For the last 18 months Steven Hasson, the global head of talent acquisition at consumer products giant PZ Cussons, has been spending a lot of time on planes, as he took on the task of building a global procurement hub for the business, from scratch, in Singapore.
Interviewee: Steven Hasson, Global Head of Talent Acquisition, PZ Cussons
Hasson’s day job usually involves handling all C-suite level recruitment for the company, which employs more than 5,000 people worldwide, but this mandate was a little different: “On this particular occasion,” he says, “I got involved in bringing in people at every grade and in every discipline throughout the procurement cycle, from third-party quality people to the global head of procurement, and the Asia head of procurement.”
It was no easy project, but the goal was to centralise procurement, moving away from in-country teams towards a single centre of excellence. Hasson, who is based at company HQ in Manchester, England, explains: “What we have had in the past was our procurement teams predominantly in-country, and there has been a global procurement team based in head office in Manchester. But vast quantities of our procurement budget were being spent in Asia – on packaging, raw materials and so on – and so when we looked at the balance of procurement and sales, it just made sense to have our people in the region.”
Having decided on Asia, it quickly became clear that Singapore represented a talent hub and was a logical place to set up shop. The city is only one and half hours from Jakarta, where PZ Cussons has its biggest operating unit in Asia, and less than two hours away from the company’s office in Thailand. “We decided to set up the global procurement function in Singapore,” says Hasson, “and we set about moving roles around. We sent a few people out on short-term secondments, but the rest was about external recruitment.”
The project was delivered on time, and a successful handover was achieved within the year-and-a-half deadline. Now, some countries retain small local procurement functions, to handle purchasing in their own country, but all report into Singapore.
For Hasson, who grew up in South Africa and Zimbabwe and has worked in Europe since 1999, the task was made all the more difficult because he was completely new to the market. He says: “We had absolutely no exposure, no office, and no presence in Singapore at all. So I was starting off with no knowledge at all about the market. I’m not an expert in Asia – my strengths are in Africa and Europe – so this was a bit like sending me to the moon. We didn’t know how difficult it was going to be at all.”
Several challenges arose during the recruitment process. First, PZ Cussons is very strong in emerging markets, and is therefore looking for mobile talent willing to spend some time in relatively offbeat locations. The new Asia head of procurement, who is based in Singapore, will start off with a secondment to Jakarta to build skills in that operation, for example.
Second, it wasn’t always easy to get people to move: “Of course recruitment in Singapore for certain roles is not that difficult,” says Hasson, “because there are very good people there. But the challenge is to move comfortable people out of good jobs and get them to consider an organisation they have never heard of.”
PZ Cussons has operations in London and Manchester in the UK and in Greece, Poland, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. Its products span five divisions, in personal care, home care, food and nutrition, electricals and beauty, with brands including Imperial Leather, Cussons Baby, Carex, St Tropez, Sanctuary Spa and many more. But, Hasson says,
"Although we are an international fast-moving consumer goods business, we are not known in vast swathes of Asia, or in vast swathes of the world to be honest. That is a challenge, and that’s where we have worked very well with Proco Global because they have not only identified the candidates but also been able to represent us as an organisation and sell our story so that they would come and talk to us."
Before starting work on the Singapore project, Hasson was spending two-thirds of his time focused on the company’s African operations, as 45% of the global business is based in Nigeria. But his job description includes handling all complex recruitment remits around the group, which may mean marketing directors in the Personal Care business or executives for electricals businesses. Hasson says: “It’s a big challenge, because when you’re talking about marketing directors, it’s very different appointing for one of the businesses compared to another. Every time a new role comes up it’s a completely different challenge.”
Likewise, the worries from an HR perspective vary enormously from market to market. “In Singapore, the thing that keeps me awake at night isn’t that I might not find the talent,” he says. “What keeps me awake, is keeping it, because the market in Singapore is enormously buoyant. In Indonesia, it’s a question of how do we find the best people because there is enormous demand and enormous supply. But when it comes to really internationally experienced talent, the pool is quite small. In Nigeria, we face all these issues.”
Selling the brand is less of an issue in West Africa, where some of the company’s products have entered the pantheon of local language. For example, people of a certain age will ask their friends to ‘turn down the Thermocool,’ instead of air conditioning, demonstrating the popularity of this PZ Cussons electrical brand in the local area.
The main thing for Hasson is that he says the job is always interesting: “I promised myself a few years ago that if I ever got bored in a job, I would move on,” he says. “I’m never bored here, because we are in developing markets. I can’t see how I’m going to get bored for a very long time.”
He never knows where the next mandate will take him.