Human resources formula for success

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima) will be organising a conference on the theme "Beyond Competition" May 9-10. Ritchie Bent, a speaker from the human resources division of Jardine Matheson, Hong Kong, answers some questions. 

Question: Many say that human talent or human capital is the basis for the success of a company. How true is this? 

Bent: The notion of ”human capital” has become part of the HR-hype, which permeates management literature today. Nobody would disagree that talent is a critical component of the business equation. However, this alone is not a panacea for success. 

It seems that in their quest to establish HR as a specialised area, or profession, many practitioners have become narrow and lost sight of the complete picture. As a consequence they have been unwittingly relegated to the back office. 

Ritchie Bent

Absent from their thinking are the other key components of business. These include appropriate leadership, choice of the right opportunity to pursue, a coherent strategy, robust systems and skills to support delivery of the strategy, and sufficient resources to back all this up. 

Thus, I would say that human capital is only part of the basis for success.  


Q: How important is human capital development in this era of globalisation and liberalisation? 

Bent: Meaningful human capital development is critical, but not easy to implement. The development process can often be sporadic, mono-dimensional and unstructured in nature. 

For many companies, particularly those with severe budgetary constraints, ”development” is confined to the occasional participation in ”off-the-shelf” training modules. 

These modules generally have little immediate relevance to business or personal needs, or any longer-term, post-course impact. 

Some companies, however, have got it right, at relatively little cost. Their starting point is usually a clear statement of what the business or organisation needs. 

This is followed by the construction of a development process around those needs, which factor in ”training” as being only one facet of the multi-dimensional development process. 


Q: Jardine Matheson has close to 250,000 people working across the globe and across a wide range of industries. What are the most important traits or skills that you look for when hiring people? Will internationally-recognised qualifications play a big role? 

Bent: Apart from the necessary functional skills, ”leadership” is probably the most important common competency we seek in our hires, at all but the most junior levels. 

The notion of leadership embraces all manner of values, traits and behaviours. However, as a generalisation, these would include the ability to provide clear direction, enthuse others, demonstrate cross-cultural sensitivity, communicate effectively, show integrity and, generally, bring people with them. 

Internationally-recognised qualifications inevitably play an important role, mainly because they can provide a more trustworthy measure of what you’re getting, compared with many local equivalents. 

However, while the qualification may get you onto the short list, it’s the extended selection process that determines eventual suitability of a candidate for the role.  


Q: How do you retain key people within the company? 

Bent: This is not an easy question to answer, as we have many companies, with some being better at retention than others. We also don’t claim to be experts. 

It depends largely on the ”anchors” our units deploy. Some rely wholly on cash remuneration (in my view the weakest anchor). 

The more enlightened rely on the strength of their culture and accompanying work practices. Likewise, they recognise that different people are motivated by different things at different points in their lives. 

As a consequence, they tailor their offerings to meet these individual needs (this being an area where good HR people can particularly help). 

For some, it is the opportunity to develop and grow. For others, membership of a winning team. One powerful anchor - the power of which is often underestimated by multinationals - is providing a sense of security and belonging, which seems to be more compelling in Asia than the West. 

Within Jardine Matheson, the rich diversity of the group - and accompanying career opportunities - holds strong appeal for many. The culture (a unique fusion of Asian and Western values), cultivated during the firm’s colourful 174 years in the East, is more readily ”felt” than described. But facets of this culture are often manifested in our many ceremonial and extra-curricular activities. 

Linked to this is the nature of leadership and complementary values that permeate our group at the more senior levels. Again, this is a notion difficult to express succinctly in words. Personal ”engagement” perhaps helps capture some sense of what it might be. 

However, a quick look at some of our corporate and philanthropic initiatives, such as ”Pride in Performance”, ”Ambassadors” and ”Mindset”, will provide further insight. Details of these can be found on our website at  


Q: What do you think are the key skills that people will need in the current business environment characterised by keen competition, fast-moving technology and globalisation? 

Bent: Intellectual curiosity, foresight and vision, commercial intuition, agility and change-mindedness, cross-cultural competence and “pull-leadership”.  


* The Beyond Competition conference is supported by the Global Malaysians Network. Participants include personalities like cricket luminary Imran Khan and marketing guru Hermawan Kartajaya. Register by downloading a registration form from, e-mail or call 03-7803 8153 / 5171/ 5432. 

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