Coffee chief who loves the grind
Arun Bhardwaj has more than 20 years’ experience in sales, marketing and business development in the Asia region. Now vice-president of emerging business for Starbucks Coffee Asia Pacific, he is primarily responsible for developing strategic plans for new international business partnerships and tracking down investment opportunities.
Bhardwaj first joined Starbucks as Singapore managing director in 2007 before becoming general manager for Southeast Asia and vice-president for marketing and category. He managed the overall business for different markets in the region, giving special attention to brand health, growth, profitability, marketing and communications functions.
Previously, he was director of overseas operations for PT Mitra Adiperkasa, the parent organisation of the Starbucks licensee operating in Indonesia. In this role, he was responsible for establishing and developing the company’s operations in Thailand, Vietnam, India, the Philippines and mainland China.
Married with one son, Bhardwaj holds a master’s of commerce degree and an MBA in international business from New Zealand. He talks to Jan Chan.
How would you describe your style of leadership?
For me, good leadership is about using the strengths of those around you and aligning them to a common vision. That involves coaching, guiding and enabling. Over the years, this is the approach I’ve used and it has been generally successful. Occasionally, one needs to step in to get something back on the correct course, but I believe delegation, empowerment and accountability are the key pillars.
What qualities have allowed you to be an effective manager?
Good listening is important. Besides that, understanding people and creating trust with colleagues is the foundation for good teamwork. Paying consistent attention to these areas has helped me to become a more effective manager.
In the business, what has given you the greatest sense of achievement?
Providing customers with a great experience and fostering a “customer first” culture gives me the greatest sense of achievement. The rewards follow on from that. An example is the recent revamp of our food programme in markets such as Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. It was driven by consumer feedback and insights, allowing us to create new food items to meet local taste preferences and flavour profiles. We also went through rigorous reviews and adjusted existing recipes to ensure they are tailored to the local palette. Since launching the programme, we have seen very healthy growth in sales, showing that attention to detail and focus on customer needs drive great results.
What do you find is the best way to motivate staff?
People like clear direction and to work for leaders who will make decisions. But once the direction is set, they generally want to be left alone to get on with the job and do their best, knowing that support is on hand if needed. I find it is particularly important to create engagement because this drives loyalty and a sense of ownership, both of which are essential for a high performing organisation.
How can a big multinational encourage independent thinking and creativity?
People have to feel confident that they are “allowed” to make mistakes, but should also know they cannot repeat them. Everyone needs to have an outlet for their energy and creativity. In terms of management strategy, that means letting them know they “own” any problem in their area of responsibility, and are expected to come up with a solution.
What would you do to make meetings and committees more productive?
You have to minimise them to what is necessary. That means setting clear agendas and goals for every meeting and, afterwards, being relentless with the follow through.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a vice-president?
The hardest thing is to achieve work-life balance. Of course, in Starbucks we promote the importance of that for all our partners (employees). Inevitably, though, with a regional role, I have to travel frequently to stay connected with the business and this requires constant balancing between work priorities and time at home. To unwind from the day-to-day pressures, I try to spend as much time as possible with my family and especially like to take my son swimming, hiking and fishing at weekends.
Who has most influenced your outlook on life?
There are so many of them because I have had the good fortune to live and work across much of Asia. The diversity and richness of cultures and peoples I’ve encountered have given me a broad outlook on life, as well as helping me see the common humanity that exists wherever you go.
What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
I am firmly focused on today. And when tomorrow comes, it will become today.
Nowadays, what essential skills do young people need to build a successful career?
They need to have curiosity, an open and inquiring mind, and willingness to challenge the norm. Of course, to succeed in a global economy, it also helps to be flexible and responsive to change.
- During his career has helped to establish more than 500 stores for brands such as Guess, Marks & Spencer and The Body Shop
- In line with the company ethos, likes to see employees express their personalities and take on new challenges