Case Studies


In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Oracle has 14,000 employees in 32 countries, whose needs are met by an HR department of around 140 people. For the past four years, the HR department has been devolving certain HR functions to the line, using its own Oracle HR system.

‘We started with pay slips on the Web, instead of having hard copy pay slips’, says Vance Kearney, European HR director. ‘Then we enabled employees to access and update their own data, and since then we have introduced more and more Internet-based processes.’ The full range of HR activities now available on the internet includes:

  • employee data
  • pay slips
  • salary reviews
  • flexible benefits
  • management of purchasing of products and services bought from internal departments of the company.

‘It has given us far more flexibility’, says Kearney. ‘And it has ended the linear relationship between the number of people in the HR department and the number of people in the organization as a whole. We could probably increase overall staffing levels by 50 per cent without adding more HR people.’

To work effectively, stresses Kearney, a devolved HR system needs to be thought through in detail before implementation starts. It will need to be updated and added to over the years, but getting the system right in the first instance is essential if the organic process is to work properly.

‘You need to work out what needs to be different and what needs to be standardized’, he warns:

It doesn’t make sense to have 32 different systems to do one thing. But there will be a slight difference in the way that things are done in each country. For instance, when we started, we had 32 different telephone systems in operation, and now we have one global system. That is a process that can be standardized.

Other functions need more careful handling as well. Kearney cites the example of updating records – a simple process in the UK, but in Switzerland, where citizens are taxed according to the canton in which they live, the line manager must inform the tax authorities if an employee has moved from one canton to another.

As far as the role of HR is concerned, Kearney says staff at all levels have benefited:

Admin staff have been trained in dealing with people, rather than keyboards – they come in when there are specific problems to be dealt with ... Before this system was set up, we couldn’t answer a simple question like ‘What is the staff turnover across the company?’ because each country had a different way of deciding what this meant. It only took one computer to blow up in Kazakhstan for the whole thing to be out. Now we have one system which works across the world.

Source: Adapted from O’Reilly (2001)


Q1. To what extent does standardization of processes devalue the way in which employees work within their local environment and organizational culture?

Q2. Can a ‘one size fits all’ apply to all of the functions that HR carries out? If not, why not?

Golden Harvest


In 2008, Maltese producer of baked goods, Golden Harvest, relocated its operations out of a residential area to a new site in an industrial zone. The new bakery was larger, and it better met the company’s needs for greater efficiency. To ensure a smooth transition of operations without disturbing productivity, a migration plan was implemented and carried out over a 60-day period. Following the transition, the company embarked on a restructuring of its internal management. Since the move, the company has seen a gradual increase in business and a rise in the number of full-time employees.

Organizational profile

The name Golden Harvest is synonymous in Malta with the manufacture of freshly baked bread, pastry goods and cakes, and ice-cream. The company can trace its origin back to a modest traditional bakery set up in the small village of Floriana back in 1946. It did not take long for the reputation of this small bakery to spread beyond the confines of the small local community; and, in a short time, consumers were able to purchase its goods, in particular its unconventional fancy bread, from various village shops across Malta.

By 1949, the company employed 20 workers and had introduced new baked goods to its production lines. As its customer base continued to grow, the next logical step was to shift its operations to a larger facility which would accommodate the needs of a growing business. The new factory began to operate from the town of Gżira, now under the name of ‘Golden Harvest’.

Between 1952 and 1958, the company invested in more machinery and introduced the first spiral mixers to the local market. New silos and moving tunnel ovens, which led to an automated line, were introduced in 1964. This allowed for the introduction of new baked goods to its production line, such as the popular French Slice and Slimex, appealing to the more weight-conscious consumer.

The company continues to use the latest technology to offer Maltese consumers a wide variety of baked products. Golden Harvest also continues to ensure that time-honoured Maltese bakery and confectionary items remain on its production schedules using traditional recipes. The company also provides finished goods and pre-mixes to order and has been entrusted by companies and large fast-food outlets, restaurants and hotels to produce their products under licence. Together with its traditional confectionary items, the company also sells frozen foods and seasonal items.

A fundamental rule by which the company continues to abide is that, whatever the situation, there should be no compromise on quality standards. Golden Harvest strives to maintain high-quality standards in its operations to consistently deliver the best products to its customers. This is achieved through its highly trained quality assurance staff, who effectively monitor that all BRC (British Retailers Consortium) procedures are followed through each stage of production. This procedure incorporates a systematic, preventative approach to food safety that addresses physical, chemical and biological hazards.

