The story so far
Published: Aug 28, 2009
As Human Resources magazine celebrates its fifth year anniversary, we take time to focus on the state of HR in Singapore. But the bigger question remains: Is HR in the boardroom yet? By Lisa Cheong.
Has the HR function earned its seat at the boardroom table yet? While that question has been on the minds of the HR industry and fraternity for some years now, the frequency of that question has abated in light of the recent economic downturn, After all, it almost feels sacrilegious to ask if the HR function has arrived when retrenchments, recruitment and salary freezes are all a part of life for many companies here.
But those who have been in the industry long enough can remember the times when the word HR meant a very different role, one which was more administrative and an office pencil pusher of sorts.
For instance, Kok Ee Lan, senior vice president of regional human resources for TÜV SÜD says she can still recall the days when the human resources division did not even exist, masquerading under the guise of “personnel officers”. “I remember HR as a huge factory,” Kok says, adding that some of the roles performed then included organising transportation for workers. “Then HR evolved. We started calling ourselves from personnel to human resources, to human capital.”
And the significance of human capital isn’t lost to those outside the HR division either. According to Low Peck Kem, director of people matters and project director of national HR capability at the Ministry of Manpower, the high attendance participation rate of C-suite suits (43%!) at last year’s Human Capital Summit indicates a growing concern and understanding about how employees are now a contributing factor to the company’s bottomline.
One question that we commonly ask HR practitioners in most of our interviews is to describe their roles within the company. Often times, many see themselves as facilitating between the company’s goals and the employees. And rightly so. But as HR moves up the strategic level, more of the smart, strategic (and with wide-ranging experiences) HR practitioners we spoke to for this issue find themselves in a consultative position, where instead of being a facilitator, they now act as a “consultant” to business units and business leaders.
The HR practitioners we speak to are also saying that they are moving away from “bread and butter” issues to ones that include succession planning, talent management (especially for those tagged as a high potential) and regional issues.
Beyond the ever-evolving HR function, what other changes do HR practitioners see in the workplace?
For one, one common theme that often comes up in the answers is the emergence of a younger, tech-savvier workforce. While Generation Y members have been noted for their tech-savviness, the subsequent group of workers, the millennials, will be even more tech-savvy in ways that the workforce may not be ready for. After all, this is a group of employees who cannot remember a time before the internet and mobile phones were available.
Another subsequent trend that is likely to dominate in the future is the rise of a multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce. Due to this diverse and wide-ranging employee needs and wants, it is unlikely that companies roll out a one-size-fits-all strategy anymore. Compensation and benefits packages are now evolving to provide employees with a slew of options to choose from, while other companies are now tailoring their learning & development tools to fit the employee.
As these two trends (just two of the many) merely underpin the changing workforce landscape, it’s no wonder that HR practitioners talk about the constant evolution of the HR function. Who knows what the next five years of HR will turn out to be?
For Cecilia Chia, HR director at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, the biggest change she has seen in her HR career is the added responsibility for a larger and more diversified workforce. She says that because of the changing workforce demographics, this also means that HR and L&D programmes now need to be tailored to ensure relevancy.
Chia was featured in our June 2007 issue as the HR director of Fullerton Hotel and rejoined her former employer The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore in August later that year.
Passion alone is no longer sufficient, says Chia, as her role now requires her to be creative and innovative as well. “Continuous improvements and staying ahead of the game is even more important now as we need to ensure that we maximise efficiency on an on-going and timely basis.”
What is your most pressing HR issue now and why?
The most pressing human resource issue currently is addressing the increasing staffing needs at a time of strong competition for talent within and outside the industry. While acquiring the right talent for the hospitality industry is becoming increasingly challenging, retention of talent plays an equally important part as the workforce of today does not have long term plans in one organisation.
At The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, we continuously invest in our workforce – our employees are our most valuable asset, by continuing to provide them with broad-ranging training opportunities will ensure that we remain at the top and also enhance our legacy. Investing in our employees also shows that we care enough about them and are helping them to grow – this will also lead to a strong sense of loyalty and morale, which will eventually have a direct impact on the bottom line. Recognising our employees and showing genuine care and concern and ensuring a conducive work environment are vital. When employees feel that they are well-treated and respected, there is a reduction in absenteeism rate and higher retention, as well as greater motivation to put in their best.
