All in this together
Vital stats: Peggy Tang, HR director for global procurement and Singapore site; Paul Sexton, VP of HR for global sales and marketing and Renee van der Burg, VP of HR for global operations, are core HR team members within NXP Semiconductors. Responsible for the HR function across the three different parts of the organisation, the trio are all based in Singapore.
Singapore is NXP’s official second headquarters. How does that help business operations?
Paul Sexton (PS): Singapore is the company’s second official headquarters, and that’s why we have the worldwide head of sales, operations, procurement and many more global roles based here. We also have worldwide leaders based in the US, and in Europe, so we’re a company that doesn’t have a singular central power and decision-making base. As a result, we’re able to make decisions that are relevant to the markets and customers we serve versus being restricted to one view based on one location.
I don’t think a lot of other companies have managed to successfully operate with such a well-organised, decentralised manner.
PS: We’ve been able to keep pace with the fastest markets because we have decision makers in those markets, but because we’re not just working out of one location, we also get a balanced perspective when it comes to decision-making. We get the benefit of working in mature markets where we’ve seen fast growth in the past, and we leverage that experience, plus the knowledge of the talent in all markets, to harness the different experiences to be agile and flexible. Because we have key decision-makers living and working in many global markets, we increase our decision-making quality and execution speed.
Collaboration requires significant effort so we leverage technology to have most conversations “face to face” and support people travelling to optimise the discussions, decisions and learnings that are critical to maintain the pace our customers require of us to enable their businesses. While the travel costs are substantial they are seen as an investment and there is an overt expectation that plans are executed and the ROI is obvious.
Renee van der Burg (RvdB): It’s interesting when we look at other companies to see how diverse our teams are, specifically in nationalities. It really adds a powerful dimension to our teamwork because by definition, we’re more aware and sensitive about differences, and what works or what doesn’t. We still make mistakes, but we’re a lot more aware of these differences so we can correct them quickly.
Peggy Tang (PT): We have more than 20 nationalities in Singapore alone. When you look at the employee education profile, at least 80% are graduates and above, and because we have an R&D operation in Singapore, we have quite a number of PhDs as well. We’ve really got a good and diverse talent pool in Singapore. We feel very proud of the highly skilled and motivated NXP population we have based in Singapore. They are making a significant impact on our global operations and doing a great job!
Peggy Tang, HR director for global procurement and Singapore site, NXP Semiconductors
Is that why the decision was made to base the second headquarters in Singapore?
RvdB: Our decision to locate the second HQ in Singapore was based on the combination of the following – well-established infrastructure, highly skilled labour market, and proximity to, and also the dynamics of other markets. And we are still constantly building the functions here.
PS: We’ve got a great team dynamic, we’ve got serious roles, and about 60% of the revenue and workforce for the company stems from Asia. You hear many other companies talking about the importance of Asia for future business, but it’s already reflected on our balance sheet. We’re a company that has great technology, talented people and the knowledge and experience to help our customers create secure connections for a smarter world. Every day, we want to bring our best, and be better than we were the day before. We believe success is a journey, not a destination.
Many companies struggle to make sure global strategies fit local nuances, but it seems at NXP that’s second nature.
PS: It’s because we don’t do everything top down. There is a top-down direction and Rick [Clemmer, president and CEO of NXP] and his senior management team have done an amazing job leading the transformation over the years. But they then communicate the direction and expect the leadership in each organisation to work it out, make it work and make it relevant to customers and markets that they serve and deliver the expected result. There’s always high engagement, lots of discussion, debate and the expectation that everyone steps forward and speaks their mind. If you do that, you have the impact and influence most people are looking for in their jobs.
Are there still challenges in terms of global communication?
PS: There are always challenges, but there is significant effort to communicate effectively. In addition to leveraging technology and having video calls as the default, we understand the importance of face to face meetings and aim to provide people with the opportunity to travel to attend business meetings. The different cultures engage in the discussions differently. Some are more direct than others, some prefer to talk offline during breaks, but we all walk out with clear, executable decisions. Everyone’s been heard, everyone’s been respected and it’s been efficient.
