Talent Acquisition & Management: A view from Asia

John Nolan, SVP HR, Unilever

Talent acquisition and management is essential for companies looking to expand into Asia and developing markets. Here, John Nolan, Senior Vice President, Human Resources for Global Markets, Unilever, tells us what his company is doing to make sure it maintains its position as a market leader. Interviewed by Fiona Nesbitt, Frazer Jones Singapore

The business world is shifting to Asia, as developing and emerging countries in the continent offer sustainable growth opportunities. Socio-economic trends show that growth in population means companies looking to increase their profitability need to boost their footprint in this area. But as more and more organisations try to eek out additional growth, competitiveness has gone through the roof. So how can companies set themselves apart in Asia? We believe the answer is local talent development.

Finding local talent

Everyone is chasing a finite supply of talented managers and leaders, so prioritising local leadership talent is the only way to be successful (95 per cent of Unilever’s management is local, globally). This starts with developing a strong employer brand, as put simply, people have to want to work for you.
We are ranked as the number one employer on campus in 29 countries around the world, with over half of these being in Asia. This gives us access to the best university graduates which is part of our talent pipeline infrastructure.

Once you’ve got the pipeline right, you have to give people the functional skills they need at the outset of their career to master their professions, regardless of the sector. As part of this, they need to be enshrined with a global perspective. For example, we look to give all our graduate trainees an international assignment to help them become global leaders.

Finally, we have a whole series of structured leadership development programmes that cover staff from cradle to grave, making sure they are equipped with the right skills at every stage of their careers.

So through a combination of professional skills, job rotation, international assignments and structured leadership development, the local leaders of tomorrow can be developed.

A view from Asia 650

Talent retention

Of course, you don’t want to invest time and money in helping to mould these leaders, only for them to leave. Unilever boasts a global attrition rate of only seven per cent and we believe this is because of our value proposition.

We offer more than a career, as when you work for Unilever you have the chance to change people’s lives. People want a great career, a good relationship with their boss, and to be paid competitively, but they also want to make a contribution to society.

Future talent

We firmly believe that talent should reflect the business. As approximately 60% of revenue is from the developing world, this is where leaders need to come from. The real challenge is to develop a diverse leadership pipeline (90 per cent of Unilever’s country CEOs are local).

There also needs to be a balance struck between in-house talent and external talent. We think the 70/30 rule (70 per cent in-house/30 per cent external) applies broadly, as bringing people in from outside offers further opportunities for companies to learn and grow.

They see the market differently and bring unique skills and stop an organisation from becoming too internally focused. But going too far in either direction can be a problem, so the balance is key.

With Asia presenting such a great business opportunity, finding local talent will be vital. This is why companies need to have a strong employer brand, accelerate the rate of readiness of this talent and continue to support talent at every stage of their career.

By doing this, companies can put themselves on the road to success.