Six decades down the line, Golden Harvest has remained a family-run business which has reached its third generation, all of whom are key members of the company’s management, as well as its Board of Directors.

Mark Aquilina was appointed Chief Executive Officer at Golden Harvest Ltd in June 2011. As a member of the family and a firm believer in the continued success of the company, Mr Aquilina was involved in the operations of the business at a relatively young age. Indeed, he has been involved in the business for over 22 years and, prior to his appointment as CEO of the company, had already served as a member of the Board of Directors. Throughout the years, Mr Aquilina has gathered a wealth of experience in the management and operations of the company, which allows him to administer the day-to-day running of the business and set out projections for future growth.

The company produces, on average, 70,000 products each day. It owns a fleet of 23 vehicles and delivers to 14 direct distribution branches and over 1,000 retail outlets daily across the Maltese islands. Its branch stores are independently run by store managers who oversee every aspect of the business. Notwithstanding, any restructuring which would impact the company’s business activities would need to be conferred with the Board of Directors for approval.

As of spring 2012, the company employed 143 full-time employees. The skills employed by the company include, among others, accountants, delivery men and electronic operators.

Almost 100% of the company’s production is produced for the local market, with only a fraction of its production line intended for export.

Management strives to promote and maintain good industrial relations with its employees. In so doing, it promotes active measures such as staff training and development, which help stimulate further development and motivation on the job and consequently increase the average skill level of the company.

Background to restructuring event

In 2008, Golden Harvest Ltd moved into a new bakery in the industrial zone of San Ġwann. The inauguration of the new premises marked the successful completion of the company’s long-term plan to relocate out of its former plant in Gżira – which, due to developments in building construction in the area throughout the years, found itself located at the centre of what eventually became a residential area. The relocation also served to accommodate a larger, more functional factory layout which would support the growing demands of the factory, facilitating greater efficiency. The management also sought to ensure that the changes implemented in the new factory set-up, such as equipment design and procedures, complied with HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) certified standards.

Following the establishment of a fully-fledged bakery plant, the company also embarked on a restructuring of its internal management structure. The change embraced the appointment of Mark Aquilina as Chief Executive Officer and the assigning of other members of the family to key management posts. The changes introduced to the management structure came about as part of a family succession planning exercise, executed and agreed upon by the Board of Directors, composed mainly of family members.

Restructuring processes

The idea to relocate the operations of the factory to a new site outside of Gżira dates back to 1999. The construction of a new building, to be designed and tailored for the specific operational and physical capacity of the company, was considered to be the single most viable option.

Once the decision was taken by the Board of Directors to push forward with this project, the company started to carry out the necessary research which would form the basis of what would be a solid business plan for the company’s restructuring process. The plan also included a feasibility study, an architectural plan, an engineers’ report and a design and layout for the new production line.

The site which was to host the new factory was acquired through Malta Industrial Parks, the corporation responsible for the administration and maintenance of industrial estates in Malta. The new factory was to be located approximately 5km away from the old factory site, and was built on the site of what was an old factory which was demolished. By January 2007, work on the new premises had started to progress at a steady pace, and in December 2008 the company inaugurated the opening of its fully-fledged plant in San Ġwann. The new plant represented an investment of over €20 million, supported through equity and bank financing. Management claims that given the good standing which the company enjoys with its bank, no major difficulties were encountered during negotiations on the financing of the project.

Employees and suppliers were informed in advance of the relocation to the new plant. In order to ensure a smooth transition of the plants’ operations without disturbing productivity, a migration plan was implemented and carried out over a 60-day period. The new factory started to operate trial runs, which required mainly production line workers to work extra shifts over the 60-day period, until all employees had completed the necessary training to be able to operate the new machinery. Specialized training on the new machinery was provided on-site by the supplier. Operation from the new plant continued to work in parallel with ongoing work from the old plant until the full migration of its operations was complete. This was done in order not to disrupt productivity and supply for the local market. Only small pieces of equipment were transferred to the new plant, with most machinery from the old plant sold to a foreign buyer. The old plant remains the property of Golden Harvest Ltd; however, it is currently not in operation.

A different approach was adopted with some of the administrative staff of the company, who were asked to translocate to the new premises at short notice, leading to claims that not enough time was allowed for them to see to the shifting of their archives. Other than the mentioned hitch in relation to the short notification period applied to some members of staff, the overall experience of the restructuring process was viewed to be a positive one.

Challenges and constraints of restructuring

The inauguration of a new and more sophisticated factory marked another milestone achievement for Golden Harvest Ltd.

