Like any of the best HR leaders, Katelyn Petti Hokenberg is a people person. She delights in getting to know the people she works with, commits herself wholeheartedly to understanding them and how they engage with the business, and is as triumphant when she witnesses their successes as she would be with her own child. And it is that willingness to dive deep into the needs of an organization’s workforce, beyond any inherent talent for building a rapport with others, that has driven Hokenberg’s success at Merz Aesthetics.
Today, Hokenberg is the global head of learning and development for the family-owned healthcare company, serving as a key point of contact for Merz employees working both in the Raleigh, North Carolina, headquarters and all over the world. This is, naturally, a huge step up from Hokenberg’s first opportunity in the HR world.
“It was an internship at Ocean Spray, and while internships were not widely paid at the time, they were kind enough to pay me—in juice,” Hokenberg recalls with a laugh. Soon, however, she landed her first “real” job in the industry at Bloomberg LP—a job that not only paid in more than juice but also introduced Hokenberg to the exciting world of training, learning, and development.
After expanding on her Bloomberg experience with an array of HR and leadership roles at top organizations such as Goldman Sachs and Thomson Reuters, Hokenberg decided to “come full circle” and return to her learning and development roots at Merz.
“When I started at Merz at the end of 2016, I joined as the director of organizational development—the first to hold that position,” she notes. “We were in a building phase at the time, so the first call of duty was a focus on the talent acquisition space.” Hokenberg dove into that work, building relationships with those that she brought on board. In fact, she credits those relationships with her current level of success.
“The fact that I got to know, and hired, so many of the people I now work with has been a huge advantage to partnering to get things done,” she says. “It’s been easy to collaborate with the people here because I have that built-in relationship with them.”
“To work in a development focused and growth-centered environment like Merz Aesthetics and to live in an area that is so supportive for education and development, it’s just a winning combination.”
But as the company successfully built out a foundation of talent and expanded its HR team across the globe, Hokenberg was able to shift her focus away from talent acquisition alone.
“That’s what’s so exciting about my role and what I have the opportunity to do here,” Hokenberg remarks. “When some people think of HR, they just think about contact when they join a company and when they leave a company. Our team supports that, plus, we have the opportunity to work in a developmental capacity. It’s been an opportunity to innovate, build, and deliver.”
To Hokenberg’s mind, “building” isn’t just about creating a strong talent base. It’s also about establishing the culture and infrastructure necessary to support a fast-growing and fast-moving organization like Merz. As global head of learning and development, it is critical to her to “first understand what the organization needs and then to engage with employees at all levels of the organization so that I can tailor our programs and initiatives to support the employees and our business.”
Those efforts have resulted in the development of several new programs, including the Merz Success Center, the organization’s online learning and career development portal, and an internal leadership development program, the Merz Leadership Academy. But, even more significantly, they have helped drive a dramatic increase in the engagement and workplace satisfaction of all Merz employees.
In the past two years alone, Merz has received more than twenty different professional accolades, including awards for Best Place to Work, Healthiest Employer, and Fastest Growing Private Company. All of these awards, Hokenberg stresses, are a testament to the commitment to organizational and employee development, a critical focus set by the executive leadership team led by Merz Aesthetics’ CEO Bob Rhatigan.
“We didn’t win the Best Place to Work award by just submitting a convincing application. It was the employees own feedback which qualified us to win,” Hokenberg says. “So that has been very significant to us—it shows a positive response to leadership support and the impact our efforts have on the way our employees feel about their work experience with our company.”
The fact that Merz recently decided to establish its global headquarters for its aesthetics business in Raleigh is, according to Hokenberg, is a testament to that city’s own growth and development.
“The city of Raleigh and the Triangle region is one of the fastest-growing job markets in the world,” she says. “We are anchored by top universities and some of the biggest healthcare companies, as part of the biotech sector. We’re in a very competitive landscape here—there are many great companies that offer exciting benefits and rewarding work environments.
“But I think that Merz has built a lot to be able to compete,” Hokenberg asserts, “and our team has done that by placing an emphasis on employee development and exploring how we can continue to bring new and exciting ways to learn to the organization.”
And Hokenberg only sees greater things on the horizon for the organization. As Merz embarks on its new fiscal year, it will continue to focus its commitment to customers and colleagues—one of its three core values—further building upon a culture of inclusivity. While diversity has been an engrained and critical part the company culture, Merz will further invest in development and training in the areas of cultural sensitivity, diversity, and inclusion.
The team will also leverage one of its employee forums: WIDEN (Women, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Network) to create, share, and celebrate opportunities for listening to and learning from each other’s experiences.
Hokenberg concludes, “To work in a development focused and growth-centered environment like Merz Aesthetics and to live in an area that is so supportive for education and development, it’s just a winning combination.”
Moving Merz Home
During the COVID-19 pandemic, employee engagement in learning and development has been at an all-time high at Merz, as employees globally have adjusted to their remote working environments and have sought ways to further their professional and personal development.
In addition to delivering e-learning courses via the Merz Success Center, Merz invested in launching LinkedIn Learning and converting classroom learning to live, virtual sessions made available to managers globally. The ability to flex and adapt quickly and successfully to respond to employees’ needs has been a contributing factor in the high level of support and care Merz and its critical response team have provided their employees during the pandemic.