They are senior executives at multinational companies. They have wide experience in building an organization or a team with a strong desire to win. The winning culture is an important foundation for talented people to get accelerated in their career.
For many business leaders, one of the most read books about leadership is Dr Shelly Leanne’s "Leadership the Barack Obama Way", first published in the United States in 2010. This 400-page book has three parts, two of which discuss how to build a winning culture – a critical foundation to make a lively President of the United States during 8 years. The author wrote that one of Barack Obama’s keys to success is his ability to encourage and inspire the young people and to build a strong team to work together with him.
Nowadays, building a winning team is no longer an unfamiliar term in the development strategy of multinational companies and it has become the guiding principle for talents with an ambition to grow and develop their career in big corporates.
The importance of personal brand
Scott Kirkham – Head of Marketing cum Deputy GM of BAT in Vietnam, has always been considered as one of reputed leaders in building a winning culture in this large corporate – BAT (UK) for over 16 years. Joining BAT as a logistics manager, he was quickly promoted to the Regional Trade Marketing Manager, in charge of South Asia and Australia region. Within the first five years in that position, Scott Kirkham made his marks by increasing profit by 58 percent, transforming the market penetration strategy, and optimizing the operating model for the markets within his region in charge. Before coming to Vietnam, Scott had led commercial development of markets in Europe and Asia Pacific. In any market, Scott Kirkham has always proved his strong leadership in building a team with a desire to win.
Yet before even discussing the skills to build a winning culture, Scott Kirkham agreed that building a strong and trustworthy personal brand is very important. Keeping his back straight, neither leaning forward or backward throughout the whole interview, Scott persuaded his listener with full attention. He carried himself with ease and confidence during the conversation. He said: “The most important thing is that you work with your heart, you have your vision, you know the values you stand for and you drive for them. If you know what you want, then you can inspire others to follow you. To build a winning team, having passionate people with you is key. It is a decisive factor for any organization. As a good leader, we need to see the strengths of each individual and know how to connect them with the organization. I think in order to get good people on board, you need to have a strong personal brand. One of the reasons why I can achieve an accelerate career in BAT is because I could build my brand. Once I say something, I will make it happen. I have things I believe are right for the business, and for people development, and I always live and deliver true to what I believe.”
Scott has been in Vietnam for almost two years. His key deliveries in this market have been aggressive restructuring, investment in building strong brands, expanding the distribution and especially developing key local talents to deliver the business agenda. For Scott this journey has been challenging but he strongly believes he can be successful in the role of finding and developing talents, building a sustainable talent pipeline for Vietnam. Scott’s leadership philosophy is that business results can come and go, but the lasting legacy that one leaves behind is the people. And for him, this is the most important agenda.
To help realize Scott’s vision, one of the key people in the journey is Ms Cap Thi Minh Trang – senior HR Business Partner of Marketing at BAT. Trang has more than 10 years of experience in HR, holding senior positions for big companies, including E&Y, Deloitte, BAT, America Indochina Management, and Nhan Viet Management Group. Trang used to be the Talent Director for BAT in East Asia before her current role. In this role, she is responsible for finding and nurturing talents for BAT in Vietnam in this competitive market. According to Trang, the term “personal brand” is quite new in Vietnam and for many people, it even means “polishing their names” rather than the true nature of “personal brand.” In fact, personal brand is very important for career development. A lot of individual fails in an organization because they are slow to adapt to change, slow to change and upgrade themselves, and hence become outdated with the requirements of the company and the labour market.
Similarly, Ms Huynh Thuy Mai Phuong – HR Director of Sanofi in Vietnam added that to have a strong company, you need strong individuals. “There are three values that I pursue in every company I work for: passion, devotion, and going the extra mile. Everyday I look back at my day, what I have done or haven’t done and how I can do everything better. For me, delivering your daily work is not enough. Passion and the attitude of going the extra mile will set you apart in a big corporate with many talents,” she said. Mai Phuong has worked for many multinational companies such as Coca Cola and Unilever and she joined Sanofi first as a Talent Development Manager before her current position. She believes that passion alone without a good attitude is not enough to set you on a successful journey. An organization cannot depend solely on one talent and it must take the synergy between many talents to deliver a common goal.”
Corporate culture as a launching base
Corporate culture is a term that many people mention when discussing personal career path. According to Scott, a winning team must be supported by a culture, an environment that is open and inspiring through good reward and recognition framework, and through two-way dialogues and mutual respect. This kind of environment facilitate effective team building. “We need to keep in mind that we are here not just to gain profits. We need to develop the people, build a culture that inspires and gives confidence and trust to the people who are working with us. They need to believe in what they work for, know why we exist and what we stand for. At the same time, we also need to synergise the cultural and social factors of the market where we operate to truly create a winning organization.”
A good corporate culture is the key to unlock the potential of many talents because they are given the opportunities to grow, to challenge themselves and to expand their experience. Ms Phuong thinks that corporate culture contributes around 50 percent to a personal career success while personal efforts make up the other half. At BAT or Sanofi, personal efforts are measured and recognized through established frameworks. “In a leadership position, we need to always think that there are talented people that we can develop. The more challenges we give to them, the more their talents will be recognized,” Ms Phuong said. Ms Trang added: “At BAT, people want to stay because the business base is remarkable, they have many growth opportunities. And we prioritise local people for senior management opportunities. This is the key for BAT to keep their talented people with us.”
During the whole conversation, Scott, Trang and Phuong share a common point: the need for talent development in Vietnam is significant, especially at senior level. In the age of global integration, many multinational companies want to have local talents in senior positions because they understand the local cultures. “Young Vietnamese people are very ambitious, passionate for growth and success. The confidence and the ambition are good but I would encourage young people to be more resilient. I have a personal model for success called PRADA – Passion, Resilience, Attitude, Drive and Ambition. Choose 2-3 things that will make you stand out from the crowd, have your milestones for short-term and long-term, and work hard for those milestones. This will help you move fast in the corporate world,” Scott said.
As one with much experience in recruiting Vietnamese talents, Ms Phuong shared that even though many young Vietnamese people say they have passion and ambition, they will give up easily when faced with difficulties. Especially in the era of increased foreign investment into Vietnam and big M&A deals, opportunities are huge but challenges are equally significant. “When I was the Management Trainee for Unilever in Singapore or was in charge of recruitment for Unilever in Southeast Asia, I was really stressed. There were days when I interviewed 20 people consecutively to find the right talents for the company. My head felt like it was going to explode. But I pulled it through. Now when I look back, I think those days really helped me grow. It was the ability to connect different personalities in an organization and the resilience to work under immense pressure that help me achieve my status today.”