Aliza Ali, Group Managing Director, Chatime Malaysia, shares the secret to the beverage company's aggressive growth in the past two years, as well as how will HR play a part in the firm's next stage of expansion.

Q You came from an engineering background before moving to entrepreneurship via Will Group and Chatime. What sparked this decision?

Business has always been my passion and dream since I was a teenager. Even though I studied in chemical engineering, I had this one dream to have my own business.

I love to see a “complete picture” of something (business) that grows from when it is small till it becomes bigger and stronger. That led me to venture into this entrepreneurship world and start everything with Will Group, until we became the master franchisee for Chatime in Malaysia.

Q After Chatime in Malaysia was almost wiped off in early 2017, you managed to save the business and grow Will Group from a 2 ringgit company to a 1.2 billion ringgit portfolio with over 2,000 staff. What was the secret ingredient to this resounding success?

We had passion to grow the business and were persistent to ensure the business and brand itself will once again grow to its glory.

I think the secret ingredient is the belief that we can bring back the brand to its glory in Malaysia. Malaysians love Chatime and they were looking for Chatime when it almost wiped off during the time. In fact, they even thought that the brand was no longer exist in the market. So, we felt that it’s our responsibility to bring it back to its fans in Malaysia.

Since the incident in 2017, how do you think staff of Chatime have benefitted by being part of the master franchisee for the Chatime brand, in terms of development opportunities?

In Chatime, apart from training the staff in food handling, we also train them in business management skills, where even an ordinary outlet staff who serves the drink also has the knowledge of business management. By doing that, we managed to groom many outlet staff to take up roles as part of the management team.

We continue to focus on grooming employees' abilities to comprehend business management, even though they are starting as just a barista.

Under your leadership, Chatime Malaysia has grown aggressively over the last two years to reach to 170 locations in three countries. What are your plans for 2019 and beyond? And how will HR play a part in it?

We aim to be the world's biggest Chatime operator globally by year end. We also target to penetrate Singapore and Saudi Arabia this year and to open up to 20 and 30 outlets respectively in these markets, in phases. For the Malaysia market, we plan to open up to 70 outlets this year.

HR will play a big part in it because instead of getting new staff to lead these new markets, we plan to groom our existing staff to become the leaders. We will identify the potential staff, groom them and build their confidence in becoming a leader. With their experience, they are able to replicate the same skills and knowledge, even if they need to work in other countries.

How do you think the HR function can better contribute to organisational goals?

HR provides the structures to make it easier for staff to understand what their responsibilities are and how they can contribute to company's growth. Each department then will be able to understand what their participation means to the goals we set.

The HR department also needs to bring out the best in my employees because it is their talent that will determine how successful my organisation will be.

If your HR head had to take over your position tomorrow, do you think he/she will be successful? Why?

Most of the growth strategies of the company are currently mainly set by myself. Right now, I am training all heads of each department, including HR, to understand this organisation better and how to strategise the way I do.

What do you think organisations can do to empower more women leaders like yourself?

By creating the atmosphere for women staff to explore and express themselves more. For example, I always seek bigger and more difficult challenges to give all of my employees, including women, for them to achieve.

An organisation should not put the boundaries or limitations on their employees and their potential to grow.

At the same time, we also empower our female employees by providing them an open and safe platform to voice out their opinions, ideas and criticisms that can help drive the company further.

In short, for me, the ideal workplace is where all employees are given the same opportunities and that is what we're doing in Chatime.

If not this career, what alternative career path might you have chosen?

If it's not this career, I would be an investor.

Photo / provided