John Gaunt, former HR director of Timberland Asia and Europe and featured on February 2008 cover, is now chief executive of investment company The Profitable Group. Overseeing approximately 240 people in eight countries across Asia, Gaunt says this role gives him the opportunity to utilise his decision-making and entrepreneurial traits.
“In many ways, this was a good natural progression for me.” Gaunt says, adding that his HR background gives him an advantage over other line managers as he is able to treat and manage people the way they ought to be treated. “There’s nothing you do in life that doesn’t involve other human beings. Being able to direct and give people a take on where they should be going and what they should be doing is essential.”
Eunice Lee, who was McDonald’s Singapore head of HR and development in April 2005, now heads a regional role, a position which she took up in March last year. In her current position as senior director, HR business partner for McDonald’s Asia Pacific Development Company, Lee serves as a consultant on HR systems and strategies to the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) HR leadership team, as well as the managing directors and leaders of six countries, namely Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Korea.
One of Lee’s responsibilities is developing and executing people initiatives that will drive business results for the country. “At the same time, I also work with the division leadership team to shape division business strategies and ensure alignment of people strategies and business needs to support our mission of becoming our customers’ first choice.”
Because of the company’s strong stance in bringing out the best in people and charting a career roadmap that adds value to the company’s business, Lee says some of the recent company efforts includes building a talent pool and ensuring a greater bench strength of leaders that would be able to take up key country leadership roles.
Last year, the organisation formed its first APMEA Leadership Network, which aims to help women employees help fulfill their career aspirations as well as help them grow in their careers. “In the APMEA region, 25% of all directors in APMEA are women and there are currently three women in the leadership position as managing directors,” Lee adds.
What would, in your opinion, make you a better HR practitioner?
The three “I”s.
Firstly, influence more talent across the countries, especially more women, to take responsibility of their own career and develop their talents.
Secondly, inform and engage. Be an effective coach an mentor to promote understanding of how effective people practices and development can lead to sustained business success for the organisation.
Last not but least, inspire others to achieve their goals personally and professionally through my own leadership journey.
For Liu Fang Joo, senior vice president of HR and corporate communications at NatSteel Asia, her focus as a HR practitioner has taken a shift towards integrating HR and corporate communications functions amongst regional NatSteel companies, compared to just being focused on local HR matters.
Since being featured on the May 2006 cover, Liu says the focus of her work has moved away from “bread and butter” HR issues such as recruitment, with the emphasis now on talent management and leadership development as these issues have long-term impact on the sustainability of the business. “Having tailored our HR programmes for health and work-life balance as part of our move to better engage the workforce, we’re continuing to create bespoke programmes for the Gen X and Y workforce.”
In the future, Liu says workforce engagement will continue to dominate the issues that HR practitioners face and companies would constantly need to change to meet the needs of the new workforce. “We need stronger branding as an employer of choice, and must adapt to an IT-savvier workforce,” she adds.
Despite the economic downturn, Deborah Ong, human capital partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers Services LLP says the people agenda remains high on the list of the company’s priorities. Featured on the cover in October 2007, Ong says the organisation encourages employees to take ownership of their careers through one-on-one coaching with either partners or managers. Personal development should be every individual’s key focus even during difficult times, Ong says, adding that as “client demands increase during the downturn, and this provides opportunities for our people to exceed expectations and stand out”.
What HR function are you spending most of your time with now and why?
In view of the current economic downturn, communicating with our people has become a key priority. As the downturn has inevitably created uncertainties in our people, it is HR’s job to ensure that we address their concerns about their career progression and continue to focus on their development. HR also facilitates the role of partners and managers as they coach their staff in managing and growing their careers during this period.
Since appearing on the February 2006 cover, Houria Osmani, vice president of human resources Asia Pacific for Club Med says she spends most of her time now preparing future managers for her Asia Pacific organisation. This, she says, is done in order to meet the demands of a growing company.
