Yuki Yamada, Malaysia and Singapore CEO, Uniqlo, talks about developing people by investing in training and mentoring as the key to an engaged talent strategy, in this exclusive with Aditi Sharma Kalra.

Q What has UNIQLO done right in the last decade to grow its workforce and tap on it to successfully grow the business to where it is today?

UNIQLO in Malaysia has seen the development of 50 stores and an e-commerce platform in the last 10 years and we are grateful to have been able to continue business all this time with the support of local talents. In the next 10 years, I hope to continue to provide career opportunities and support dreams and aspirations to Malaysians who choose to develop their career with us.

There are several human resource strategies we have deployed in the last decade to help us grow our operation and business here.

As a global company, there are many HR learnings, best practices and resources we can leverage from our global headquarters in Japan, as well as established markets like China and South Korea to lead our business here in Malaysia.

This helps us tremendously in employing store staff and providing continuous training for staff of various levels. It also facilitates the staffing of our headquarter office, where we hire and train professionals to run and support our business in-store and on e-commerce.

A key HR strategy is the hiring of UNIQLO Manager Candidates (UMCs), a UNIQLO global programme that recruits fresh graduates to train and mentor them to be business leaders. As UNIQLO is a customer-centric company and the store is where our brand, products and people connect with the customer, it is an important place for all our potential managers to start their careers. At our stores, UMCs are exposed to daily store operation, personnel supervision, merchandising, local marketing, store layout and inventory management.

Our goal is to provide on-the-job education and gradually guide them towards a business management role with P&L (profit & loss) and store management responsibilities, thus accelerating their development from retail management skills to making key business decisions that are in line with the company’s goals and vision.

We adopt full meritocratic principle for all employees when it comes to promotion and career development. Many of our first batch UMCs are currently active in our stores and headquarter office as managers of large stores, heads of specific functions at headquarter level, and even working overseas in markets, such as Japan, India and Singapore. Similarly, talented store staff are given opportunity to become store managers through examinations (in the same ways as UMCs) and some of our current store managers are such examples.

Q How do you attract new talent and retain current talent in the retail industry which is known for high employee turnover?

I believe we appeal to new talent in the way we develop people by investing in training and mentoring them; and illustrating a career path that starts from their local stores but can level up to anywhere else we operate in the world, which means a path that is as far as their potential can bring them.

While UNIQLO is a global company that originates in Japan, we adopt the thinking of 'global is local and local is global' wherever we operate.

We have developed our Malaysian business with this in spirit and we hope locals feel the same way too. We have given and will continue to give opportunities for local employees to contribute to our entire group business growth through their roles here or overseas. Key positions responsible for Malaysia business and overseas assignments are systematically expanded with measurable targets.

For store staff who are responsible for our business at the frontline, anyone who adheres to the company’s HR growth motto and has the will and ability can become store manager, area manager, work at headquarter office and even become executives. We provide regular opportunities for promotion.

In Malaysia, we have seen several store staff getting promoted to store managers. On the group level, there are examples of COOs who started out as a store staff; and we would like to see such cases from Malaysia in the next 10 years.

Q As you're managing the business for both Singapore and Malaysia, what are the key difference in terms of workforce challenges?

There is essentially no difference between our Singapore and Malaysia HR needs. Both businesses require diversity in our recruitment. But due to land area and population size differences, which determine store number, location and individual store size, and therefore staff requirements, we need to have different considerations when it comes to the training and placement of our store managers.

Q Some tips and advice you have for other firms in retail?

This year, each company including ours is making efforts to adjust to the new normal. But at the end of the day, companies that can stay close to what customers want, be adaptive to the new environment, and provide the best customer experience, are always needed.

I believe that those companies which can deliver customer’s needs will thrive.

Q Finally, what kind of a leader are you? What would your staff share about your style?

Respect diversity and different culture. From my experiences as store managers and store operation directors in the UK and the US, I have learned how to respect each country’s diversity and cultures to work with the people as a team. I continuously encourage my team to trust and challenge each other and always give feedback. That’s my leadership style, which is also aligned with the values of Uniqlo more generally.

Photo / Provided

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