Aidan Tarling, Country Manager NZ Henkel (Schwarzkopf Retail)
In recent times, the ‘brain drain’ to Australia has slowed enough to become more of a ‘brain exchange’, with talent travelling both ways across the cold stretch of water that separates us. Having returned to his native New Zealand three years ago, Schwarzkopf’s NZ Country Manager at Henkel, Aidan Tarling has a trans-tasman story of his own to tell.
Born and raised in Auckland, aged 13 Tarling moved to South Australia with his parents, and attended both high school and university in the pleasant, picturesque city of Adelaide.
“I have always been an analytical and ambitious kind of person, so I started with an aim to be an accountant,” he told us. “A year and a half into that, I woke up one day and realised I didn’t enjoy it.”
This sudden epiphany compelled Tarling to find another path for himself to pursue. “My parents were supportive, and I was lucky or brave enough to switch my Bachelor of Commerce major from Accounting to Marketing & Management.”
In the meantime, he took a part-time job stacking shelves at Coles supermarkets—a crucial ‘rite of passage’ that many FMCG leaders seem to have in common. After graduation, building on his commerce degree and marketing experience, he started working as a part-time rep at Colgate Palmolive. This later turned into full-time repping, before he moved to the company’s head office in Sydney, going through different positions (National Account Manager and Retail Environment Manager, to mention a few).
“I woke up again, and realised I was in FMCG,” he said. “The roles I held there were all quite different, but what I enjoyed the most were the customer-facing ones because working with customers is how you drive the results in business.”
Colgate provided a welcoming environment to grow professionally. “There was a lot of internal promotion and opportunity to move up, which accelerated my career. But Colgate is also a place where people tend to stay for their entire work life, and after nine great years I realised I didn’t want to be that person.”
Following a brief experience at Wilmar Sugar Australia, he spent three and a half years with Johnson & Johnson in Sydney, leading Pacific Category Strategy team, for several key categories. However, before long his Kiwi roots finally called to him. “I was longing to reconnect to New Zealand, where my dad and some relatives were living. When J&J approached me and asked me to lead their chain grocery business in NZ & drive a sales turn-around, I seized the opportunity.”
Last May, with his three-year contract approaching an end, he found himself once again standing at a crossroad between staying and returning to Australia, at which point, like a providential twist of fate, a position as NZ Country manager at Henkel (Schwarzkopf) became available.
He brought his analytical, fact-based approach into the company. He knows that motivating people is all about treating them as individuals, understanding what their needs are and helping them achieve their ambitions.
“I love the people, I love the culture here, and my background in Health & Beauty has been especially valuable. So I decided to stay,” Tarling said. For the time being, we would add, he can put aside his insurmountable fear of snakes. “Speaking of which, I also have an irrational fear of failure. Being an 'achiever', I am petrified of failing. I have this recurring dream, for example, where I am still at Uni, with one subject to go. And it’s strange when I consider that I graduated 16 years ago.”