Gary Brewer of William Grant & Sons on talent and the importance of being local

Author: PM Editorial | Date: 30 Sep 2015

“People get a chance to make their mark here”

Gary Brewer
“There’s a lot of knowledge and sophistication around whisky in Asia,” says Gary Brewer, head of HR and OD in the region for William Grant & Sons. That’s good news for a business which is famed for brands including Glenfiddich and Drambuie, and which is building a sizeable footprint in the region, with a particular focus on Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. People Management asked him about how the world-renowned Scottish spirits business approaches HR.

 
How would you assess the current state of the talent market in south east Asia?
It is tough out there. One of the problems we have is that we are of a particular size. Our brands are well-known and liked and that’s a good hook for us, but we’ve not got the scale of bigger global players. We have 200 employees in Asia, so that lack of scale is a challenge – while being family-owned, with the continuity that brings, is a positive, we have so work to do around awareness.
 
What’s the key to your employee value proposition?
We only have give organisational layers, so progression is a challenge. But that’s also an opportunity because people get more responsibility, flexibility and opportunity to make their mark. So far, we haven’t suffered from attrition, which can be a problem in some markets, particularly in sales and marketing roles. But it’s a particularly stark contrast to the UK, for example, where we’ve had people who’ve worked for us for 40 or 50 years. That would just be inconceivable here.
 
What has been your approach to building a footprint in the region?
I’m encouraged that although Asia has been the last region to come on board with some of our corporate development initiatives, once it’s underway things happen quickly and happen well. There is a huge receptiveness to better people practice here. A lot of companies parachute talent into Asian markets, but that’s not what we’ve done. It’s a Korean who leads the Korean business, for example, and a Chinese who leads China.
 
What’s next on your agenda?
We undertake employee engagement surveys every two years, and the results are phenomenal. We’re 87-89 per cent, and when you perform that to high-performing businesses within our sector, we come out very well. But we have to look at what that means for each particular region, and in Asia we have done a number of things as a result of that feedback. We are better at celebrating success. We’ve made a number of changes to reward and recognition. And we’ve worked hard on the concept of leadership readiness. All of that, and our work on talent and leadership development, will continue to be important. We need to make sure we are competitive in every area.