This was made possible through clear HR plans for each market, based on market growth, brand priorities, financial risks and opportunities. Within these plans, talent moves, structure, culture, D&I and capabilities required were clearly defined, says Ilja Rijnen, HR Director, Asia Pacific & Global Travel Retail, Beam Suntory.

With a gold win for the Excellence in Talent Acquisition category at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, Beam Suntory’s Ilja Rijnen, HR Director, Asia Pacific & Global Travel Retail reveals the four key areas of improvement identified by the organisation to remain as preferred employer with best-in-class EVP.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

Beam Suntory is known for its long-term focus on its brands, processes and people, resulting in decisions that need to be good for the long run – we call this concept ‘Growing for Good’ and this applies both to the company, and to everyone within the company. The bigger we are, the greater our positive impact can be. We will grow to become a company that always benefits its community. By doing good things for society and the environment, we will help make a better, brighter future. But every piece around our growth needs to be sustainable in every aspect for the long term, this means also our employer brand presence.

This brings us to the core of our challenge – if we want to keep Growing for Good, it means that we needed a great HR strategy that is well supported and understood both by our HR teams as business leaders, and one that can unite the legacy of our previous companies and unite all people across our region.

Beam Suntory has a clear strategy in place with a challenging vision around where our business needs to be by 2030. Not only does the business want to grow share, we also want to be the fastest growing and most admired premium spirits company within the industry. Linked to this are a clear set of values and behaviours which HR is the custodian of.

“Growing for Good” means that all the decisions we are making right now, should be good on the long run for our people, our brands and the communities in which we operate.

Whilst we always have used that long term vision as our guiding star, we also acknowledged the importance as business to have an appropriate response to the extraordinary changing internal and external circumstances that Covid-19 has brought upon us.

Back in March, when the pandemic really got foot on the ground in Asia and we needed to shift to remote working, we quickly organised around five key principles, which have been guiding the way we operate as business during this crisis:

  1. Protecting our people, from our operating facilities around the world, to those who began working from home with a host of new challenges;
  2. Securing our supply chain, ensuring that we were able to continue the right flow of products into the markets;
  3. Giving back to society, which is central to our culture, and really came to the fore as we saw an overwhelming need;
  4. Winning in the new normal, across the on-premise, off-premise, e-commerce, and what we’re now calling the “home premise”;
  5. Anticipating long-term trends, so we’re truly set up to succeed in the market long-term, continuing to make strategic investments in our business.

In particular the first point, ‘protecting our people’, has been an important one when on boarding new people into our Beam Suntory family.

People are our number-one priority, and in the pandemic, we’ve really made that our guiding star – this is visible in all our people driven decision, including hiring new people where this helps with our longer term vision for the business.

This also comes with a challenge – as we are really looking to foster a long term and meaningful partnership with each of our employees where they can grow and be the best they can be, for themselves, their loved ones and our company (we call this ‘Unleash your Spirit’). Obviously building a culture of engagement, belonging, comes with being able to physically meet others in the team, and also to see our products into action, through meeting our customers and consumers.

How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

Our hiring process ensures that we hire best culturally fit candidates who perform well and contribute to overall growth of the organisation.

For Beam Suntory, people are our true number one priority. The role of HR as strategic partners is evident across our processes, in particular when it comes to strategic workforce planning, which we have in place for all our markets (Singapore Hub / SEA, Taiwan, Korea, Global Travel Retail). This means that for each markets we have clear HR plans, based on market growth, brand priorities, financial risks and opportunities. Within these plans we clearly describe the talent moves, structure, culture, D&I and capability that is required in order to sustain our vision.

Our people strategy got aligned to the business ambitions after a long series of strategic workforce planning sessions for each of our locations, by our HRBPs with MDs across APAC (Asia, Oceania) and Global Travel Retail (our sales of spirits through airports, cruise ships, border stores) and fully aligned with our company strategy that brings us to being the fastest growing and most respected premium spirits company by 2030.

Our talent strategy overall is to make Beam Suntory a global employer of choice and recruit the industry’s best diverse talent to fuel our vision to become the world’s fastest growing premium spirits company! We must hire A-players who innovate, deliver outstanding performance and beat the competition together, the right way.