Recently, some of the accomplishments Osmani has seen have included the promotion of two chief of villages internationally from the Asia Pacific region, as well as increasing the number of Asian G.Os (which stand for gracious organisers) across the globe.
According to Osmani, one key HR lesson she’s learnt is that in order to bring value to the organisation, all HR efforts and matters “have to be shouldered and shared by every manager”.
Lee Kwai Sem
Lee Kwai Sem, formerly assistant director of staff development at Singapore Prison Service is now chief executive at Centre for Enabled Living (CEL). Having joined in November 2008, CEL is a first-stop centre for users of eldercare and disability services. The organisation aims to improve accessibility to eldercare and disability programmes as well as raise public awareness for a more inclusive environment for the elderly and disabled.
Jeffrey Wilson, featured in February 2007 as HR director for Asia Pacific in UPS, repatriated in March 2007 to the United States where he headed international compensation & benefits for the logistics provider. In April 2009, he assumed a new position as director of global compensation, spanning a career of over 23 years in the company.
Low Peck Kem
After being featured as the HR director at Agilent Technology in September 2004, Low Peck Kem moved on to the role of vice president of HR at Avago Technologies before settling into her current position at Ministry of Manpower (MOM). At MOM, Low is now the director of people matters as well as project director for National HR Capability.
“My move from the private to the public sector has enriched me greatly, showing me how the public sector – as the largest employer in Singapore – has moved into progressive HR practices, while not compromising on business results,” she says.
As director of people matters department, Low covers areas such as HR, organisation development, information management, procurement, emergency preparedness and operational management. Low says she is looking to encourage MOMers to go green,which will contribute to the two energy saving awards the company has garnered this year. “Business Continuity Planning is another area that I am looking to strengthen in MOM, especially in light of the current H1N1 outbreak, gearing up to deal with the changing security landscape and the economic downturn,” Low adds.
However, Low says she spends most of her time spearheading the National HR Capability (NHRC) project, which aims to raise HR competency levels and develop Singapore into a leader for human capital thought and practice. This is becoming increasingly important as more companies start to see HR as a strategic partner and no longer as an administrative or supporting function.
One significant NHRC intiative was the Singapore Human Capital Summit launched last year, jointly organised by MOM and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. “This is one of the platforms NHRC taps on to bring together C-suite executives and thought leaders to discuss research findings and innovative people strategies and ideas for Asia.” The fact that 43% of delegates attended last year’s Summit were C-suite executives indicates a strong interest in the significance of HR in the boardroom, she adds.
“Another exciting project I am involved in is the inaugural Asian Human Capital Award 2009,” Low adds. Teaming up with INSEAD, this award will recognise and celebrate innovative human capital practices adopted by Asia-based organisations. It will also provide useful case studies and strategies on human capital challenges in Asia.
While this downturn may bring about more challenges for HR practitioners, Low says her peers can use this time as a window of opportunity to be seen as a strategic partner by advising business leaders on measures that can help save jobs and ensure business sustainability and profitability. “This is a golden opportunity for HR practitioners to rise to the occasion and help their businesses ride through the storm while preparing their workforce for the upturn.”
What advice would you give to other HR practitioners?
A quote that inspires me in my line of work is by Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. My five personal tips for HR Practitioners are:
1. Know your business and be involved in the decision-making process.
2. Step up to the role of an advisor apart from being an implementer.
3. Take accountability for the business results.
4. Be open to learning and sharing.
5. Be a change champion for the people.
Georgie Antony Chunkath
Change is the only constant, says Georgie Antony Chunkath, head of human resources APAC, of Nokia Siemens Networks. Within the last five years, Chunkath says there has been a increase in the level of mergers & acquisitions, as companies that value size and economies of scale seek complementary M&As within the same industries, “which in turn bring integration and change management to the top of the agenda for HR.”
Furthermore, Chunkath says he sees organisational restructuring is also taking growing prominence within companies, not merely rightsizing an organisation, but also within organisational design whereby HR combines functions and re-examines sub-regional and regional structures.
“HR professionals are getting much more ‘hands on’ in terms of talent management issues such as identification, retention, special development efforts, career & succession planning.”
