engagement score according to Towers Watson, which is done every two years,  we score 93 percent, which is significantly higher than most South Africa FMCG companies. We recently compared to other companies shortlisted by the Top Employers Institute our score is 20 percentage points higher than the average.“

Not competing on pay

Andre says that their salaries are at the median of the industry pay scale, so it is not this which sets the company apart. Rather, Pernod Ricard offers a unique cocktail of five ingredients: One, successful premium brands; two, people who are genuine, convivial and passionate; three, a spirit of entrepreneurship; four, having local roots and a global reach; and five, being a great place to grow.

"What this translates to is that people get the opportunity to work with some of the coolest brands in the world. In the last couple of weeks, we sponsored the Nedbank golf challenge and the One Source Live concert, which our employees go to for ‘work’. We have a great entrepreneurial culture here where any of our employees can pitch an idea that will be financially backed if it’s good enough."

Meanwile, there is the Pernod Ricard University in Paris, which offers great learning opportunities. Also, every employee gets at least one training intervention every year. It also helps that the company itself is on an upward trajectory that has created a lot of opportunities for employees to move up through the ranks. Last year alone, there were five people that took opportunities at Pernod Ricard offices in Sweden, France and the UK.

“We have a convivial culture so we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re casual but competent. There’s is no toxic competition where people are trying to one-up each other to get to the top,” says Andre.