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Having led the global search, Erik Ramp, Director of Strategy and Operations at Edwards Lifesciences and site leader for the new Kuala Lumpur Business Services Center, credits the talented workforce, diverse culture, multilingual talent pool, business-friendly policies, and strong infrastructure.
Q You’ve been with Edwards Lifesciences for about four years now, what motivated you to join the company in 2015?
One of the main reasons I joined Edwards Lifesciences was because of the company’s culture. Edwards was the first to develop the commercially viable artificial heart valve.
When you work at Edwards, you have an opportunity to make a huge impact on people’s lives. We partner with clinicians to develop innovative technologies in heart valves and critical care monitoring that helps patients live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
Edwards is the market leader in these advanced therapies: over 95% of our sales come from products in the #1 market position.
Before I joined Edwards, I spent several years in healthcare consulting and I found that many medtech and pharma companies talk about the importance of their patients. But at Edwards, we really create special connections with our patients.
Q How would you describe your journey with Edwards Lifesciences so far? What has been your most memorable moment?
Edwards has given me such a great opportunity to develop myself both professionally and personally. I was actually hired into human resources at Edwards to build an internal consulting function that focused on organisational design and change management projects for the company. The role taught me what it takes to build successful teams and to lead organisations through the constant change we all experience.
I’ve visited and worked with colleagues in 11 countries while with Edwards! Now the big change is going to be for me and my family as we relocate to Kuala Lumpur where I will be the Managing Director for our Business Service Center.
I think my most memorable moment was the opening ceremony for our KL Business Service Center in April. I was part of a team that performed a worldwide search and selected KL Eco City as the location for our new office. To see the office evolve from a simple idea at that time, to the reality of being open for business is truly special for me.
In Asia I am always cautious to provide performance feedback strictly in private so as not to diminish someone’s standing with their co-workers.
Q Having worked across the US and Asia, what are the key differences in working culture between the regions (if any), and have you had to adapt your leadership style accordingly?
I think its important to remember that Asia is actually a very big and culturally diverse place. In the US we can make the mistake of not understanding the important differences that exist between the nationalities, ethnicities and religions across Asia.
Regardless, I do think there are some common practices in Western business culture that are just different when you come to Asia.
For example, giving and receiving feedback is considered an important part of employee development in the US. As managers, we give feedback with the intention of making our employees or co-workers better. Soliciting performance feedback from your manager is considered a sign of maturity and a desire to develop oneself.
However, in Asia I am always cautious to provide performance feedback strictly in private so as not to diminish someone’s standing with their co-workers.
In Asia, respect for seniority is big. It helps clarify decision making at work which is great, but as a Western leader I sometimes feel like I’m missing the real story. In the US we’re quite used to being openly challenged by our teams, whereas in Asia it often requires me to single out someone and ask their opinion directly. Just because someone is quiet, doesn’t mean they don’t have a brilliant opinion!
On the flip side, there’s plenty that’s common across cultures as well. In the West, there’s been a movement around ‘authentic leadership’ in the past several years. This asks us to bring our ‘whole self’ to work, including our personal lives, character flaws, etc.
I still practice this with my co-workers in Asia, and although I never expect the same from them, I’ve found that this really translates well across cultures. No matter where we grew up, we all can all bond over sleepless nights with a newborn baby, having to care for a sick parent who is in the hospital (again), a son or daughter struggling in school, or the fact we can (or can’t) eat spicy food.
Q In 2018, you led the global search for Edwards next Business Services Centre location and eventually selected Kuala Lumpur. What prompted this decision?
After a very long search, we finally chose Kuala Lumpur to house our new BSC for the Japan, Asia and Pacific (JAPAC) region because of the talented workforce, diverse culture, highly capable multilingual talent pool, business-friendly policies and strong infrastructure. Kuala Lumpur’s multicultural diversity will be the most important factor in how we build strong relationships with our colleagues across JAPAC.