Talent is listed as our #1 priority within our business strategy and this is much more than a tagline. Whether it is developing our current talent or recruiting new talent, this is critical to our success now and in the future. We are building our global recruitment capability at all levels to make this a competitive advantage for Beam Suntory to win in the marketplace. Top candidates recruit Beam Suntory!

Being a world leader in premium spirits we constantly focus to hire best talent who could challenge status-quo and become the leaders in future. With the vision and strategy in place we have been able to hire best talent in minimum possible turnaround time through various cost-effective channels.

Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

The context was that our business across the region has moved to remote / hybrid working as a result of COVID-19. Being affected by the pandemic at different speeds and in different ways – we wanted a people plan that has the flexibility to adapt to this, with local ownership between HR and local business leaders, but with the same principles throughout our region, so we could simplify and support each other as one business, where possible.

Our principles were based on:

  • Collaboration and “we over me” leveraging the power of one business, redeploying resource and efforts throughout our local workforce and throughout the region instead of everyone for themselves.
  • • Think long term what’s good for our business, according to our values and culture – each decision for people investment and resourcing has to follow this.
  • Whilst our HR strategy and communication plan for the long run are strong, we decided to implement our HR Comms Strategy as a tactical plan that focuses on helping our leaders and wider workforce thrive through the period of uncertainty, with weekly updates. The plan is built around four areas:
    • Communication – a weekly released overview of communication moments by audience and channels for all our leaders and employees, sent to all employees
    • Health, wellbeing and social engagement - to ensure people are equipped and resilient to have energy to deal with the ambiguity and stay connected as company. This includes also and enhanced healthcare and employee assistance programme designed for COVID-19
    • Performance enablement – focused on ensuring every employee and team has meaningful work that adds to the success of the company. As markets changed and closed/reopened under COVID-19 we actively monitor with the leaders where we need to redeploy our workforce so their jobs stay relevant and people stay engaged with their jobs.
    • Development- focusing on a growth mindset in each individual in order to keep people developing functionally and from a career point of view throughout from a longer term perspective.

As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your gameplan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

With the current situation around COVID-19 we haven’t stopped hiring people in places where we grow our business, however true to our values we are taking a long-term approach with any candidate we are bringing on board.

We are becoming more focussed on hiring people who are flexible to change and exhibit strong personal and professional values, so they can join us for the long run.

We have also started looking out for talent who could wear multiple hats when needed instead of just being a “subject matter expert”. Our key focus has always been building a more diverse and inclusive culture while taking hiring decisions.

During this period of slow down we are building our internal capabilities and creating a strong pipeline of niche talent leaning towards a better diversity ration.

With WFH being the norm for the bigger part of this year, has your organisation recently adopted any new forms of technology to improve the HR processes/overall work processes?

Improvement is a constant process and we have also identified below mentioned areas of improvement:

  • To become a preferred employer by having and showcasing best in class employee value proposition.
  • Training all hiring managers on interviewing skills to give seamless experience to applicants.
  • Regular efforts to increase diversity ratio at all levels in the organisation.
  • Commitment to treat all applicants equally and keep them updated throughout the recruiting process.

In order to achieve all of this over the coming 12 months, we are constantly upgrading our talent acquisition approach and linked to this we just launched companywide new behaviours (honour our legacy, build our future, we over me, global collaboration), completely aligned our corporate website to this, and we are taking a detailed look at D&I for each of our locations.

Examples of how we are bringing this to life as part of our future initiatives, can be clearly seen from our renewed company & careers website, which has proven to be usually the first contact new people have with our company (and during COVID-19 even more as everyone still works remotely across our areas.

Our new Beam Suntory home page starts with a video and tries to engage the candidate right from the start. At the top, you will notice the different tabs highlighting our brands, culture, D&I and growing for good initiative. We purposely put our careers sections last as we wanted the candidate to look at the other areas first to understand who we are as a company. Each of the different tabs was created to share our story of Beam Suntory across these areas.

Photo / HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section! 

Human Resources Online is on Telegram! Follow us @humanresourcesonline or click here for all the latest weekly HR and manpower news from around the region.