Like any other large-scale project, the process had its fair share of challenges. The project involved a list of deliverables which needed to be met by the project team, such as the gradual migration of employees to the new premises, while at the same time providing them with the training required in order to be able to operate the new machinery. In order to meet the projections set out in the business plan, the management engaged the services of an external management consultant to sit with the Board of Directors, a legal officer, financial and business consultants and a civil engineer.

Restructuring advice and support

The company attributes the success of the project to good planning, which ultimately makes the implementation process easier. The ability to guarantee quantifiable results for a project in advance is a way of staving off any undesirable impact on the company’s operations, finance and employees.

By engaging a team of experts which would assist in the planning and implementation of the project, and by developing a sound business plan for its undertaking, Golden Harvest Ltd managed to avoid certain constraints which could have been detrimental to the successful outcome of the project. Management did not consider cost to be a real factor when evaluating the engagement of experts for this project.

Golden Harvest Ltd has also benefited from government incentives such as interest rate subsidies, which offer support to new investment projects undertaken by enterprises engaged in manufacturing. Other favourable incentives include government subsidies on investment projects supporting renewable energy, which was an integral concept of the design of the new factory premises.

Outcomes of restructuring

Golden Harvest has continued to register a growth in sales, which is conducive to the continued investment injected into the company.

Following the restructuring project, Golden Harvest also experienced a gradual increase in the number of full-time employees. At the beginning of the restructuring process, the number of full-time employees stood at 106. By spring 2012, the company had expanded its operations, and employs a workforce of 143 full-time employees. As part of the new operational arrangements, which came about from relocation to the new premises, the company also introduced changes to its human resource set-up in order to enhance the value added of the company. These changes were mainly applied to key personnel performing production and administrative functions, including sales, marketing and finance. Such changes would ensure that key functions and responsibilities were allocated to the right individuals according to their competence.

The introduction of new cutting-edge technology for its machinery resulted in an increase in operational efficiency and an initial cut in employees’ overtime. However, over the period 2010–11, Golden Harvest continued to witness an expansion in its production line which came about as a response to accelerating growth in product demand. This led to the re-introduction of overtime shifts for its employees.

The new bakery, which is spread over 14,500 square metres of space, is powered by 16,000 KVA transformers and houses a large cold room that can store up to 1,100 pallets, and nine loading bays. The new space also incorporates two new production lines for loaf making and a bun line that provide 100% of additional capacity over the old plant. The building has also been designed to accommodate any future expansion of the company.

Another outcome of the restructuring process is the improvement in cost structure. For Golden Harvest Ltd, the concept ‘going green’ translates into energy-efficient technology which ensures environmental quality. This concept was a key element in the design of its sustainable high-end factory. The new structure was designed and built in close collaboration with an internationally renowned foreign bakery management consultancy firm which supervised the works from beginning to end.

Design for environment is a concept which was integrated into the company’s business plans for the new factory. The bakery incorporates a photovoltaic system, together with a solar water-heating system which supplies hot water throughout the building, a modern waste separation system and a large water reservoir that has a capacity to store 96,000 gallons of rain water for every four inches of rainfall. The water is then purified through a reverse osmosis system and used for second-class water. Moreover, all oven burners use LPG gas, thereby reducing emissions and contributing towards a greener environment.

Today, the measures implemented by the company translate into a 20% drop in the factory’s energy uptake. A surge in the country’s utility rates has neutralized, rather than cut down on the factory’s cost savings on energy. Notwithstanding, had the company opted not to invest in green technology, it would today have experienced a 20% increase in utility costs.

Future plans for the company include increasing its production for export. The company is also investing in research and development, seeking to extend the shelf life of its products and introduce a healthier product range on the market, such as baked goods which have low gluten content. The company has also recently launched a low GI multi-seed loaf containing a major source of fibre and therefore ideal for healthy eaters, dieters, vegetarians and type 2 diabetics who follow a low GI diet. This product was developed by Bakels (UK) and is produced under licence by Golden Harvest.


The management at Golden Harvest Ltd believe that the root of their success in the restructuring process lies in the time and energy invested in developing a well-structured plan – together with ambition, which is the driving force behind its achievements.

Two significant decisions taken by the company include: the drafting and implementation of a business plan which clearly sets out the marketing, operational and financial plan in relation to the project. The plan also includes clearly defined targets and deliverables set out to be achieved by the company.

By investing in a team of experts with distinct professional backgrounds, Golden Harvest increased its chances of project success, avoiding any pitfalls which could have resulted in a less desirable outcome.

