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Celestina Lee, Starbucks

15 minutes with Starbucks’ Celestina Lee



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From an organisation which calls employees its “partners”, Celestina Lee, head of partner resource at Starbucks, talks about the learning opportunities that enable partners to study, work abroad or simply be the best they can in all things coffee.

What do you enjoy most about managing HR at Starbucks?

I have been working at Starbucks for 10 months and I particularly love how it is so committed to its partners (employees).

We are passionate about how we work with people and, more importantly, deeply invested in the development of each individual.

We live and breathe the belief that everyone is a strategic partner to the business.

What you notice about Starbucks is also the infectious energy that every partner carries with them in their day-to-day. It is the mutual love for our work that drives us to do our best at the workplace.

Why did you decide to pursue HR as a profession?

I started as a trainer in the retail industry and realised that if I wanted to make an organisation a better place for myself and my colleagues, it takes more than a training plan!

It’s about working with individuals through proactive engagement, a strong organisational culture, employing talent with the right fit to the organisation, managing performance fairly and implementing attractive compensation strategies.

There is always a challenge in finding the right balance to achieve employee happiness and that, in my opinion, seems tougher than business success. I thrive on challenges and this is one of the driving forces that made me choose a career in HR.

How has the HR function evolved over time?

The HR function has always been seen as the backbone of a company and it always will be. What has evolved is the way employers/HR practitioners listen and speak to employees.

As the workforce becomes increasingly perceptive to employment options in the industry – mobility, remuneration and welfare – the HR function is faced with the challenge of retaining and attracting the right talent.

I believe the function needs to be adept at managing expectations of both management executives and employees to protect the interests of the company – human capital and business objectives.

What are some of Starbucks’ most pressing HR challenges?

Like all companies, Starbucks faces the challenge of retaining and attracting new talent.

The HR function can help with ensuring a suite of talent development programmes so our partners can grow in their careers and feel empowered.

Starbucks does this very well. Beyond hands-on training, mentorship and skills certification, our partners also have access to opportunities to pursue their interests.

For example, we have a coffee master programme where they can be experts in all things coffee.

We are always exploring how we can give our partners the opportunity to fulfil their desire to take on more interesting job scopes and new skills.

We offer post-graduate internships to final year student part-timers, so they can discover other aspects of the business, for example, marketing, HR or supply chain.

In addition, all our partners are also eligible to take part in the talent exchange programmes, where they will be transferred to other Starbucks markets, and learn from other partners in the region.

Partners who wish to upgrade their educational qualifications can apply for education sponsorships.

What do you think the future holds for HR?

As HR managers are expected to be business partners now more than ever, future HR leaders will need to look at how they can shift the direction of the organisation so that all employees take on responsibilities of a HR partner as well.

Employees can play an active role and be on the lookout for talent for the organisation and they need to share feedback on what’s working and what isn’t.



Talent Management Asia: Asia's leading HR strategy conference returns for its seventh year.
Unmissable opportunity to attend the go-to conference for HR leaders - debate key talent management challenges and share insights on future people strategy. Register now »

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