More than just a mere partner or coach, Chunkath says HR will become a player in the business when the people component becomes a distinct differentiator for businesses. “For HR to become an effective player in the business, we need to understand and be able to contribute to business strategy, much like other business functions.”
What is one key lesson you’ve learnt over the last five years?
Sometimes HR professionals tend to think that it is an ‘either-or’ situation between operational HR role and business partnering HR role. From my experience, both are equally important.
We can debate which should be more important. But without the basics in place, (which is taken for granted in many cases), it is difficult to play the role of a business partner. Also, when we overemphasize business partnering, we tend to focus only one segment – on line managers – and tend to forget the other important segment we serve, namely, the employees.
Ong Tiong Eng
Ong Tiong Eng, featured in December 2004 as the HR director of Singapore Management University has retired to concentrate on his travels, personal investments and running a family business with assets worth S$20 million.
Ong started his career in 1975 as a senior industrial relations officer at NTUC. After 21 years at American Express and six years with Singapore Management University (which he viewed as ‘giving back’), Ong says it is now his “time to fade away.”
Taking a more advisory role, Yeo Chet Tern, vice president human resources and general affairs says his role as a HR practitioner in the past five years has expanded to include organisational development and structuring for Canon in the South and Southeast Asia region. “It has also evolved to more of an advisory role where I work closely with my division heads to oversee and implement the human resources and general affairs initiatives across the region,” he adds.
But if Yeo were to put a finger on his greatest accomplishment in the last five years, he would have to pin it on the shift in mindset from a negative to positive one among employees. This, Yeo says, is largely due to a Work Improvement Suggestions from Employees (WISE) programme put in place three years ago for employees to provide feedback and suggestions to help improve business operations.
With the WISE programme, Yeo says he has seen an increase in the quantity as well as quality of staff suggestions, with the suggestions directly translating into company savings as well as improvements in workflow and processing times. “Through this initiative, our staff has been encouraged to create cross-functional teams to work on a particular suggestion on their own, and this change in mindset is now embedded in our organisation’s work culture.”
“A close second would be the implementation of the competency based HR system which was developed entirely in-house and implemented region wide. A truly Canon competency model, it is something that Canon in the South and Southeast Asia region can be proud of.”
Looking ahead, Yeo says he hopes to continue working past his retirement age and actively contribute to the organisation, playing the role of a mentor and grooming his colleagues who will succeed him in his current position. In the next few years, Yeo says he hopes to implement a training programme for Canon’s managers and supervisors “to equip them with basic management concepts by which they can increase their competency levels” as well as further develop the WISE programme to make it more collaborative.
What is one piece of advice you would have for younger HR practitioners?
Remember the importance of humanity. I mentioned this during my interview with Human Resources in 2006. To see employees not just as a means to achieve organisation targets but as an individual who has a personality that fits the company culture and is a socially responsible person.
It is especially challenging in large organisations where humanity is often sacrificed for the sake of productivity. The solution is to increase horizontal and vertical communication channels and keep them open. By doing so, staff is kept abreast of company developments and at the same time, they are able to communicate with the company CEO and senior management.
I would also advise HR practitioners to play a more strategic role in the company’s growth and success. HR practitioners can influence the bottom-line and add value to a company’s operation. Not only must they ensure that the work they do adds to value creation for the company, they should also ensure its visibility. Only then can the human resources function be considered as an integral part of the business.
In fact, this piece of advice is equally applicable to the staff of all support operations. Your work must be seen as contributing to the success of the company. When this happens, you efforts will be appreciated and you will earn increased respect from the entire company.
Chiang Boon Kong
Chiang Boon Kong, is now managing director of human capital and corporate communications at Great Eastern. Having been with the company since 1997, Chiang’s transition from his previous role as managing director of strategic resources management to his current one means relinquishing his previous IT portfolio to one where people management (or specially talent management) is more central to his KPI.
Chiang, who was featured in May 2005, says his biggest contribution to Great Eastern is developing the employee brand of a company that is not an MNC but also “not quite the local company”.
