Chase the Experience

By Mel Sim

According to British American Tobacco (BAT) Malaysia’s Director of Brands and Strategic Planning & Insights, Genevieve Hiew, success comes to you when you live to experience the challenges and rise to the occasion through constant learning.

You could say that from the get go, Genevieve Hiew is constantly learning. From her humble days as an undergraduate, Genevieve got her feet wet in the marketing world through Shape Your World, a case study competition amongst universities in Malaysia organised by BAT at that time. She certainly made an impression on the judges as Hiew was offered a fast track application into the company. This even though she was a Chemical with Environmental Engineering graduate!

The two words to encapsulate her first year in marketing would be fast paced. “I felt like I was somewhat back at school, constantly learning new things. There was never a dull day in the office,” says Hiew.

As she progressed in career, Hiew says she was constantly picking up new skills and knowledge that would lend themselves as useful for future potential promotions. “Each career progression for me in BAT has always been linked to my development areas and needs. I’ve also been assigned various mentors to guide me as I progress. Internal as well as external trainings were assigned to help me develop my strengths and equip me with the key competencies needed to progress to the next level,” she shares.

In fact, it was through a mentor where Hiew picked up what she calls her mantra today. “My mentor gave me the best advice – to never chase the grade or promotion but to always chase the experience. Then the grade will come. I hold on to this mantra very proudly and it has brought me to where I am today,” she says.

"Learn, learn, learn! The market is constantly evolving and one way to adapt is to keep learning from cross categories."

Staying true to her motto had resulted in what Hiew calls her biggest achievement to date: Leading a 1,700 sales force in Indonesia. “It is agreeing to the stint in the first place!” she says of how she took up on her own mantra. “I was in familiar territory when it comes to the different roles I’ve held in BAT Malaysia whether it’d be brands, planning, insights, etc. But I have never held such a large-scale trade role, especially in such an interesting market such as Indonesia. So when this opportunity was posed by my line manager at the time, I definitely had some initial reservations that I had to work through. So, I stepped up to the plate and it paid off! It took me out of my comfort zone and got me to where I am today. Being the Divisional Sales Manager in Indonesia and leading such a big team, I made sure I let them know that we are one team, and I am in it for the long run. I will always have their back, if I have their absolute commitment,” says Hiew.

It also turned out to be a great learning experience: “The best lesson that I took from that stint was to never underestimate the power of your people. Of course, I learned a lot about my own limits, but the real power stands with the large sales force who are quick to react and can turn things around.”

She credits the multinational’s view on development as a big contributor in achieving this. “People or leadership agenda is as important as business priorities to us in BAT. Development programmes cut through the entire organisation – from new recruits to someone who has been in the company for 10 years or more. For example, new recruits will go through a thorough six months onboarding process, pairing up with what we call a buddy system to ensure that they assimilate themselves seamlessly. On a personal front, when I was appointed to my new role in January 2020, I was put on this programme called the Rapid Start Transition Plan to ensure a smooth transition into the new role,” shares Hiew.

Currently, Hiew is the Director of Brands and Strategic Planning & Insights where she’s responsible for providing leadership, clarity and direction within the Brands and Strategic Planning & Insights space, facilitating the overall marketing strategy for Malaysia and Singapore. Throughout her career with BAT, she’s held several roles and aced them all, a testament to her agility. This quality she says is something all young talent should develop from the get go. “Agility is important because of the rate of how things are moving, especially in FMCG,” she says.

Her tip on how to keep yourself up to speed? Act fast, be flexible. “Being open to feedback is important – listen, reflect and be receptive to new ways of looking at things,” advises Hiew.

Because of how she’s benefitted from the company’s mentoring programme, Hiew says she now gives back by being a coach to multiple global graduates. Those under her can expect nothing but truth and honesty from Hiew. “I am an open book. No question is too sensitive or too personal for me. Young graduates get caught up and focus too much on the granularities so it is important to occasionally hold a mirror to them, let them know when to take a step back and focus on the overall experience and the main goal,” she says.

Sage advice to new graduates? Take advantage of whatever learning you can get your hands on, especially in today’s work climate where things are constantly changing. “Learn, learn, learn! The market is constantly evolving and one way to adapt is to keep learning from cross categories. Be resilient, know that the only constant is change. Be open minded to accept new possibilities, and most of all embrace change and turn it into an experience,” says Hiew.

Share this article: