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Draw of diversity

Published on Saturday, 27 Sep 2014
Photo: Gary Mak

Bianca Wong, HR director at Jebsen, says brand growth and variety are creating demand for talent.

In overseeing recruitment activities for a diversified group with interests in everything from fine wines and beauty products to watches and high-end technology, Bianca Wong, group HR and corporate communications director for Jebsen & Co, knows there will always be roles to fill.

That certainty is dictated by two facts of Jebsen's business life: first, the push for growth in its four main divisions - luxury brands, consumer electronics and home enrichment, beverages, and industrial and logistics - means new opportunities will keep opening up. Second, as a sales- and distribution-based organisation representing major principals in different sectors, the need to offset staff attrition is inevitable.

"In 2013, we hired 600 people and the entire business now has around 2,400 with a large portion of them in China," Wong says. "But we still expect to take on a lot more, particularly for junior to middle-management positions in areas like sales, marketing and finance. Part of that is replacement hiring and part is to build new channels and work with additional brands."

She notes, for example, that Jebsen recently launched a new portal to promote e-retailing and to help customers source premium lifestyle products. While it is longstanding group policy to develop and transfer home-grown management talent, setting up an online retail capability also made it necessary to look elsewhere for candidates with the requisite know-how.

"It is important to give people more experience, but if we see areas where we don't have all the knowledge and skills, we are ready to look outside," Wong says. "At present, with e-commerce and the use of technology becoming a bigger factor in all the business we do, we are looking for people who specialise in social media and who have the ability to build sales channels, but who are also relatively more tech-savvy and have the learning agility to explore what is likely to come up in the next two years."

Even in a traditional business like wine, where Jebsen is one of the largest distributors in Hong Kong, a key requirement in sales-related roles is the ability to think ahead and spot openings that others can't. "They need the creativity to see 'pop-up' opportunities and act on them," Wong says. "The aim is to discover effective new channels - not just know about or rely on the usual things - and make them work."

A good example is how the team responsible for Raymond Weil watches tapped into the cruise business in Hong Kong by setting up small stores on ships making regular port calls here. So far, it is proving a notable success.

Wong explains that while having different divisions offers the chance for movement, people are not rotated for the sake of it. The guiding principle is to build existing skills and experience as individuals steadily climb the ladder. "Many skills are quite transferable, for example in trade marketing or brand building," she says. "There are opportunities because we have the scale and diversity, but someone may just be more suitable for B2B than B2C sales and we won't waste skills by, say, asking a trained sommelier in the beverages division to work in a different sector."

Open discussions are encouraged, so if staff want a change or some "fresh air", they are welcome to make their case. Management will support anyone keen to learn or move.

In most of the businesses, a clearly marked path leads from a junior role in sales or marketing to supervisory level, the next big step being to manage a department or division, with responsibility for sales, the P&L, and marketing effectiveness. The all-round experience gained there is a prerequisite for any later move into general management. "Every position is so different, but generally speaking, we have a large sales force, and someone starting there would have to build a portfolio progressively selling more types of products or to a bigger geographical area, depending on the business model."

The company's model of representing others through mutually beneficial partnerships may be questioned by some, but it has stood the test of 120 years and is achieving its goals and proving adaptable to new circumstances, Wong says.

"As an organisation, we are very focused on the Greater China region and have learned to be very flexible. We believe success breeds success. And in recruitment, as well as the rest of the business, we never think that one size fits all."

Working towards a clearer career path

Bianca Wong offers tips on ensuring progression in a diversified group

Clarity is key  "We are a 'work in progress' in trying to make things clearer for employees. Our total headcount has more than doubled in the past eight years, so the organization is much bigger, which meant the definition needed to be clearer as well."

Offer different routes  "There is now a programme to develop the career path in different division and to give different routes. It has been well received and employees indicate it is something they value."

Identify strengths  "We felt we needed to redo our EVP [employer value proposition]. With all these diverse business units, but still under the Jebsen name, it was important to identify our uniqueness as an employer brand and attract the right kind of candidates."

Make it accessible  "One deliverable is our new career website, which has just been launched and is very simple to navigate."

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