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Roy Bagattini-Levi

Suite Talk: Roy Bagattini, Levi Strauss & Co.



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Roy Bagattini, executive vice-president and president of Asia, Middle East and Africa at Levi Strauss & Co, talks to Jerene Ang about why the company believes its people are its only sustainable competitive advantage, and what he does to continuously engage them.

Before joining Levi Strauss & Co, you were working previously at Carlsberg. What attracted you to switch industries?

While these two companies operate in very different categories, one key dimension they do have in common, and something that really excites me, is the consumer focus. Having a deep appreciation and understanding of the consumer and what drives them, is critically important to both.

What specifically appealed to me about joining Levi Strauss & Co was the opportunity to work with a globally admired iconic brand, Levi’s.

The company invented the blue jeans and has a rich heritage and an inspiring value system that resonated very strongly with me.

What are some of the people-related learnings that you’ve gained through your career?

When it comes to business success, I believe that people are truly our only sustainable competitive advantage. The reason I say that is because, in this day and age, often supposed competitive advantages aren’t ultimately that enduring as they can often be replicated.

People, on the other hand, who possess a deep commitment to your company and are aligned with its ambitions, are really the only true differentiators.

When it comes to business success, I believe that people are truly our only sustainable competitive advantage.

However, aligning people behind a compelling and inspiring vision is not enough on its own. I believe a key role for leaders is about empowering people and by that I mean creating the opportunities and conditions for people to make a difference.

There is also great value in getting to know your teams well because only then can you truly appreciate the diversity and the unique contribution that each individual can make to drive performance.

What is the toughest decision you had to make as a leader, and what did you learn from it?

Running businesses across different parts of the world and in different markets often presents one with all sorts of diverse and challenging situations.

Invariably the toughest decisions I have had to make involved the restructuring and reorganisation of businesses in the interest of keeping them viable and healthy in the long term.

In making these tough calls, I think it’s vital to be mindful of how one goes about doing this as well as the principles one follows because these decisions have a profound impact on people’s lives and livelihoods and affects the entire organisation.

Transparency and operating with integrity and compassion throughout the process is critical to the outcome.

How do you engage and motivate staff?

I believe that as a leader one needs to be visible, available and accessible across and deep into the organisation. That’s much more than merely having an “open door policy”.

I believe that as a leader one needs to be visible, available and accessible across and deep into the organisation.

 

Another key element is communication – ensuring that all employees are kept well-informed of broader organisational developments helps them connect what they do for the bigger picture.

At Levi’s we also invest significantly in training and development ensuring that employees are well-equipped with the relevant skills and knowledge to delight their consumers.

It’s also important to recognise and acknowledge superior performance through both formal and informal processes.

Often small gestures such as a short phone call or a brief note is hugely appreciated by the employee.

With people being a core part of your business, what is your view of human resources as a business function?

When we look at our human resources agenda, there are three core deliverables that our human resources colleagues facilitate and drive.

First, they ensure that we attract, retain and develop the best possible people that we can in the industry. Second, they champion a high-performance high accountability culture, and third, they facilitate a culture that truly engages and empowers our people.

To me, a key role of HR is to enable line managers, through coaching, to be outstanding people managers.

In some businesses, HR is expected to own these things.

In our business, we expect line managers to drive and take accountability for these strategies, and the role of HR is to ensure that line managers are sufficiently equipped and have the wherewithal to do this.

To me, a key role of HR is to enable line managers, through coaching, to be outstanding people managers.

To fulfil this partnering role with line management, HR needs to have organisational credibility, and the best way to build this is through being actively involved in key aspects underpinning business performance.

They need to be at the table, a part of the core decision-making processes, involved in the strategic debates, discussions and performance evaluations. They need to be truly engaged with driving the business performance as opposed to a being a watch dog, or a monitoring or consulting function in the business.

With HR being more of a part of the business, do you think many HR leaders will be able to make it to CEO level?

I see no reason why HR leaders can’t become CEOs.

Increasingly, today’s leading HR practitioners see the need to be more commercially astute and to have a full and holistic comprehension of the business.

Increasingly, today’s leading HR practitioners see the need to be more commercially astute and to have a full and holistic comprehension of the business.

 

This is important for HR’s credibility as it enables it to fully engage in all aspects of the business, not limiting its contribution to the conventionally defined role of HR.

A thorough grasp of the business, together with their insights and expertise around people could, in fact, equip them very well for senior general management roles.

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