On a general note, respondents remarked positively on the assistance available for helping SMEs and micro enterprises in Malta to invest in their economic growth. A shared perception was that larger companies tend to garner more interest and backing from government due to their higher productivity and export share, and their sustainment of a larger workforce.

Nevertheless, it is felt that the importance given to larger companies does not significantly outweigh the collective strength and contribution of SMEs to the sustainability of the local economy. A shared perception which emerged during the interviews is the awareness of government incentives which aim to assist and promote the growth and sustainability of SMEs on the islands. In particular, respondents mentioned assistance offered to small businesses through Malta Enterprise, such as the interest rate subsidy scheme. Other incentives include the promotion of investment in renewable energy, such as subsidies on the installation of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.

Another observation made during the interviews was the need for more ongoing dialogue and guidance relating to the assistance available to local SMEs, in particular access to finance.

Author: Claudine Borg, Europa Research and Consultancy Services (Malta),


Q1. What were the major challenges faced by the company in its relocation?

Q2. How were these challenges overcome? What lessons does this give for managing such major change?

Q3. How were the HR aspects managed during the change?

Alfred Chandler

Chandler was a business historian who observed that the organizational structures of organizations such as General Motors, Du Pont and Standard Oil were driven by the changing demands and pressures of the marketplace. This saw moves from rigid functional organizational forms to more loosely coupled divisional structures and Chandler was influential in the decentralization of companies in the 1960s and 1970s.

Chandler defined strategy as ‘the determination of the long-term goals and objectives of an enterprise and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out those goals’ (Crainer and Dearlove 2003: 32). He argued that organizations, having identified their strategy, could then determine the most appropriate organizational structure in order to achieve this.

Various authors have questioned Chandler’s view that structure follows strategy. Thus, Tom Peters has argued that it is the structure of an organization that will determine, over time, the choice of markets it chooses to attack. Others have suggested that the link between strategy and structure is more complex than Chandler suggests.

Gary Hamel has offered a more positive view of Chandler’s thesis, however:

Of course, strategy and structure are inextricably intertwined. Chandler’s point was that new challenges give rise to new structures. The challenges of size and complexity, coupled with advances in communications and techniques of management control, produced divisionalization and decentralization. These same forces, several generations on, are now driving us towards new structural solutions – the federated organization, the multi-company coalition, and the virtual company. Few historians are prescient. Chandler was. (Crainer and Dearlove 2003: 32)

Source: author


Q1. To what extent is looking for the ‘ideal’ organizational structure a waste of time? Is it possible to have several organizational designs?


IKEA was founded in Sweden by Ingvar Kamprad in 1943. Today it is present in over 50 countries. The original IKEA vision and culture were seen by Kamprad as the most crucial factors in the continued success of the IKEA concept.

The IKEA VISION STATEMENT is: To create a better everyday life for many people. This translates into a MISSION of:

Our business idea is to offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them. We work hard to achieve quality at affordable prices for our customers through optimising our entire value chain, by building long-term supplier relationships, investing in highly automated production and producing large volumes. Our vision also goes beyond home furnishing. We want to create a better every day for all people impacted by our business, including our employees.

The ‘no frills/low-cost’ IKEA concept is novel and makes certain trade-offs relative to those of competitors. IKEA appeals to customers who are happy to trade off service for cost. Instead of having a sales associate trail customers around the store, IKEA uses a self-service model based on clear, in-store displays. Rather than rely solely on third-party manufacturers, IKEA designs its own low-cost, modular, ready-to-assemble furniture to fit its positioning. In huge stores, IKEA displays every product it sells in room-like settings, so customers don’t need a decorator to help them imagine how to put the pieces together. Adjacent to the furnished showrooms is a warehouse section with the products in boxes on pallets. Customers are expected to do their own pickup and delivery, and IKEA will even sell you a roof rack for your car that you can return for a refund on your next visit. Although much of its low-cost position comes from having customers ‘do it themselves’, IKEA offers a number of extra services that its competitors do not. In-store childcare is one. Extended hours are another. Those services are uniquely aligned with the needs of its customers, who are generally young, not particularly wealthy, likely to have children (but no nanny), and, because they work for a living, have a need to shop at odd hours.

The mix of activities that make up the IKEA business concept (e.g. in-house modular furniture design, low manufacturing costs, self-selection by customers and absence of some aspects of customer service) is configured to maximize novelty and to reduce the likelihood of imitation from competitors.

