Elaine Fay lived in her share of different countries before she moved to Des Moines about a year ago to start her job at Kemin Industries Inc. Fay has worked in human resources for Carlsberg Group in Copenhagen, Denmark, Nycomed in Copenhagen and Zurich, Switzerland, and AP Moller Maersk in Genoa, Italy and Athens, Greece. “I love the fact that I am potentially able to give back positively to people’s lives all around the world,” said Fay, crediting that attitude to her grandfather. Fay believes that an HR department can be a true partner within the business and help set the direction of the company. It’s about more than just dealing with administrative issues, she said. 

What brought you to Kemin?
Actually, I was given the job offer at the time I was in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I met with the owners of the company – Chris Nelson and quite a few people who work here. I was interested in moving to the United States, so it seemed to be a perfect fit.

How does Des Moines compare with other places you’ve lived?
I think the way that Des Moines compares is that the people are very, very open and very welcoming. People really do bring you into their lives and into their hearts. So I would say that’s very similar to the European culture. It is quite the cosmopolitan little gem of a town. It really is the diamond of the Midwest. Because you do have a lot of culture. You have a lot of art focus. You have a lot of variety here, yet you maintain the family values.

One of your initiatives as an HR team in your first year was designing a succession planning process. Tell me about that.
The first area is basically the organizational mandate. Looking at the structure of the business today, and then looking at our strategy and asking, “How do we achieve that?” Then it’s mapping out, what would be the future growth? Through that, we will also do a potential grading and assessment, where we try to look at our staff to see not who has the capability today but who has the potential to grow. Through that, we will develop a talent pool, or in a sense nominate and earmark people who we really want to focus on developing, and ensuring that we identify the true areas of development for the person.

A lot of research shows, and this is a global thing, that you cannot hire all the talent you need, because there’s a talent war, and there always will be. And the best way is to actually grow your own talent.

What are your goals for the future at Kemin?
Of course, the goal is to continue with the succession planning, to build a very strong pipeline. To really build the brand within Kemin as an employer of choice. The culture here is phenomenal. The opportunities here are really exemplary. We haven’t been very strong at branding ourselves, but when people do join us, they’re actually quite amazed with the amount of freedom and authority and opportunities they do have to contribute. So I would really like to build that brand. 

I’d like to fully develop the HR team, and transfer all the knowledge I have gained on an international basis with very large companies into the team. And then enabling them to come up with future ideas as to how we can really excel at talent management. How we can really look in a visionary way at the company and say, “If we want to touch half the population of the world within the next three years on a daily basis, how do we actually get there or do that?”

What have you learned throughout your career that you have brought to Kemin?
I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had great international exposure. So it’s very easy and actually very normal for me now in really getting to grips with different cultures and understanding those cultures. And being able to advise and work around and find benefits and strengths in it, rather than be bogged down by differences. Certainly also I’ve been in companies that have had rapid growth and have been No. 1 industry leaders. So from there I can bring in a lot of experience also. How do the top, top companies work? 

What do you do outside of work?
I travel a lot. But for fun, what I like is the really really boring stuff like planting tomatoes and cooking. It relaxes me and keeps me grounded as well. So I love gardening, I love cooking, shopping, Farmers Market on a Saturday morning.