“Many of my colleagues and ex-colleagues can attest to the fact that Great Eastern is a good employer and they enjoy or enjoyed working here; learning and contributing.”
Futhermore, the company has not changed its focus as a business about people, “and that’s not saying it as a cliché”, he attests. Citing the ever-increasing overall organisation engagement survey results as testimony to way the company is run, with a new group CEO who is very much a people person, Chiang says the company’s HR strategy is only set to become “even more people and relationship-centric”.
Elizabeth Martin-Chua is now principal consultant for her own consultancy firm Elizabeth Martin Associates. Martin-Chua left Philips at the end of September 2008 after being the senior vice-president for China and located in Shanghai for more than two years, a decision which she says was hard to make. “It was a difficult decision considering I loved my job and the company very much. HR has been my passion so much so that I often view it as a ‘calling.’ Besides, Shanghai was exhilarating to say the least, I was so busy!”
Martin-Chua now consults on topics that include human capital management, HR development, leadership development as well as diversity and inclusion. Martin-Chua has also written a book titled Maximising human capital in Asia – from the inside out, published by John Wiley and slated for release this year. The book documents her views on all the common aspects of HR.
Presently, Martin-Chua is acting as a consultant to a Chinese company in Shenzhen, helping some companies strengthen their HR teams as well as teaching at a local university in the later part of 2009. “All in all, I want to share my knowledge and experience,” she says.
For Angeline Oh, HR director of IBM ASEAN/Asia, the biggest change since being featured in November 2007 is the addition of new Asian countries into her portfolio. After the company’s HR transformation that aimed at becoming globally integrated, the new countries Oh is responsible for now include Australia, New Zealand, Greater China Group, Japan and Korea.
Oh says she’s learnt that HR needs to keep evolving in order to adapt to the changing needs of the clients and stay ahead of the game. “At the same time, we must stay true to our principles and values, which should remain the same regardless of external circumstances,” she adds.
What HR function are you spending most of your time with now, and why?
I spend most of my time with IBM’s HR partners. This is because our HR partners are strategic advisors to our managers and a source of counsel and support. Since they are responsible for the crucial task of guiding managers, I do all that I can to help them enhance their skills and become more proactive.
As our HR partners become more skilled, they give better support to managers, who are then able to lead and motivate employees better.
Shahrukh Marfatia, previously regional VP of HR at Nokia in our April 2006 issue is now vice-president of human resources of B2B at Shell. Having joined in December 2006, Marfatia now sits on the global business-to-business leadership team, and has a large business and strategic component to his role.
According to Marfatia, his role now encompasses driving the HR agenda in three ways: ensuring the right talent for various business leadership teams, helping the business carry out various portfolio actions as well as embedding new operating business models. “The job also has overall accountability for HR activities with the primary focus on learning & competence development, change management, performance management and employee engagement.” Furthermore, Marfatia says he spends a large portion of his time on talent resourcing and short and medium term succession planning, “with special emphasis on our diversity focus areas.”
Do you think the HR function has become more strategic in the last five years?
HR has definitely become more strategic in the last five years – it has a very key role to play in the success of our businesses and people both in boom times and in a tough economic climate, regardless of the industry one is in. Both make significant demands on one’s professional capabilities and character.
In the last five years, Rosemary Soong, currently vice president of human resource of Swissport Singapore says the companies she has worked for has seen immense business growth and an increase in M&A activities. She has also seen the launch of employee engagement initiatives, cost efficiency & headcount rationalisation projects and even cessation of commercial operations as well.
“The HR functions I managed have moved into a more strategic mode in terms of talent management and employee engagement. In addition, more emphasis has been placed on workforce health & safety issues and on risk & crisis management processes,” says Soong, who joined Swissport from Jetstar in February 2007.
Currently, Soong says the recent economic recession has sent many employees into a state of shock, as plunging sales and profits have become a fact of life for many organisations. “HR leaders may be faced with leading an entire HR team and working with a workforce with limited experience in managing their respective roles or functions during a downturn.”
In scenarios like these, Soong says she has learnt that becoming a “proactive HR solution provider” is essential not just for the organisation, but for the individual and function as well.”