IKEA’s innovative human resources practices and work culture are focused on achieving strategic business objectives. The IKEA approach to HRM focuses on nurturing and developing staff as a means of achieving corporate aims and has led to the growth and success of the company.

The work environment is designed to provide a sense of challenge and meaningfulness for employees and has become a priority for the managers of IKEA. The belief is that employees are in diverse stages of their individual psychological contracts and have different unmet needs. For this reason, IKEA dropped its application of traditional and standardized HR policies in order to motivate and engage individuals. As IKEA’s vision and mission state, ‘create a better everyday life for many people, which includes employees, customers and the community at large’.

IKEA has therefore invested in motivational HR approaches, resulting in substantial cost for the company. It is evident that IKEA will ‘go the extra mile’ in order to engage its employees – for example, embracing work/life balance and diversity in order to promote employee engagement. IKEA introduced flexible working conditions for its employees, such as the creation of quiet rooms for relaxation, prayer or meditation; lactation rooms for the benefits of nursing mothers; and entertainment rooms for receiving friends and family. These initiatives have led to IKEA being viewed as a paternalistic company where employees feel a sense of belonging and security.

IKEA initiated flexitime and telecommuting during the 1990s. The company also promoted a range of ‘personal touches’, such as allowing employees to schedule their work to align with their spouses’ working hours. Although the management of such approaches has been complex, they have been linked with reduced absenteeism, improved staff commitment, increased retention rates, reduced employment costs and enhanced performance.

Mentoring is one of the key techniques used by IKEA in identifying individual training and development requirements. The method is utilized to motivate the workforce to stay and grow with the company. Ongoing training and development also help employees stay in touch with the latest developments and techniques in the industry and also help them benchmark their performance against best practice across other industries. The IKEA ‘Paddle Your Own Canoe’ programme is a self-assessment tool to encourage employees to take responsibility for their own careers within IKEA. Mentoring is therefore part of succession planning and has led to the development of a culture that supports employees in taking responsibility for their own actions and allows them the necessary resources to address gaps in knowledge and understanding. On-the-job training is a vital tool used by the company which allows employees to train actively with a person whose job they would like to hold in the future. IKEA encourages the transfer of employees between departments so that knowledge and experience are disseminated across the organization.

IKEA focuses on recruiting and selecting employees who share similar values and beliefs and so enhance integration into the corporate culture and facilitate the process of achieving the strategic goals of the company. The ‘Open IKEA’ system ensures that all jobs are advertised initially in-house. IKEA has developed another system called ‘Enterprise’, which is aimed at hiring new employees – this has transferred the recruitment process wholly to the internet. Consequently, delays in the recruitment process can be minimized and positions filled quickly without any loss of valuable time.

IKEA views open communication and a flat organization structure as keystones of effective employment relations. A diverse range of communication techniques helps to maintain high levels of employee involvement and engagement. Also, to promote open communication, the company has a flat organization structure with limited hierarchical distinctions. IKEA leaders are expected and trained to behave the way they expect their co-workers to behave, valuing respect, encouraging initiatives and creating a feeling of well-being.

IKEA has a market-based approach to base pay and a performance-based annual bonus linked to sales. In 2015, the company became the first in the UK retail sector to announce its adoption of the ‘living wage’ from April 2016. This means that over 50% of its UK workforce will receive a pay rise. It was viewed by the media as a great act of social responsibility. The performance bonus scheme was launched in 2013 and paid out a 10% bonus to all UK staff last year following an 11% increase in sales. In addition to the bonus scheme, the company also offers ‘Tacki’ (Swedish for thank you) which is a group-wide loyalty programme. If pre-agreed sales targets are met, the company rewards all staff with service of 5 years and above with a contribution to their individual pension plans. In 2014, the company invested £150 million in staff pensions, meaning that qualifying employees received an average of £1,229 in their pension pots. The plan was inspired by company founder Ingvar Kampad’s wish to share the success of IKEA with his co-workers. The company offers a range of valuable benefits, including a 15% staff discount and an annual co-worker appreciation day where staff and their families receive a 40% discount on IKEA merchandise. Industry-leading tuition reimbursement is offered, where the company pays for the training, development and education of its staff. Maternity and paternity pay above the statutory minimum is provided, along with first-day-at-school leave, blood donor leave, leave to enable community volunteering and a staff wellness day.

(Adapted from various sources, including: Porter 2011, ‘What is strategy?’;; bizcase studies.)


Q1. What ‘innovative’ approaches to HR has IKEA adopted? And how do these contribute to the success of the company?