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Alok Ghose, managing director and cluster leader, Philips Lighting – Singapore, Malaysia and exports, shares his views on leadership, motivating employees, and HR, in an interview with Jerene Ang.
Q I understand that you have been with Philips since 1996 and have held various positions in the company, what made you stay with Philips for such a long time?
Philips Lighting has a 125-year history in leading the global lighting industry, catering to one of the most meaningful human needs. It innovates relentlessly, and continues to push the envelope in delivering future-proof lighting solutions that have redefined and extended the way light is used – literally light beyond illumination.
I have always been proud to be part of this enriching and transformational journey with the company. Having been spun off from Royal Philips last year, Philips Lighting now presents me with the opportunity to work in a start-up-like environment. Together with my team, we can chart the next phase of growth in connected lighting for the internet of things using sustainable energy-saving LED technologies.
Q How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m quite hands-on and prefer a personal touch, in an inspiring way. A true leader is also a concerned mentor who wants colleagues to perform and reach their full potential in diverse roles. “Showing the ropes” while raising the bar is something I cherish. This fosters trust and synergies within the team, even when I am not present.
Q Having held business development roles for diverse geographies, what similarities and differences do you notice in the people challenges across geographies? And how have you adapted your leadership style?
As a deemed “foreigner” in some of these markets, I have always endeavoured to adapt to the cultural nuances and peer dynamics while still being “global”. While cultures may differ, my leadership ethos remains stable – accessible and dependable.
The atmosphere I consistently cultivate in each market encourages openness, creativity and inclusion. This is how we can continue our lead as an innovator, while we must always challenge the status quo to do things differently and better.
Q Today, the home lighting segment, which you helped set up, is worth more than 250 million Euros in the markets you were responsible for. What’s your secret to motivating staff to achieve such success?
Apart from my emphasis on mentorships, I advocate freedom of expression at work. This means everyone in the team is a talent. I try to lead by example, modelling success not found in saying “yes” all the time, but anchored in inclusive collaboration, accountability and transparency.
In addition, my team also knows they have my backing whenever they face opposition or obstacles in getting the right things done. I am there to facilitate and escalate as and when needed, and make it a point to lead them with infectious motivation.
Q As a leader and people manager, how do you motivate staff when they are struggling with work?
I believe such struggles are an opportunity for learning and growth – both for the individual and the team. My open-door attitude at work extends to employees who wish to discuss personal or private matters as well, contributing to a culture of mutual trust and respect. Everyone can succeed and must be provided avenues to cross-learn and be greater together. I also drive teamwork where successes and failures are shared with all.
This support system encourages the team to achieve their best, as an integrated taskforce.
Q What is your view of human resources as a business function? How closely do you work with your HR head and on what type of issues?
As early as preparing for the separation of the lighting business, we worked closely with human resources to identify and profile competencies that would form a right fit for the future lighting business models. This wasn’t simple, as some employees were trained in multiple domains, with overlapping skill sets.
We had to work together to assess the strengths and developmental needs of all employees in the mid to longer term; a reskilling plan to address gaps; and mobility for career development within the new Philips Lighting organisation. Also relevant was reorienting ourselves to the drivers of the increasing Millennial taskforce.
Q In Asia, specifically Singapore and Malaysia, how would you like to see the HR function improve. And why?
As Singapore and Malaysia advance the cause for smart nations, demands for digitally connected systems know-how and IoT architectural competencies increase. Beyond product sales, we see a need for expertise in engaging with customers in a consultative manner to connect the dots and integrate between lighting and non-lighting aspects of an intelligent workplace, urban space or residence. All of us must become our customers’ trusted advisors and aim to future-proof their investments and extend the value of what they already possess.
While the HR community primarily serves needs internal to the organisation, we need them to also be fully abreast of the external environment and the dynamic industries we serve, and groom or seek the talent profiles apt for the future. We are the lighting company for the internet of things, and we have to live it ourselves before we can articulate and attract like-minded people to our fold.
Q Do HR leaders justify a seat at the C-suite table?
Certainly. HR leaders should be part of the C-suite. Our business is run by people, for people. In innovating and implementing human-centric lighting solutions for the world, we must first be human-centric as an organisation, focusing on the needs and aspirations of our people, and HRM is pivotal in this direction. Our global HR leader sits on the highest leadership team outside of our board of directors – a testament to the crucial role HR plays as a business partner and paramount to the success of Philips Lighting.
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