RvdB: For the operations organisation, we’re in the third year of having face-to-face HR meetings. The first meeting, I had to put everything together and plan the agenda. But now, there’s team collaboration, and there’s input from the rest of the team. It’s a matter of creating this energy and finding out what excites, drives and challenges the others.
PS: We do a lot of video calls, so it’s still face-to-face even though you’re not actually there. That’s our normal. We hardly use the phone. It helps to connect with people.
Paul, you spoke earlier about having decision-makers in every market. How does NXP empower its people?
PS: Because we’re a growing, evolving company, we’re not fully formed. Everyone’s empowered to recommend and drive change. If you’ve got an idea for improvement or a way to get a better result, come forward, suggest it and do it. There isn’t a framework you’re given to work within – it’s really a case of saying, “All right, we’ve got work to do so let’s get on with it”.
RvdB: Sometimes for people, it’s not always easy to come into NXP. There isn’t a boxed-in job description. You have to be very creative and dynamic, be able to improvise, build relationships and internal networks and find the information you need by asking.
Peggy, what was your reaction when you joined this culture two years ago?
PT: I came from a very structured company, where things were in place. When I came here, NXP in Singapore was going through a transition. Renee was also new to Singapore, and she was also trying to adjust to the way of doing things here.
It wasn’t easy, but what was good with this company is if you dare to do it, and you dare to do it right, they’ll let you. So I think that’s how I adopted to the style of working. In Singapore there are two groups – one was senior in terms of how long they’ve been with the company, and the other team was very new to NXP. That was a challenge because I had to figure out how to put them together.
The physical office move to Fusionopolis would have come with its own set of challenges as well.
PT: Actually, that helped because it gave the company a new branding and identity. There were many things we did consciously to create our own branding. After 13 months, we know who we are, but we’re not fully there yet. As far as HR is concerned, this year, we’re doing a lot of things such as a globalised system for our way of working. We’re also doing an annual engagement survey (Gallup) because we want to continuously hear what the employees have to say and make sure we are making progress in the areas shared.
Renee van der Burg, VP of HR for global operations, NXP Semiconductors
Are there any philosophies with NXP everyone works by?
PS: There are two major phrases we use internally. They are “absolute personal responsibility” and “fierce resolve”. In other words, if you’re going to do something, you have to own it, and you don’t give up. You keep going until it’s done, and we obviously make sure we do it the right way.
Renee, you are responsible for the biggest workforce out of the three. How have you managed to align that with the business culture?
RvdB: What helps is that I have history with the company. Once I came to Singapore, I could quickly start work with my colleagues in the other countries. Of course, it’s a big group and it has its own characteristics as a manufacturing operation.
What were some of the issues you had to overcome in that aspect?
RvdB: When we roll out targets, we realise we may not be able to do it because of the language differences and not everyone has a computer. By taking the time to understand what each site needed to feel connected, get to know the people and work together on effective solutions, we were able to bring everything and everyone together. I then moved into organising the HR team across the countries to support the organisation. Then we started working together to figure out the top priorities in HR – when we did our first succession planning, it was clear engagement, succession planning, pipeline building and talent management were the key topics.
PT: There was a strong focus on ensuring we had the right talent. This resulted in some change, but it was focused, purposeful and we held regular meetings to stay connected and move forward together. It takes discipline, but it gave us a platform to share progress and challenges.
How often does this HR team meet?
RvdB: We have a weekly call with each other, and face-to-face meetings with the wider HR team twice a year. With my own management team, we have three to four annual meetings, and that’s where we discuss foundations and programmes.
Do you work together frequently when it comes to rolling out HR programmes?
PS: Because we’re a close and mutually respecting HR team, we always share what we’re doing, and at the point where another business unit is ready for that, or that becomes a priority for them, they can just pick it up without having to invent it themselves. The operations team did a business foundation programme, and then the global sales and marketing side wanted it. So we picked it up, tailored a bit of content, but we really didn’t have to change that much. It’s great to have something that’s already proven to work within the company.
