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Strength in diversity

Published on Tuesday, 10 Feb 2015
Susanna Lee, vice-president and general manager of card services at American Express in Hong Kong, says the company embraces diversity as a unique asset.
Photo: Gary Mak

American Express Hong Kong celebrates the variety and potential of its talent

The ability to embrace the diversity of its staff and engage them on a professional and personal level is one of the main reasons why American Express has won a "Best Employer" award for the fifth consecutive time.

"Diversity is an important part of the success of American Express as a global company," says Susanna Lee, vice-president and general manager of card services in the Hong Kong office of American Express. "We have more than 60,000 staff across 130 countries from different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, mental and physical abilities, cultures, styles, and characters. Instead of seeing this as a difference, we embrace it as a unique asset. It helps us succeed as a global company servicing different people across the markets."

A robust programme of staff engagement connects the company with the diverse background and potential of its staff. For example, it has launched staff surveys across the board to listen to what works and what needs to be improved, which are followed up by action plans driven by both management and team members to address areas of concern.

There are also internal networking events across different business lines, where staff of all levels meet different line managers to understand other operations in a personal way. The company has also organised various professional orientation and development sessions, inviting both internal and external speakers to present on various topics - from how to have a successful career to stress management and work-life balance.

American Express's top management is fully supportive and committed to staff engagement. "People are our most important assets," says Y C Koh, president, Asia of American Express. "One of the key attributes of a successful company is the ability to inspire and engage its employees. As we fully engage our employees, they are in a strong position to commit to the company's goals and contribute to the ultimate success of American Express as a brand."

A culture of open communication and engagement facilitates staff development. The company encourages both vertical development, where staff are promoted or assigned broader responsibilities, and lateral development, where staff explore opportunities across different lines of business or markets.

"For example, before card servicing, I was heading the merchant side of the card business," Lee says. "As I wished to achieve a career in the card industry, I wanted to have a more holistic exposure that covered both the strategic development of the consumer card and the merchant network and relationships. As the company knew of my intention, they provided the right opportunity. The same happened when I wanted to know about different markets in Asia."

Line managers from different markets meet regularly to discuss the profiles and aspirations of their team members. They also communicate the line business and overall company goals with their team members, and help them set individual goals under these overarching objectives. In this way, they can identify potential candidates for upward or lateral job movement, and provide relevant training to enable them to succeed.

Lee says career advancement and enrichment in the company play a big role in retaining talent, with more than 25 per cent of the staff at the Hong Kong office of American Express having been with the company for over 10 years.

"We are able to create a future for our staff, to inspire, motivate and enable them to deliver excellent service to our customers. If we don't provide the right kind of opportunities, they will just go somewhere else."

Having also won the "Best Employer for Women" award, American Express is actively helping its female workforce to thrive by ensuring they achieve work-life balance.

For the markets in which American Express operates, its Hong Kong office has among the highest number of female professionals. A total of 68 per cent of the workforce are female, among which 60 per cent are in managerial positions. About 40 per cent of the boardroom management are female.

"We do not only attract and recruit our female talent, we also retain them, develop them and help them succeed," Lee says. "We recognise the importance of family. That's why we constantly ask ourselves what we can do so that they can achieve success at work and take care of their family at the same time."

Family-friendly arrangements include breastfeeding facilities in the office, and arrangements for new mothers to have flexible working arrangements after they finish their maternity leave.

Lee says the company hopes to sustain its success in being one of the best employers in town. "We believe that when our staff are motivated, they will meet and even exceed the expectations of our stakeholders and customers.

"It is very heartening to be recognised as one of the best employers in town. We will build on this momentum and continue to improve ourselves so that we will go from strength to strength."

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