We expect the JAPAC region to grow significantly over the next 7-10 years. As Edwards grows, the Kuala Lumpur BSC will provide critical business support functions such as finance, IT, supply chain, HR, health technology, and business leadership. Edwards is targeting to hire 60 full-time employees in 2019 and hopes to expand to more than 100+ employees by 2021.
Q The new KL BSC houses key support functions, as you mentioned, so please do share examples of the HR matters the BSC handles.
Currently our HR organisational footprint in KL is quite small with just a human resources business partner (HRBP) and recruiting support. Whenever Edwards starts a new location around the world, our HRBP is the very first leader we hire and we normally prefer to find local talent who are connected intimately with the local policies, regulations, business practices and talent markets.
We plan to expand our HR organisation in KL during 2020 as part our HR global services delivery model.
As a company I think we need to be ‘OK’ with hiring junior talent who have a hunger to learn.
Q Moving forward, Edwards plans on setting up an analytics Centre of Excellence to house expertise on AI, machine learning, and more. How do you plan to mitigate the challenges that come with the scarcity of talent with these niche skills?
Data analytics, digital and AI/machine learning are becoming critical skill sets in our industry. There is a tremendous amount of data we can mine to help improve patient outcomes and digital channels are increasingly more important to how we educate patients and clinicians.
But these are becoming more capabilities embedded in our marketing, engineering, supply chain, and sales analytics roles than jobs themselves. We have some jobs in KL today that require these capabilities and we are finding it challenging to hire the right talent.
As a company I think we need to be ‘OK’ with hiring junior talent who have a hunger to learn. Unfortunately, some hiring managers can see inexperienced talent as a risk. This is where incentives encouraging companies like Edwards to hire junior talent and train them up with our internal subject matter experts can be really impactful to creating an ecosystem of talent for Malaysia.
Q What is one way Edwards Lifesciences stands out from others when it comes to attracting talent in the competitive landscape?
Our unwavering patient-focused culture motivates and guides all our global teams. People come to work for Edwards for the job, but they stay because they identify with our ‘patients first’ culture. It’s my goal to have every Edwards KL employee get to meet an Edwards patient and experience how we have impacted their lives.
Q How closely will you be working with your HR head on this and other issues? What is your view of human resources as a business function?
Having worked in Edwards HR myself, I understand that my HR Business Partner in KL can be my most strategic, and important partner. I believe that human resources as a business function is evolving (or has already evolved) in much the same way that finance evolved to become the strategic partner to the business decades ago.
I partner with my HR head to assess and solve business problems together, because I feel talent, organisation, communications and culture are usually a large part of every solution.
In the next couple years, we’ll experience tremendous growth in KL and we must be prepared for the organisational challenges that come; laying down systems and processes, establishing our local identify as Edwards KL and ensuring that we stay connected to the patients first culture that makes Edwards so unique. These are challenges only a strategic HR partner can help us solve.
Whatever you think you’ll be doing in your career five years from now, I can guarantee you won’t be doing that! So don’t be so planned or anxious about your future.
Q What is the number one way the HR function brings value to the business? How does the CHRO maintain their position in the boardroom?
The number one way HR can bring value to the business is by ensuring that talent is a strategic driver of the company’s success. To do this, HR must intimately understand the strategy of the business, respond to changes rapidly, and put mechanisms in place that ensure HR programmes are supporting the business strategy.
For the CHRO to maintain their position in the boardroom it must start with a CEO and executive leadership team that recognises people as foundational to the business strategy.
At Edwards, we are lucky to have a phenomenal CHRO who has business savvy and comes from a broad HR background so she’s literally done every job in HR. She participates in the strategic planning process for the company and translates the business imperatives into imperatives for HR to execute each year. These ‘projects’ are how we ensure HR resources are being deployed towards the top priorities of the business.
Q If you could turn back time, what career advice would you give your younger self?
Whatever you think you’ll be doing in your career five years from now, I can guarantee you won’t be doing that! So don’t be so planned or anxious about your future. Be intellectually curious and focus on helping the people around you get better! With that, everything else will fall into place.
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