Being a Global Wanderer…

By Ahmed Wafi

BAT Malaysia has always supported its community’s career aspirations, assisting them in creating a positive impact wherever and whenever. This month, the organisation is celebrating its people who Work on The World Stage to make a Positive Impact.

When you join BAT Malaysia, you can expect to be entrusted with meaningful work that will touch the everyday lives of millions of consumers. On a personal level, you are given the opportunity to contribute your unique experiences to the organisation’s powerful diversity of thought and also the chance to advance your career by Working on The World Stage.

As part of its newly launched Employee Value Proposition, new joiners will be empowered to make meaningful business decisions and even be given the chance to travel around the world to lead exciting projects while working with members of the Global BAT community. They are dubbed Global Wanderers, determined individuals with the ability to adapt to new environments and jump at the chance of exciting opportunities. The experiences and skills gained while doing so will enable them to #BeTheChange in today’s futuristic modern world.

#teamGRADUAN checked in with two prominent leaders who have their roots started off at BAT Malaysia Fiona Ng, Regional Product Manager , APME , and Anthony Yong, the company’s first Malaysian Finance Director, to learn what it means to Work on The World Stage.

Our first question to them? How does working on the world stage help build A Better Tomorrow™?

“We have transformed ways of working and keeping connected at light speed! Without even the need to physically move, talent must seize the opportunity to see themselves as part of a greater whole,” says Fiona. “Learn to navigate the differences and challenges with resilience. We will pivot and strengthen the way we think, behave and lead at every level. Be confident that each person’s bit counts towards realising A Better Tomorrow™.”

Anthony firmly believes that A Better Tomorrow™ is the story of BAT’s transformation to reduce the health impact of its business. “That transformation starts and ends with our talent. The great thing about BAT is that we truly value diversity: Diversity of backgrounds, nationalities, gender and of course, experiences.”

Recalling their first international assignment with the company, Anthony fondly remembers his time in Switzerland as Head of Finance. “It was a big step up in terms of responsibilities because as Head of Finance, I would be fully accountable for financial delivery and I played a key role in the local leadership team to develop and execute business strategies. Personally, it was a wonderful time for my family as we had the privilege to experience the four seasons of Switzerland, the excellent food and beautiful nature. We loved every minute of our time in Switzerland, so much so that we actually call Switzerland our second home.”

Fiona referred to her first international assignment in London as a very formative period in the early days of her career. While on an assignment as Area Packaging Development Manager in KL, the opportunity to be part of a global project team arose and she grasped it with both hands without thinking twice.

Having previously worked in a creative agency, Fiona’s career path in BAT fell into place by chance. After the agency she was previously working for was bought over, she found herself with very little to do over the next four months. Once she heard word that BAT Malaysia was recruiting, she applied for the vacancy and the rest is history.

Anthony on the other hand sought new challenges in his career. Having previously worked for one of the Big 4 auditing firms for eight years, he left to join BAT Malaysia as Finance Manager in 2000. He spent 14 years with the company with assignments in Switzerland and was also the Finance Director in Bangladesh before leaving the company only to come back two years later leading international assignments in Australia.

When asked what made him return to BAT, he jokingly answered: “I’m a sucker for punishment… On a serious note, having worked in different companies, I can say that BAT is a great company to work in. There are always opportunities to learn and make a difference. One is only limited by one’s own ambition.”


Did you experience any culture shock when you first moved to Switzerland?
Yes, definitely. The strangest one is the rule that if you live in an apartment block, you cannot flush your toilet past 10pm! Everything closes at 5pm and is only open on Saturday mornings. It was a shock coming from Malaysia where you can get food 24/7 and malls are open for long hours.

Being the first Malaysian Finance Director of BATM, what sort of impact are you looking to make in the organisation?
I was the Finance Director of BAT Bangladesh from 2011 until 2014. Many of the finance team members reporting to me have since progressed to senior positions within the Group and I am extremely proud of them. My goal is to do the same for Malaysian talent. I want to build a high-performing team that is not only “jaguh kampung” but will thrive on the international stage as well.

You’ve worked in the US, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Australia and Malaysia. What is the defining characteristic of each respective working culture?
Every country is unique and it will take more than a paragraph to describe the differences. However, there is a common theme: Every single person who comes to work wants to be successful and recognised. The main challenge for the leader is to understand what motivates his/her team members and find a way to harness that motivation into performance and potential.

Advice for those planning to work overseas?
International assignments and being on the move are not everyone’s cup of tea. One must balance your professional aspirations with your personal and family goals especially if you have a significant other. However, once you have decided to do it, be bold and go for it. Always go with an open mind and make it a point to mix with the locals.

How has the experience gained from working in a creative agency helped you excel in your role at BAT?
There are so many stories I could share; I’ll summarise by saying I had an early-on mindset on a few universal topics:

  • Being sensitive to navigate a supplier-client relationship and always aiming to mould it into a partnership. Remembering to put myself into another person’s shoes usually makes for better stakeholder management and fosters collaboration.
  • Influencing others and driving for decisions.
  • It’s OK to be different and express creativity as long as we have self-awareness and humility knowing how to navigate a time and place for everything.

You’ve been with BAT for 18 years. What makes you want to stay?
People. Building strong and self-sufficient teams and watching our talent grow and excel to contribute to the business over time.

Tell us some of the challenges you overcame early in your career.
One of the first and most memorable challenge were the acronyms! I started writing them down and within a week I had amassed three A4-sized pages of densely packed acronyms!

There is nothing you can’t learn at BAT as long as you are willing to keep asking questions and talk to people. The key is to keep hungry with curiosity, especially to understand beyond your own area of work.

Advice for those planning to work overseas?
Look beyond your assignment and role profile. Consider what additional unwritten learning or experience you can put under your belt both professionally and personally. You should aim to come out a better version of yourself at the end of it. Don’t underestimate how challenging living in a place with climates new to you. Also, travel opportunities in your personal time can add to the enrichment of your career and life in general.

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