Who? Ian Chew, General Manager, Malaysia
Where? Hawley & Hazel
How long? Since 2012
A priceless experience
"With Hawley & Hazel, I’ve had the opportunity to be based in both Hong Kong and Bangkok for extended periods due to work. This actually requires good organisation skills to balance your work and family life while being away from home. While it can be difficult spending so much time away, the rewards you gain in terms of exposure and experience are priceless.
My father was the one who encouraged me to join the FMCG industry. He was in advertising for many years and worked closely with clients from FMCG. He always said that FMCG was a good industry to join as it is a recession proof industry, meaning that no matter how bad the economic situation, people would still need to eat and take care of their personal hygiene.
As a country general manager, everyday can be different but my typical day in the office starts off with checking the latest sales numbers from the previous day. The rest of my day is spent in meetings or engaging with my team members. Once or twice a month, I like to go out to the trade, either in the central or outstation areas. This gives me an opportunity to see our execution in the market, and to engage directly with my sales team and our distributors in the different areas.
There are many things I enjoy about my current role but I think what I enjoy most is coaching my team members, and seeing them develop and excel. The joy you get is very similar to the pride that a parent feels when their kids do well in school."
The three pillars to a modern leader’s success
"I think in today’s fast paced environment, senior leaders need versatility, mobility and most importantly, great communication skills.
While it is important to have strong fundamentals in at least one discipline, anyone in a senior leadership role needs to be versatile and have an understanding of all aspects of the business. Because of my sales background, I have to consciously put more effort into other functions such as marketing, finance and supply chain. I also spend a lot of time reading and keeping abreast on local and regional news that may have an impact on my business.
Mobility is undoubtedly very important in today’s borderless world. As a modern leader, you need to be able to work on-the-move. I spent almost two years working across Asia in a regional role, very often waking up in a different country every week. I learnt to work wherever I was, even in the airport lounge or in a taxi. On the other hand, mobility also means the ability and willingness to be based permanently in a location if the situation requires.
While it is important to have strong fundamentals in at least one discipline, anyone in a senior leadership role needs to be versatile and have an understanding of all aspects of the business.
Lastly, all senior leaders need to have both strong verbal and written communication skills. This does not just mean having very good command of the English language, it also means being able to deliver your message in the right tone and manner to suit your audience. The way I would communicate in a head office meeting is very different from how I communicate to my sales people in the field. Tailoring your communication to your audience will ensure that your message always comes out loud and clear."
Adopting a collaborative leadership style
"In simple terms, I would say that leadership is about guiding your team to achieve a goal. The role that the leader will have to play depends very much on the team that he or she is leading, and the nature of the goal to be achieved.
In my younger days when I was managing a more junior team, my leadership style was definitely more directive. As I have progressed in my career, my style has evolved towards a more collaborative approach, as the team I have now are very experienced and with strong functional skills. However, when the situation calls for it, a decisive leader will still have to make certain decisions without full consensus or often with limited information."
Achieving a sustainable career
"You determine your own future based on the choices you make. Over your career, you will have to make many difficult choices. For instance, should you take on a new job that offers more money, or do you stay with your company because you enjoy your job? Should you take some risk to over-deliver your goals, or do you play it safe? The choices you make will ultimately determine your own success or failure.
I have faced these same choices many times over my career. Fortunately, since joining Hawley & Hazel, the management has helped me to achieve my career aspirations and given me enough autonomy to manage my business effectively. My advice to anyone seeking a progressive and sustainable career is to find a company that gives you the room to learn and grow, and find a boss that is able and willing to coach you."
For more leadership advice, please read our interview with Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia's CFO, or contact us for a confidential discussion.