What should HR practitioners do in times of a recession?
In times of an economic recession, speed and decisiveness are key survival factors. Companies who act quickly and decisively are likely to better survive and emerge more successfully post recession.
As strategic partners, HR leaders may consider revisiting the following basics in a proactive manner:
- Understand the business, anticipate and deliver what the management needs.
- Communicate the value of HR service through value propositions.
- Ensure HR operational excellence.
John Holding, former vice president of HR Asia for Nortel Holdings back in August 2007 has now relocated Hong Kong to fill the role of Avery Dennison’s vice president of HR for retail information services Asia. Holding left Nortel in December 2008 and says he is now able to put his experience of working with world-class leadership practices to help create a “new pan-Asian HR delivery mechanism” and contribute to the company’s growth in Asia.
Having joined Avery Dennison in June 2009, Holding heads the Asia’s HR for the company’s retail information services (RIS) division which deals in retail tag, ticketing, branding and product identification. With a total of 16,000 employees, Holding says the wide-ranging roles that employees play contributes to the wide employee diversity. Furthermore, Holding adds that the current workforce at Avery Dennison has a high population of manufacturing workers and is also heavily concentrated in China. “What is the same, however, is the emphasis both companies place on developing people to their full potential and on supporting them to create and act on innovative ideas to improve operations, products and customer service,” he adds.
Holding’s main focus now is to help the company evolve its traditional HR structure to one that is more contemporary – one where HR’s services are maximized through a shared services mechanism. In addition, he is also supporting the division’s global Enterprise Lean Sigma function as well as developing and leading the oganisation’s pan-Asian HR initatives.
In his years as a HR practitioner, Holding says his proudest HR achievement has been helping to develop talent by identifying key leadership talent and placing them into fast-track programmes. “Seeing them grow and then make significant contributions to the business is very rewarding,” Holding says, adding that he looks forward to doing the same for talented employees at his new company as well.
Fernando Esquivel, former Asia Pacific HR director of Microsoft is now vice president of HR for Eaton’s Electrical Sector for the Americas Region, a global power management company that focuses on energy efficient solutions for its clients. With a professional degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Esquivel says he personally identifies “with the mission, the values of the company and the role that we will play in the future based on all the changes and innovations that we will go through during the next decade”.
Esquivel says the opportunity to work in Asia Pacific has provided him to learn from what he calls “a very diverse and fascinating region of the world”, where mature markets such as Australia and Singapore co-exist with emerging markets such as India and Indonesia. “Having the opportunity to work with a very diverse leadership team within the business and the HR organisation was a very valuable experience and key to implementing initiatives in each of the different countries.”
While the economic environment has become a challenge for Eaton, Esquivel, who joined the company in November 2008 says the organisation has been taking necessary actions to align the company’s cost structure to market conditions and customer demands. “From an HR standpoint it is important to clearly communicate the state of the business and establish specific processes to keep our organisation informed and focused on the important priorities that will help us compete successfully during this period of significantly reduced economic activity.”
In addition, Esquivel says the company has also reorganised its business at the start of 2009 to focus on electrical and industrial markets, adding, “I has been an important area of focus within HR to provide the right guidance and support the new organisational structure.”
What do you think the future of the workforce will look like?
Technology has definitely changed the way we work. I think it will continue to be an element that will shape the workforce. In addition, I believe that the workforce will be much more diverse than ever. We will see diversity in ethnicity, gender and experience. A global mindset will be required to serve customers and consumers around the world.
After an impressive 29 years working for ABN Amro Bank, former head of HR Molly Yeo is now taking a break and finding a new focus in her HR profession. For her future endeavors, Yeo says she is likely to remain with HR but more towards the realms of advisory and consultative work as well as helping to shape the future of the HR profession. “I am still very passionate about HR and the path I choose will still be in HR, but with a different focus so as to further expand on my HR experience,” she adds.
To Yeo, she feels that her move beyond contributing to the organisation but being able to share with the rest of the HR community, inspire new HR professionals and help shape and influence the direction of HR has been one of her greatest career accomplishments. “At the corporate level, all the HR initiatives and programmes I have put together has helped my employer to receive many accolades and awards at a national level.”