How has that helped with delivering effective programmes to the employees?
PS: Because every business is so focused on what they need to do, the programmes get accelerated within the organisation. Renee does what she needs to do, but she also makes it visible to us. I do what I need to do, and make it visible to others. We always try to find ways we can strengthen other parts of the business just by providing visibility to what we’re doing. If I want to pick up and roll out something, Renee and Peggy would happily support me doing that. It comes down to the very positive dynamic we have in the HR team.
Paul Sexton, VP of HR for global sales and marketing, NXP Semiconductors
What is the secret to this strong relationship the three of you share?
PS: As individuals, we respect each other, and we use that as a starting point. As we work together, we’ve encountered different things and come at problems from different angles, but by hearing each other out and being open to the ideas of a respected colleague we are able to strengthen the solutions.
PT: All of us have different backgrounds, but HR is the core. I’m very vocal – if I see something that isn’t right and it’s something we can improve on, I will say it, and they know it. They know how I work and I know how they work. It really is about mutual respect.
As HR, we always stand together so that when we reach out, we are one voice.
It also seems as though the team knows how to have fun.
PS: When you work this hard you need to enjoy it and find ways to have fun. You know everyone’s sprinting, you know everyone wants you to be successful so taking the time to make each other smile and see the lighter side of things sometimes is extremely helpful.
PS: There’s no tension between us. We all have a genuine desire to make an impact and to make NXP successful – and that makes the job easy. And Robert [Rigby-Hall, CHRO at NXP] sets a tone with his leadership that’s so nice to work with.
PT: We were also very fortunate because he was in Singapore, so I had the chance to work closely with and get to know him.
How does that close relationship with Robert Rigby-Hall help with your everyday responsibilities?
RvdB: Whenever I have a question or an issue, or maybe if there’s a programme we want to roll out, but have to tweak a bit for Asia or manufacturing, it’s convenient for me to communicate with him. That understanding, trust and empowerment that he gives us is a huge responsibility so we want to do the right thing by him.
PS: We all work hard; NXP is a hard-working company because the opportunity that we have as a company is huge. There are growing pains, but everyone is really going for it. Rick and his leadership team want you to take charge of your responsibilities.
I have to ask about what happens if the three of you do face a conflict. How do you resolve it?
PS: None of us need to be right all the time, and we don’t need to get our way all the time. Ultimately, if it’s something that is one person’s absolute responsibility we let them have the final say. If it’s Peggy’s project, I may give her my opinion and if she doesn’t take my opinion, that’s fine, and I’ll support her decision. We stand united as an HR team. Our teams are so different, we don’t come at things the same way.
We’ve had many occasions where we fundamentally disagree on the approach, but because we know who needs to make that final decision, we’re not trying to grab power or get our own way.
RvdB: The important thing is to avoid internal battles or burning internal energy because we need to fight the competition. It’s talking about things straight forward, understanding where everyone comes from, and the one who has a personal responsibility in the situation calls the shots.
PS: If there’s an executive decision that needs to be made, we make it and the rest of the team line up behind it. And because we do that, we align and execute quicker.
For companies that may still be struggling to work in a globalised manner, what advice would you give them?
PT: We’re not there yet – maybe we’re 70% there, but we’re not there yet. It’s a lot to do with cultural sensitivity. There are times where decisions were made in Europe, but Asia was subconsciously forgotten. That’s OK, but we then need to ask them about Asia, and they’ll redo the programme. It’s not yet second nature for everyone, but we have made great progress. Constant awareness helps.
PS: A simple example of putting the awareness into practice are the sales leadership team’s calls. We rotate the calls, so every quarter, someone takes a turn to suffer and take the call around midnight. But everyone does it willingly because they know it is shared and fair.
What about making sure there’s diversity in decision-making?
RvdB: If we have a project team, we always put people from different regions in it. The other thing that works well is to invite people here to visit the region. Many times, I’ve invited my colleagues over for one or two weeks to visit the factories and design centres. It’s not the same as being here all the time, but at least it gives them an appreciation of what we do here and facilitates relationship-building.