Succeeding across cultures | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 05, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:11 PM, August 03, 2016

Succeeding across cultures

Hae In Kim, Regional Head of HR, Asia Pacific at British American Tobacco, recently visited BAT Bangladesh during 25-26 January. Hae In brings in 18 years of experience in the Human Resources field. She has worked for leading HR consultant firms like PwC and AonHewitt before joining British American Tobacco in 2008. Next Step interviewed her to know more about her career and experience in Bangladesh.

How has your visit to Bangladesh been?

I am very delighted to be here in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is positioned well in the international arena in recent years through its dynamic economic development. I have also worked with Bangladeshi citizens working in different markets of the BAT world. This is a unique experience for me to know more about our Bangladesh business and meet our people.

Since you mentioned Bangladeshi talent, how are they performing in the global arena as well as BATB?

We have very diverse customers, suppliers and other partners, as well as a diverse workforce to meet their needs. Operating in more than 200 markets globally means that we have a very diverse workforce in terms of nationality. Bangladeshis are holding very critical roles in leading markets, e.g. Japan, Korea, and headquarters in UK.

BAT Group, especially in Asia Pacific, rely a lot on the talent supply coming out of Bangladesh so we have many Bangladeshi talents working in different parts of the world. They're doing a great job, getting great feedback and making great contributions across the different functions. So we are very pleased to see the rate of growth and the quality of the talents coming from Bangladesh.

BAT Bangladesh currently has its first Bangladeshi General Manager. 6 out of 7 leadership team members in Bangladesh are local, developed by BAT's sponsorship and development attachments in various markets. These critical exposures have developed them to take over leadership roles. This also reflects the strong pipeline that BAT Bangladesh has developed to compete with talents globally.

The most common feedback that I hear is that people here are very hard working and resilient. They also have good commercial acumen, thanks to how BAT Bangladesh is grooming their talents.

Do you think there is a difference in BAT Group’s recruitment process and that of BAT Bangladesh?

At the BAT group level, we recruit around 1,000+ management employees annually across 200 markets into our various schemes including Interns, MTs, Experienced and Executive Hires. Our recruitment process is very robust which starts with an online application (that you can find in followed by interviews and assessment centers.

Bangladesh’s recruitment process is also very robust. One thing I would like to share is that we have piloted one of our global assessment centers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is actually 1-step ahead as we recruit a significant number of Business Graduates, Engineers and Agricultural graduates as fresh talents along with our global MT program.

The thing I would like to highlight that is more unique in Bangladesh is The Battle of Minds. I’m very proud that it has such a long history and it is well received by the Bangladeshi graduated students and it is closely tied to the image and reputation of BAT Bangladesh. It’s a great source to attract the best talent.

Where do you think BAT and BAT Bangladesh stand in terms of female-friendliness?

All across BAT, we always aspire to have diversity, both in terms of gender and nationality. Because we have the value set to get strength from diversity and respect the differences and individuals' contributions, we're very conscious to have the right representation, especially in the Asia Pacific, as well as Bangladesh. I was particularly pleased to see the increase in the ratio of women managers, and amongst the women managers, the number of high potential employees—around 44% are recognised as 'High Potential'. What I expect to see more is that more seniors come through the pipeline—a lot of them are in what we call junior mid-level managers, I want them to grow into more senior level managers in the top team.

Quite interestingly, we have 30% female main board (BAT plc) representation while globally, we have 32% women in various managerial roles.  We're a leading company that's successful worldwide. Bangladesh also has a very positive image in the BAT Group perspective. Here we have won Employer of Choice awards in the FMCG category consecutively three years. BAT Bangladesh has also won the most women friendly organisation award in 2015. This reflects our commitment to continuously provide a safe place to work, protecting our employees' wellbeing and listening to their views.

BAT Group also sponsors women leadership development through an integrated “Women in Leadership” program in UK where Bangladeshi female senior managers are regularly participating. I have also met the first female BATB secondary manufacturing manager who is leading the manufacturing floor of 900+ employees. This is very inspiring considering the context of Bangladesh.

Can you tell us a bit about your career and journey in BAT?

I joined BAT in 2008 from Samsung. Since then I've worked in Korea, Indonesia and Japan, and now in Hong Kong. I enjoyed every assignment I've done and one thing I was looking for when I joined BAT was the career development opportunities and my ownership to design and drive my own career path. In that regard, I never got disappointed. That is the biggest value I got out of BAT. I got different experiences from different markets and I value working with different nationalities. I especially enjoy my current role of overseeing the Asia Pacific markets.

What would you consider the secret to your success?

To me, the grade or the salary—that part was always secondary. It was more about whether the experience would be an asset or not.

How would you describe the culture of the company?

The secret of the organization’s success depends on the engaging culture we have. What it means is that everyone in this organization is giving their best. What you experience being here in Bangladesh is the smell of the place. I absolutely enjoy it. Despite multiple external challenges in the country’s context, I am amazed to see the indomitable spirit of the people which drives the success in every corner of this business.  

Our group culture is underpinned by the 4 guiding principles—Open Minded, Entrepreneurial Spirit, Freedom through Responsibility and Strength from Diversity. BAT Bangladesh lives by the guiding principles to its best.

What's the best advice you could give to a fresh graduate entering a cross-cultural job organisation like BAT?

First, they have to be confident in themselves. I see many hold back their whole potential out of self-doubt. Be courageous because anybody can make mistakes. In my opinion, it's when you play safe that you play most dangerously. When you're younger, you can take more chances because that's the stage in your career you can learn from your mistakes.

Lastly, you have to be aware of the impact you make on other people. People may behave the same way in a foreign market as they would in their local market or home country. But how your behavior is perceived and what impact it creates can be completely different. So you have to be more self-aware and flexible. In Asian countries, you reserve your opinions until you are sure that you know the subject matter. That humility and cautiousness is valuable. But in a different group of people, you have to say things because it's perceived appropriate in, say, a brainstorming session. Knowing the context and being able to quickly flex your style is one of the things that is critical to one's success in a global environment like BAT's.

Being responsible for such a wide region, what do you do to unwind?

Being a complete couch potato is my way of releasing stress. So during the weekends I tend to relax and not do anything at all.


Amiya Halder is Sub-Editor of the career publication of The Daily Star. She is also a senior at the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka.

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