A new Podcast: What recruiting at Daimler has in common with door pickers at clubs

People like to call me the bouncer of Lab1886. This joking job description is actually spot on, because I’m the one who decides who’s got what it takes to join our club.  But you should keep in mind that as the Head of Personnel Strategy I play a key role in shaping the personality of Lab1886 and recruiting at Daimler through my admission policy.

Here and in our Daimler-Podcast “HeadLights” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts I tell you how my daily business looks like.

Lab1886 was created to be a source of inventions, visions, and innovations that can help Daimler transform itself from a vehicle manufacturer to a provider of digital mobility services. Its name refers to the year when the automobile was born — and to this facility’s character as a research laboratory. Our mission is nothing less than ensuring that in the future we as a company can keep abreast of the latest developments, stay ahead of our competitors, and calculate ahead of time the direction in which the future of mobility will be moving.

We work at four locations on three continents, in Berlin, Stuttgart, Beijing, and Atlanta. That’s because innovations develop at different speeds in different places. For example, many innovations that are already available in the Asian market have not yet been launched here. However, what all of the teams have in common is the combination of a startup mentality with a corporate mindset.

We don’t believe in one-track specialists

I was hired because of my background in startups. Now it’s my turn to look for people who can bring in a variety of approaches and perspectives, and whose work is oriented toward solutions rather than processes. We don’t believe in one-track specialists. It’s not helpful for a team to have a member who is brilliant but difficult to deal with.

My job is to find the best possible team players — and also to make Daimler an option for very talented developers who would otherwise be thinking in terms of jobs at Facebook or Google. For me, the perfect job applicant doesn’t exist. Many job applicants have the optimal skill set that we demand. However, we’re looking for people who have not only this skill set but also a certain something that I would call pioneering spirit. In most cases I can feel its presence even before the first job interview. Either you’re the kind of person who writes software for some bank or other — or you’re burning to shape the future, create something new, and change the world. If that’s how your mind works, you’re just the right person for Lab1886.

Discovering talent without destroying it

I don’t regard myself as a traditional headhunter — because that term is too closely connected with spotting a target and hunting it down. Hitting a target just once is far from being a good definition of our work. My profession is much more multifaceted. I discover talented people, invite them to Lab1886, and talk to them — and I’m their very first point of contact with the company. In other words, I’m responsible for how a person feels the first time he or she is in contact with Daimler. You could say that I’m a bit like a brand ambassador.

However, when I’ve successfully hired a new colleague, my job isn’t over by any means. I also bear long-term responsibility for ensuring that everyone’s satisfied with his or her job, and I support our talented team members individually. We now have 60 team members in Berlin, including engineers, product managers, software developers, venture architects, and designers.

Recruiting at Daimler: less suits, more fun

I don’t have a background in human resources or headhunting at all. I’m from California, and after receiving my law degree I realized that “being a lawyer” sounds a lot more exciting than the 14-hour workdays actually are. So I started to work as a personnel consultant instead. During a meeting with a customer at a gaming company I saw a different way to organize a 9-to-5 job. The people who worked there weren’t wearing suits, and there was a ball bath right in the office. Well, what can I say? I still feel like a child. I wanted to have something like that too! And I soon realized that I wasn’t the only one. All of us want to have more fun, but we think we aren’t allowed to have it. Instead, we’ve got these outdated concepts of what work should be like.

Ultimately, the tech sector showed me that work doesn’t have to be dull. That inspired me to get further training in fields where interaction with people plays a major role. After working at gaming companies and startups in California, London, and Berlin — always as an independent consultant — I couldn’t imagine being a company employee. But then I learned about the work and the visions of Lab1886 in Berlin. In 2017, there were only a handful of people in this small team.

Talent is the most important capital resource

My job title, Head of Personnel Strategy, might sound a bit strange to some of my Daimler colleagues — a bit like a startup. But everyone would probably agree that nowadays a company’s biggest capital resource is talent. That’s especially true of leading tech companies, where 40 people can use their notebooks to create a million-dollar business. That’s why the selection of employees should be at the top of every company’s “to do” list. I’m very proud that as the bouncer of Lab1886 I can use my experience to create a good mix of hand-picked talented teammates.


Listen to, subscribe, and rate our podcast “HeadLights” on the following platforms: Spotify | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts

David Hailey is Head of Personnel Strategy at the Daimler venture Lab 1886. Born in America, he completed his Bachelor of Law at Kingston University in London in 2008 and has lived in Berlin since 2013. This is where he has been responsible for finding the right talents for our Innovation Lab 1886 since May 2017. He likes comparing his job with that of a bouncer who is allowed to decide who is invited to the "Start-up Party". His passions are technology and the FC Chelsea.