'Be the change': How BAT Malaysia enables talent to embrace differences, work globally, and make a positive impact
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'Be the change': How BAT Malaysia enables talent to embrace differences, work globally, and make a positive impact

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In this exclusive interview with Felicia Teh Sook-Ching, HR Director, BAT Malaysia, Aditi Sharma Kalra finds out about:

  • BAT Malaysia’s approach on supporting high performing managers,
  • The company’s commitment to D&I as well as its focus on developing female leaders, and
  • Efforts to build a strong and clearly differentiated reputation as an employer.

- with inputs from Lester Tan

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Q Having been in the HR & people space for more than 20 years, what keeps you most excited about your role?

One of the things I love about the HR space is that it is constantly growing and evolving. From accelerating talent instead of just talent management, to technology and a trajectory towards a future-fit workplace, it is never boring and always challenging.

There is no other department in an organisation with such a wide berth.

We are involved in all levels of an organisation from top to bottom, and in every function of the company as people are the most important and valuable part of a company. I enjoy being around people and seek to help individuals reach their full potential – the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s growth and career is immensely fulfilling.

Q At BAT, you recently launched the company’s new EVP 'Be the change', which will be a key pillar of your strategy to attract and nurture talent for a future-fit organisation. Talk us through some of the initiatives that this new EVP entails.

We launched our new employee value proposition (EVP) ‘Be The Change’ that captures what makes us unique in our efforts to attract, grow, and retain talent, and this proposition is very much aligned with our company’s vision of delivering 'a better tomorrowTM'. It is underpinned by our organisational ethos of being empowered, bold, fast, diverse, and responsible.

'Be the change' is an overarching promise, an invitation for talent to join and drive our transformation forward. This comes to life with three key pillars which play to our organisational strengths, and we know are important for external talent:

1. Bring your difference

This plays on the fact that we are an incredibly diverse organisation. We embrace people from various backgrounds and invite individuals to bring their own unique experiences and perspectives to the table, creating an even more vibrant and inclusive environment where new ideas can be exchanged, to deliver a high-performing culture fuelled by creativity.

2. Work on the world stage

As a truly international and global organisation, we offer talent the unique opportunity to connect and collaborate with teams around the world and work on deliverables that have a multi-country or global impact. The scale of global opportunities that exist in BAT means that individuals will find an ever-evolving scope of growth opportunities to unleash their full potential.

3. Make a positive impact

With sustainability at the core of our purpose, we empower our employees to work with the latest technology and tools to explore new fields of inspiration to make its business more sustainable and reduce the health impact of our products. Individuals can expect to play a part in key business breakthroughs, helping us transform and make a positive impact.

felicia teh bat malaysia

Q How else does BAT Malaysia show its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture for its workforce in terms of gender, ethnicity, and talent? What is HR’s role as the driver of such initiatives?

Our global footprint and diversity is an asset and we are cognisant that a supportive and inclusive culture is fundamental to our business and our continued growth into the future.

At BAT Malaysia, we strive to continue to provide focused development and workplace support, deliver diversity trainings, evolve our workplace policies to be more D&I focused, and put in place interventions to enhance inclusion.

We have made some good progress this year, particularly with our trade teams. We have welcomed many new female hires from diverse ethnic and career backgrounds into our trade teams this year.

We have put in place several interventions including a robust support system for expectant and new mothers in the field, sharing sessions for new joiners to bring their outside-in experience for continuous improvement and regular dialogues for newcomers to engage with our leadership team.

Q The UK is tackling the issue of gender disparity and pay gap through mandatory reporting, as well as conscious efforts to increase women in senior leadership and management roles by 2025. How similar is this strategy in the Malaysia office? We know, personally, you are passionate about developing female leaders.

The issue of gender disparity is something that we are focusing on across the company. Our aim is to increase the number of women in senior teams to 40% and women in management roles to 45%. We have recently embarked on a pay equity assessment that aims to expand our voluntary gender/ ethnicity pay reporting beyond our legal obligations, on an international basis.

Q What are some of the talent challenges you face as a frontrunner in the tobacco industry, given the nature of the business? How do you overcome these challenges and attract the best talent of the business, giving the business’s strong branding in graduate recruitment?

We are strongly committed to our talent to provide a robust environment and access to support to face the challenging operational and market environment in the tobacco industry. Our focus is on driving high performance, developing the next generation of leaders, valuing the diversity of our employees, encouraging and rewarding entrepreneurial behaviour, and creating an engaging culture where individuals and teams can be successful.

Providing a safe place to work, protecting our employees’ wellbeing, and listening to their views are also fundamental.

Q Talking about development, one of your key strategies is to develop talent from within by supporting high-performing managers. What are some proven strategies that work, and perhaps those that don’t work well in such cases?

Our talent strategy aims to create a legacy of leaders. We place a lot of emphasis on creating a coaching culture, as we believe that training and development should take place as close as possible to the work being done. BAT Malaysia brings this to life by investing heavily in capability acceleration, both in terms of functional capabilities and leadership impact, as well as international career opportunities for our talent.

Q We’d like to end with this - suppose you have the power to erase a misconception about HR professionals. What would it be, and why?

Most of the misconceptions about HR stem from a lack of understanding of the department’s function.

While I have experienced many misconceptions, one that I would like to erase is that HR 'doesn’t really understand the business'.

HR professionals today are connected with the business and are able to link people initiatives to business results, enabling leaders to achieve these outcomes. To this end, it is imperative that we understand and speak the language of the business, and build empathy and understanding by walking in their shoes. I strive to spend time getting out on the front line and seeing exactly what the work situations are like in the field and other functions. This puts us in good stead to drive and facilitate our transformation, while keeping a pulse on the organisational climate.

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