Never back down | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 17, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:53 PM, June 19, 2016

Never back down

Managing people is a challenging task in any business. What makes it even more daunting is diversity, trying to manage different people who are very different from each other. To find out how this challenging task is done, we caught up with someone who has no trouble managing the talent of one of the largest multi-nationals in the world: Giovanni Giordano, Director of Group Human Resources at British American Tobacco (BAT).

Have you been to Bangladesh before? What has been your overall impression of Bangladesh from this visit?

I actually visited Bangladesh four and a half years ago, and it’s actually one of the first markets I visited when I first joined BAT. I enjoy my visits to Bangladesh because we have a very successful business here. It’s a country, which is expressing its enormous potential very effectively. Universities here produce very talented young individuals, which makes me think that education must really be very good in this country. I’m very proud of how Bangladesh has been producing the next generation of leaders for BAT.

How is Bangladesh a difference maker among all the countries BAT operates in?

Like I said before, Bangladesh is one of the most successful markets for us. It happens to be one of the 20 top markets in the world. There is also a lot of character in this organisation, which makes all the difference—it’s passionate, courageous, and deeply caring about the business. Managers here don’t settle for average and there is a level of ambition that is not common around the world. As a result, the bar is constantly raised. This in many ways is the definition of a high performing team.

In turn, we invest a lot on the development of leaders here. We have many initiatives to hire, nourish, and develop them to try and provide them an exciting career. British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) is an organisation where high performing teams flourish and the next generation of leaders is created. I like to call it a perfect balance of stretch and support.

Do you see any changes in BAT Bangladesh’s operation from your last visit?

The business has grown a lot and has also become more complex since my last visit here. I have observed a lot more professionalism in the projects and initiatives. There is also a lot of progress in the level of advancement of programs, analytics, productivity, maintenance and safety—all of which are of paramount importance to us and essential to combat market challenges. Progress is visible across all fields, which is really great to see.

What is BAT’s overarching HR vision? How is BATB contributing to this global agenda?

BAT is all about the people. Yes, you need financial resources and advanced technology, but it’s the quality of the people that makes the difference. It is a competitive advantage, which we need to maintain and enhance over time. And it’s also about creating a diverse and friendly environment. We need to be ahead of the competition in every aspect, be it recruitment, training, etc. to leverage this talent to the fullest. At the same time we want sustainability so we must focus a lot on preparing the next generation of leaders as well.

I like to think of BATB as a fantastic leadership gym where you get coached for more diverse challenges, so you are ready when you meet them. We have a few initiatives here which are second to none. For example, Battle of Minds (BoM) is a fantastic initiative when it comes to engaging with graduating students. For more than 10 years BoM has been renewing itself while maintaining its core proposition, which is why we have had so many leaders coming out of it.

There is also a lot of commitment to and investment in gender diversity in BATB. One third of the employees are women, which is a very high standard in BAT and in the consumer goods industry as a whole. We have never had so many women in the organisation, and it’s a number which keeps growing. I think it is a sign of our commitment to gender diversity, and that diversity of thinking is essential to winning in the marketplace.

BAT is a melting pot of cultures. Being the global head of HR, how do you maintain the alignment of organisational cultures across so many different countries?

Diversity is undoubtedly a very evident element of our business. I work in the headquarters back in London where people from 70 nationalities work together. And it's beautiful. The sense of vitality that comes from the crossover of experience and style makes it an extraordinarily vibrant environment. The employees share core common values, and these values are something that we want to leave as a legacy for the next generation. These values are strong and broad at the same time. We have strength through diversity. From Canada to Japan, Bangladesh to Brazil, these values stay strong at the core, but they get expressed in different ways, which is something we need in order to compete and win and serve our customers who are equally diverse.

Bringing these values to life in the 55,000 men and women working in BAT, there’s a beauty in that, in protecting the core of those values. They are embodiments of those values, and we bring them to life in the everyday behaviour. This shows we mean what we say—we say what we do and do what we say.

What are your future expectations from Bangladesh in terms of talent?

Well I hope Bangladesh keeps producing talent for us like it has in the past (laughs). While we would expect young talent to embody sophistication, professionalism and management expertise, which is expected of any large organisation, they should also preserve the passion, courage and ambition, which are typical of a small business. The challenge is to balance these to find the sweet spot. This will allow them to manage large businesses with the same agility as a small enterprise. The talent we have here must be up to the challenge.

If you look back, what factors would you pick as the catalysts of your success?

Well I think hard work is the key to success. If you play a sport or a musical instrument, you have to practice a lot to excel at it. Being a manager is no different. You have to dedicate a lot of time towards getting projects done and figuring out how to do them better. Anything I do, I try to make sure I add some value and take responsibility to deliver it with excellence or create something that hasn’t been done before. You do work towards goals, but you never know what might get noticed, it's possible that some other aspect of your job may stand out. I always try to exceed expectations and never say no to a good challenge.

If I had to add another factor, it would be the fact that I always try to stay connected to different people. This gives me the chance to seek help and offer help. Knowing different people is actually a very powerful multiplier, you have the opportunity to learn from them and it's also a fun thing to do in general.

About Giovanni

In June 2011, Giovanni joined the Management Board of BAT, where he loves his current job of working with people. He is an international HR executive with wide experience from senior roles at Procter & Gamble and Ferrero, where he was Chief Corporate Officer.

Despite his challenging job, Giovanni finds time to shop, cook, and watch TV with his family. Spending time with his family and doing the small things, especially on weekends, helps him unwind despite his demanding job.

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