Case study: Newell Rubbermaid

Newell Rubbermaid: The Challenge

Growing primarily from a trail of successful acquisitions, the European arm of global manufacturer Newell Rubbermaid was quickly becoming a series of smaller, locally run companies.

Group President, Rubbermaid / IRWIN Group for Europe & Asia Pacific, Karl Kahofer identified a need to form highly effective single companies out of these diverse, smaller acquisitions.

Responsible for 6,500 employees, Karl knew that well functioning teams and accurate communication meant the difference between successful integration and poor business results. The need to establish team building and remote management skills was critical.

Among the many acquired companies were divided loyalties, as well as other challenges that come with acquiring employees who are not well integrated into a global matrix organization.

“To a large extent each small company that had been acquired wanted to perform and exist in the same realm they were used to,” noted Karl. “They didn’t really know how to make the transition into a large company organization. We were faced with different systems, different cultures, different languages, and different work habits. We were building regions and didn’t even have everyone speaking some English.”

Karl wanted to make everyone aware of the effects these divided loyalties were having on the company. Time had passed since the acquisitions were completed and it was painfully obvious that the dividedness within the company was affecting individual and group performance – and overall company performance; bringing everyone together both figuratively and literally became a necessity.

The Solution

While working for his previous employer, Karl had met Global Integration’s Phil Stockbridge when Phil was part of a management team meeting. Impressed with Phil’s two-day remote management program, Karl asked Phil to design a program at Newell Rubbermaid that would help conquer divided loyalties, build synergy and a stronger team spirit.

Phil immediately began building a program that focused on overcoming the team building and remote management issues Karl was facing. The first step was to engage the presidents of these operating companies.

As Phil noted: “Ownership was a key success factor in this process. Unless the current presidents felt a sense of ownership to the solution we were creating, the likelihood of successful implementation was low.”

This was followed by bringing them together, as well as Karl’s direct reports for an initial team building session. Based on the success of that session, each division, including individual regions began using Phil for team building and remote programs in their own locations.

“The training sessions Phil conducted were not theoretical – they were definitely not just another presentation,” said Karl. “The sessions were very pragmatic, very tailored for our business. He really involved everyone. The sessions focused on what individuals wanted from other participants and what they thought other participants wanted from them.

“The content was focused on ‘what can you offer others?’ and ‘what do you want from others?’. Communication gaps within individual teams and among various European groups became very visible and everyone has told me how helpful that particular outcome was.”

One of the biggest challenges during the sessions came back to one of the original purposes of undertaking the series of programs in the first place – language barriers and how to overcome them. Participants came from various countries around Europe, representing a significant mix of cultures and languages, and inconsistent levels of English.


The Newell Rubbermaid teams were ultimately brought much closer together and gained an important awareness of what it takes to weave many companies together under one umbrella. Teams from around the world were pulled together in a series of sessions that educated participants in the issues of leading and managing a complex matrix organization.

“Knowing how to deal with remote teams and embracing other cultures was a huge take-away for us,” Karl said.

Participants also learned important skills in understanding matrix management and helping to manage an organization built on a tight matrix. Phil knew that it was imperative for participants in each of his sessions to return home with easy-to-remember tools for managing in a matrix organization.

“These sessions really were designed to be street-wise rather than book-wise,” said Phil. “We wanted people to know how to actually use the information we were giving them – not just understand the theory.”

“The Global Integration team, in particular Phil, has really helped us with some important accomplishments,” Karl added. “We’ve formed a great working relationship with them.”


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