Yeo began her career at ABN AMRO as personal assistant to the head of HR in 1980, before becoming a personnel officer three years later. In 1986, Yeo was promoted to the position of head of HR.
Yeo says her motivation to constantly upgrade herself and be a better HR practitioner, stems from the impact HR has on the lives of others.
What will the face of tomorrow’s workforce look like?
The greatest change is probably felt in the last two years as a result of the financial meltdown. The existing workforce had to deal with downsizing and retrenchment while the new workforce faced unemployment.
As the younger workforce has never encountered an economic recession, after going through this experience, they have become more realistic in their expectations and more appreciative of the stability of a job above all else.
Hopefully they will not forget the painful lessons and experiences learned during the financial crisis and continue to hold these values close to their hearts.
Even though Joydeep Bose’s title of global head of HR for Olam International has remained since the cover of July 2007, the complexity of the role has definitely increased.
In the last two years, Olam has grown its headcount from 6,000 to 9,500 today and Bose says he has seen a total of 15 M&A transactions and an increase in company revenue from US$3.5 billion to US$5.6 billion. “Today my responsibilities include the acquisition, retention and engagement of talent across the 20 businesses, 60 countries and 9,500 employees,” Bose says.
Bose believes this current recession will test the mettle of many organisations, where merely surviving in the business is not longer enough. Instead, it is now “more about identifying the structural changes that have impacted the business space, spotting consequent opportunities and threats that underlie these changes, making those strategic choices and finally preparing the organisation to address these new challenges.”
While Bose says Olam has seen “significant opportunities” as a result of this downturn, his role as a HR practitioner is to identify, acquire and build specific capabilities that the organisation needs to help further the company’s growth.
Olam’s success has been built upon the quality of its people – as employees embody the right mix of behaviours of measured risk taking, discretionary stretch, accountability and ownership. “This culture is the DNA of the organisation enabling it to replicate the factors contributing to success across the organisation and specifically in the new businesses,” adding that HR’s role contribution in the company is to facilitate the process of creating and nurturing that unique Olam culture.
“External stakeholders of Olam, customers, suppliers and quite importantly the investor community appreciate and underscore the quality of talent that Olam has been able to develop over the years,” adds Bose.
Former senior vice president of group HR of Certis CISCO Security, Jaclyn Lee has recently been appointed as the new HR director for Singapore’s upcoming fourth university.
According to Lee, her biggest change since 2007 is having the experience of managing a workforce of more than 8,000 people. “When you manage a large workforce, systems and processes have to be altered to be able to manage the complexity.” In addition, Lee has also set up HR systems and structures for countries such as Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Middle East and China at Certis CISCO.
Looking ahead, Lee says the changing workforce will be driven by the entry of an IT-savvy Generation Y and X workforce, as well as an ageing population. While HR policies and programmes will have to cater to the younger generation’s higher expectations and demands for a work-life balance, Lee says HR also needs to tap onto the experience of the mature workforce as well. “This can be done through active re-employment policies, and a good development program that can see the older generation mentoring the newer generation.”
What is your proudest HR accomplishment that you’ve accomplished in the last five years?
Being able to unwind one of the most complex wage structure of the statutory board to that of a performance based system in the private sector. The other achievement that I am proud of is the ability to set up the largest internal agency within Certis CISCO that can recruit up to 3,000 security personnel yearly.
After working in Mediacorp for five years as its executive vice president of group HR and corporate services, Chua Hoe Sing, is now regional human resource director of Prudential Corporation Asia. Having joined the company in October 2006, Chua is now based in the Asian regional head office in Hong Kong and is responsible for the regional HR operations and corporate governance, including risk and Sarbanes-Oxley Act management.
In addition, Chua is also a member of the Remuneration Committee at the Singapore National Kidney Foundation where he provides policy oversight of the HR function. He also ensures that proper remuneration policies are in place and helps decide on the remuneration of its senior executives.
