The country CEO of electrical, IT and furniture retailer Courts Singapore, Ben Tan, talks to Nicole Chew about embracing the philosophy of Kaizen, ensuring every employee is recognised for their work, and enabling staff to give back to the local community.

You joined Courts as designate country CEO in January 2017, assuming your current role as country CEO in April 2017. What kind of preparation path did you have in place for those three key months?

Those three months were invested in getting to know the people behind the business. Courts has 14 stores island-wide so I dedicated every Saturday to visiting a few stores and getting to know the frontline staff and branch managers.

I have also invested a lot of time into listening to key staff and direct reports, in order to set up a more optimised organisational structure that would drive some of the transformational changes that we had planned for the year ahead.

In the past year, are there any particular milestones that stand out to you?

2017 was a year of reinvention for Courts, as we set out on a mission to redesign our store and e-commerce customer experiences. In November 2017, as part of a series of store refurbishments, we opened our redesigned Megastore in Tampines offering 136,000 square feet of experiential retail space. It was a huge milestone for us, which took a year of planning.

We launched our furniture range boasting several new brands, and expanded our suite of home solutions with house brands, GURU and Design Studio by Courts. Not only that, we relaunched our e-commerce platform with new interface and navigation, making it our largest store to date at 17,000 stock keeping units (SKUs). As you can tell, it was a busy month!

We achieved another milestone during that time and hit 70% in our net promoter score (NPS) in November. This industry metric, well above the industry average, means that 7 in 10 customers are likely to recommend us to their friends and family. Such encouraging indicators of success assure us that we are on the right track with our customers, and stood us in good stead to power forward in the new year.

As a leader, I take it upon myself to enable continuous improvement through a feedback-rich environment.
As we head into the new year, what are your key priorities for 2018?

Retail is a people-centric business, and people remain my biggest priority. As we invest in our collective future and the futures of our employees, we’re channelling resources into omni-channel and digital transformation, service training and customer-focused thinking throughout the end-to-end purchase cycle. We continue to build and hire for a team that lives and drives these focus areas, forming the future of retail.

What has been the biggest challenge during your time leading Courts Singapore?

Today’s retail landscape is evolving with growing digital and mobile consumption patterns. Customers’ expectations are also changing, with many expecting brands to build positive and seamless relationships with them across all channels – physical and online.

Thankfully, Courts has taken the lead by being omni-channel for a few years. This year, we will continue to refine the customer experience by driving our customer relationship management (CRM) and loyalty programme initiatives, to make every encounter shoppers have with us a positive and memorable one.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I have always believed in the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, which encourages continuous learning and improvement. I’ve found throughout my career that people who embrace this will ultimately reap the rewards and find themselves the better for it. Kaizen takes a ‘no shortcuts’ approach, and also means that, as a leader, I take it upon myself to enable continuous improvement through a feedback-rich environment.

One of Courts' core values is ‘employees first’. Tell us about how you view HR as part of the business, and how actively you work with the HR function?

HR has a seat at all my business-critical meetings. They are an integral part of the business and our biggest asset. My business is not an asset-rich one and people lie at the heart of our work. That said, ‘employees first’ as a value does not mean that is the work of HR alone. It means that employees at all levels are constantly being engaged, through a respectful and collaborative approach.

Are there any people initiatives that are close to your heart?

Motivating our talent in a performance-based culture is one of the things that keeps me up at night. Our annual Courts awards recognise the top talent across the organisation, taking a balanced approach on commending sales and non-sales performance. Providing a platform for company recognition and appreciation for good work is very important to boosting morale.

In addition to that, during my regular store visits we identify and award tokens of appreciation to staff who demonstrate abilities beyond sales, such as great customer service, peer mentorship and showing initiative.

Focus on consistent performance. It is a marathon not a sprint, and endurance and hard work will pay off.
What kind of culture do you try to establish for your employees, and how do you ensure that they are motivated and aligned to the corporate vision?

The retail industry is one of the most highly disrupted industries, so being adaptable and open to change is key for success. Another one of our corporate values is ‘innovate to grow’, and our company rewards and encourages an innovation-centric mindset that keeps us nimble and constantly learning and growing.

What is the drive behind the many community outreach programmes and volunteer activities that Courts staff are involved in?

Families and the home are very close to Courts’ heart, as our mission is to provide aspirational home products at affordable prices. Over the years, Courts has worked with over 30 local charities and non-profit organisations to give back to the very community that has supported us for the 43 years we’ve been here in Singapore. We give back in ways where we feel we can make the most impact – donating furniture and basic household appliances, and getting our staff and stores involved.

Recently, we organised Green Christmas in November at our Orchard store, where shoppers donated towards greener homes for the needy. Donations and proceeds from energy and water-saving appliances went to Habitat for Humanity, as part of the government’s Sustainable Singapore initiative. Our staff also got involved in cleaning, painting and sealing homes of needy elderly. In total, we raised S$5,200 for a great cause – a true team effort between stores, staff and public organisations!

Q What is the best career advice you can give to your employees?

Three things – first, embrace the philosophy of kaizen. Learning does not stop at school. The minute you stop learning, others move ahead of you. 

Second, focus on consistent performance. It is a marathon not a sprint, and endurance and hard work will pay off.

Thirdly, take on big challenges. Some might be reluctant to accept new challenges at work and move outside of their comfort zone. In my experience, overcoming that initial barrier of fear is the most difficult part. The rest is usually easier than you imagine, and will ultimately equip you with one of the best career assets – adaptability.

 Photo / Provided