Ecolab was in the market for an HR leader of its Latin American business who had global perspective. Ricardo Alarcon had already spent much of his career all over the world, and when he saw an opening for an HR director for Ecolab’s Centers of Expertise (COE) for Latin America, he knew the role would provide him with an opportunity to reconnect with his family and friends in Mexico and the United States.
Alarcon has proven that he can lead on any continent. His last two roles placed him in Singapore and the United Kingdom and he has either visited or worked in over sixty countries. The HR leader’s track record of delivering results, exceeding expectations, and innovation is inextricably tied to his passion for cultural awareness.
“At one point, I was traveling around two hundred days a year,” Alarcon says. “It was worth it because you learn so much, not only about people and culture, but about so many different ways of accomplishing things. I’ve incorporated that into my life as much as I can.”
Taking the Leap
Alarcon attributes his early education with providing him the foundation to always think outside the box. “I was a Montessori school kid,” the HR leader says. “I think it was one of the most important parts of my life. I’ve always been driven by innovation and change, and the Montessori education allowed me the freedom to move at my own pace.”
Alarcon’s pace has always been quite brisk. He initially attended college to pursue actuarial science, but a strike at his university pushed Alarcon, who was already working during the day at an insurance brokerage, to switch not only schools, but degrees in administration and marketing.
“It was all fairly rapid,” Alarcon says, laughing. “I was working full-time, going to school full-time, and I wanted to get into the workforce as quickly as I could.”
That passion has not ceased. Alarcon worked his way up from an introductory HR role at Telefonica to progressively more expanded responsibility and job titles through multiple organizations and time zones. After relocating to the US with Diageo, the global spirits giant, buying a home, and establishing a social circle, Alarcon says he was the first person to volunteer for a head of rewards role for Asia Pacific that would require him to move to Singapore.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Alarcon says. “It was a big leap, and even though I was very happy in the US, I knew I needed to do it to continue growing.”
While taking on yet another new country and language was a challenge, there is one piece of advice that Alarcon received before moving to the US that he’s found to be true no matter what country he’s in.
“One of my mentors told me that I shouldn’t be nervous that English was the second language I learned,” Alarcon says. “He told me that if the thinking is there, it will come across. I’ve always found that it has.”
Rethinking 100 Years of Success
In coming to Ecolab Latin America, Alarcon was tasked with evolving compensation and HR practices for a company in transition. “They wanted to do things differently and to continue developing a truly global perspective of their own,” the HR leader says. “It’s a challenge for an organization that has enjoyed continued success for almost a century.”
Alarcon has helped modernize Ecolab’s perspective and approach towards sales incentives and total rewards as a whole.
“The way commissions were paid had worked, but it was my job to help people understand that when change hasn’t occurred for a long time, complacency can set in,” Alarcon explains. “That’s usually the time to change, before the market does, and you were not ready for it.”
The HR leader said it was necessary to unite leadership to create a new framework that also provided flexibility, understanding that different parts of the business have unique needs and that a “one size fits all” is rarely the best option.
Kristin Smith, vice president of global sales at Learnship, notes that Alarcon has been a crucial executive sponsor for Ecolab’s Business English learning program throughout the Americas. “I’ve worked with Ricardo and his team for several years now, and Ricardo never ceases to amaze me with his leadership style,” Smith says. “Ricardo’s leadership implementing Learnship’s Business English program has helped give a voice to hundreds of individuals at Ecolab in Latin America, helping them have a seat at the global table.”
Alarcon’s persistence and forward-thinking leadership has consistently over-delivered. “Regardless of COVID-19 and all of the economic headwinds, Latin America has done extremely well,” the leader says. “Our sales teams are acknowledged for delivering, and I would like to think that I am part of that success.”
Driving change is great in principle but is rarely easy in practice.
“I like to call it guerilla warfare because a lot of the time, it’s about slowly building momentum and movement to the point that it’s just too difficult to ignore,” Alarcon says. “As long as you are convinced that it’s the right thing to do, you should be persistent. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a step back and get perspective, but you shouldn’t wait for a decision to be made before you’ve done the work of consensus building.”
Ecolab in Latin America is currently changing its entire operating model, so Alarcon has had an opportunity to help reshape the organization from scratch by providing the tools to make those changes possible.
“I feel like I’ve already contributed to ensure success, because I’ve helped put the organization structure in place, bringing together very bright people to share their ideas and achieve alignment,” Alarcon says. “This is a great time to be here.”