According to Chua, the employee demographic in Hong Kong compared to Singapore is more diverse, business-minded and workers generally tend to work longer hours. Mobility from China has also alleviated the city’s workforce shortages, and employees are more open to having their employer source for talent and specialists outside of Hong Kong to increase the knowledge and expertise. “Employers generally understand and accept employee having a second job. And over the years, companies in Hong Kong have also focused more on greater China development, especially in mainland China.”
Because HR leaders are expected to participate in the business strategy discussion and build employee performance, as such, Chua says some critical skills HR practitioners will need includes business knowledge and basic financial comprehension, leadership and management competencies, the ability to leverage change, international skills, risk-taking ability and above all – execution skills.
Chok Yee Ling is now working at The Body Shop as its head of retail operations. Chok first joined Starbucks in 1997 and held the role of senior store manager before making the switch into HR as a learning & development manager and moving into the role of head of partner resources later.
While her return to an operations role in 2006 at Starbucks was not all new, Chok’s time as a HR practitioner has helped her develop strategic thinking, tools and resources that allowed her to be more effective in a management-type role. “In addition, I missed being more directly involved in driving business results and working for a company like Starbucks, I knew I will not be missing making people the center of my work-life!”
Since joining The Body Shop in June 2008, Chok is responsible for the operations, customer service, employees and business results of all 38 retail stores in Singapore.
When asked about the transition back to operations, Chek says she found herself having to quickly understand the day-to-day business, such as employee and customer issues, including store sales patterns and P&Ls. “However the biggest challenge was doing all that and having to ensure I was always present for the employees and my direct reports, not as an employee advocate and HR manager anymore but as a leader who is directly responsible for their success and future with the company. While it was quite stressful, I felt it was worth every minute of lost sleep!”
For Chok, she says working under The Body Shop’s legacy of strong ethics and values has developed her retail experience within an extremely competitive beauty industry. One of her favourite aspects of her job is running human rights campaigns within the stores and being involved in efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of the organisation. For instance, Chok says the company now saves 10 million new plastic bottles a year by ensuring that its PET bottles are 100% recyclable and contains at least 60% of post-consumer recycled material.
When Sally Tang, HR director of TNT Singapore, was interviewed in October 2004, she only had 337 employees that were located in one facility to deal with. At that time, the TNT business was also largely comprised of delivering relatively small documents and parcels.
“Since then, our business has grown enormously,” Tang says. Currently, TNT’s local employees stand at more than 600 across three facilities – the Singapore country depot, customer contact centre and a TNT regional hub. Last year, the organisation launched a strategy that aimed to grow the company’s leadership position in Asia over the next four years. “As a result, my HR responsibilities have also grown, and I enjoy these new challenges.”
In light of the strategic repositioning and the company’s growth, Tang says there is now a greater emphasis on investing and communicating with employees. While the company is still on a recruitment drive, Tang says her aim is to help employees manage change, “and communication plays a key part in driving these changes.” “These are interesting times, and we also invest a lot in encouraging the right motivation,” she says, adding that such steps include reviewing policies on reward, recognition and benefits to be in line with the company’s growth strategy.
According to Tang, talent management and retention is now one of the more pressing HR issues as the company undergoes significant change and growth. “We need to help our employees develop new competencies as we expand our business, help them manage the change in new technology and processes.” While the company enjoys low turnover rates, Tang says the company now needs to create career development opportunities for a group of managers and employees who have been with the company for three to five years but their career aspirations may now be in line with business requirements or direction. “Developing and building a pipeline of readily available candidates for key frontline functions is also priority,” she adds.
What do you see yourself doing as a HR practitioner in five years time?
As an HR practitioner at TNT, my aim remains to build and sustain the best HR practices for our employees and to help the business grow.
In five years time, I envision myself dealing with organisation development in a larger business and learning even more about the business as it evolves. TNT in five years time will be bigger, and I foresee myself building and sustaining the unique TNT culture of service excellence amongst a larger and multi-cultural workforce. To stay relevant and cater to the needs of a different generation of talents, employee retention strategies, specifically policies and practices, will have to be reviewed and revised.
At the same time, I foresee myself having developed a strong leadership pipeline and a firm base of very competent and engaged employees who will take TNT to greater heights.
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