Growing Business and People in Southeast Asia since 1919

Published 23 May 2018

Bosch, a global supplier of technology and services, is an active industry leader in four business sectors – mobility solutions, industrial technology, consumer goods, and energy & building technology. Jane Tham, Director of Human Resources, at Bosch Southeast Asia shares how the company is extending its business and people frontiers in the region.

2018 marks Bosch’s 99th anniversary in Southeast Asia. Its first foray into the region was in 1919, when the first Bosch product was distributed in Indonesia. Almost ten decades later, Bosch ended its 2017 fiscal year with SGD 1.28 billion in consolidated sales in the region – an increase of 6.8 percent compared to the previous year. Investments also grew by almost 17 percent in 2017 to SGD 226 million.

Manufacturing activities in Vietnam were expanded, and automated and connected solutioning capabilities in Malaysia and Thailand were enhanced.

2018 also marks the opening of Bosch’s sales service centre in Laos, a significant milestone for the company that only had a representative office in the landlocked, mountainous country previously, opened since 2012.

A long-term view towards Laos

In a conversation with Jane Tham, Director of Human Resources, at Bosch Southeast Asia, she shared how Bosch takes a long-term view towards its business and people development across the region. On the topic of Laos, while acknowledging that “talent acquisition in Laos is going to be very challenging” and “language is going to be a hurdle”, she shared that Bosch prefers to invest early and reap the first-mover advantage.

To overcome talent challenges, Tham and her team already intend to leverage Bosch colleagues in neighbouring Thailand to support and grow the Laotian team. This is a sweet spot due to close cultural ties and linguistic similarities. Furthermore, there is a demographic segment of Laotians who have studied or are studying in Thailand, and this presents a talent pool that Bosch’s operations in Laos will target.

Mobilising for development

Bosch’s long-term approach also applies to how it develops its leaders in the region. International assignments are planned for and implemented regardless of passing business downturns and budget cuts. Tham believes HR plays a hugely important role in conveying the long-term benefits of such initiatives to the business units.

She emphasised, “You can have cuts in other areas, but not on your talent. You are depending on your people to do the job.”

In line with Bosch’s ethos of “local for local” – having locals for local operations –international assignments are designed to be developmental in intent. For instance, a Vietnamese business head will be posted to Bosch’s regional headquarters in Singapore to be developed, with the intent that he will return to Vietnam to take on more advanced positions and bring back expertise to strengthen the local team. “‘Local for local’ is not just buying and staffing. We really need to mould the person. This takes time,” said Tham.

For every associate on an international assignment, the relevant business and HR managers from both home and host locations, as well as the talent’s mentor (a senior executive) would have put together a game-plan. Constructed after discussions which occur on an annual basis, the game-plan for each talent would have answered questions such as:

  • What is the role ready for the associate when he or she returns home in two to three years?
  • Is the role in the home country or city, or somewhere else?
  • Is it more worthwhile for the talent to stay longer in the host location for further development? Or, should the international assignment be cut short as the associate’s home location has a new business unit now, and he or she will be ideal to lead it?
  • And, what is the associate’s preference?
Rolling out the welcome mat for returnees

Of course, an associate’s preference may be to leave Bosch following an international assignment. Tham was candid in saying: “We do have people who drop out because they are sought after, but that is the risk that we take. It is inevitable.”

Yet, Tham says that Bosch welcomes back those who choose to return. She recounted the story of a management trainee, a new Mom, who chose to return to Bosch for its pro work-life balance and parenthood stance. “I once had a management trainee who returned after two years and we decided to take her back because we see the future. She has gone out and gained valuable experience that can help Bosch advance further.”

Associates, not employees

Bosch’s approach towards its talent is apparent even via the term it chooses to call them: “associates”. Why this particular choice of word? Tham explained that this term has had a long history in Bosch, and it started from the intention of signalling a togetherness with its people. While employees come and go, associates are a part of the company, partnering onwards together.

The future is digital

The journey ahead, for both the Bosch business and its people, lies in digital. Transformation is a given. Across Southeast Asia, the message is consistent but conveyed in different ways. For instance, for the fun-loving Thai associates, trainers use superhero characters to facilitate discussions around the kind of characters needed to drive the organisation forward. The Thais even come dressed as different superheroes! On the other hand, for the goal-focused and task-oriented Singaporeans, such dressing up is swapped for a more formal showcase of the company’s way forward. For sure, change messages must consider the audience’s cultural preferences, and the audience in Southeast Asia is a diverse one.

To support Bosch’s associates in going digital, Tham and her team are exploring ways of bringing learning nearer and quicker to them – learning happens on the go. For instance, a sales associate can learn how to dismantle a power tool via e-learning, to facilitate his sales pitch to the customer.

This modified way of learning may sound straightforward but Tham emphasised that the learner must have a very strong analytical sense.

She said, “You have to learn, be able to interpret, put it into practice, and sell correctly – on your own!”

Hence, all talent of the future must have an essential trait: agility. With agility, one can face the future undaunted. Buzzwords like “digital”, “disruption”, and “transformation” may leave one unnerved, but agility enables one to adapt, come what may. Tham made it simple as she concluded, “We don’t have to say it is a digital change. It is a habit change. New innovations arrive, we adjust to it, and life goes on.”

Life has certainly gotten on for Bosch in Southeast Asia for nearly a century. The next century can only have many more milestones in store.

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