By Tan Wan-Peng
Matthew Brady has a deadpan sense of humour. The Australian, who is the Head of Global Asset Services (GAS) at BHP Billiton Shared Services Centre in Kuala Lumpur, takes a few seconds to reply when asked what is it like to work at the mining giant’s KL office.
“We have a lot of fun.” Um, as in theme park fun and making merry? “Yeah, some of the teams went to Sunway Lagoon for example,” he replies without missing a beat.
Then, there was last year’s annual party. The finance team walked away with the “best mannequin challenge” title. The tech team, meanwhile, displayed hidden talent with artistes and musicians performing that evening.
Why does BHP Billiton put so much emphasis on fun? After all, most employees don’t think of the office or work as fun. GAS in Kuala Lumpur functions as shared services solution for the mining giant, with operations in Australia, North and South Americas and whose headcount tops 55,000. The office here provides services in Human Resources, Finance, Supply, Technology and Maintenance Centre of Excellence. The work can be intense and hectic, especially when there’s a project spike, such as the migration of new work and the year-end cycle.
Where the fun element comes in is to bring out the best among people who work through some busy periods by making them inclusive and supportive towards their colleagues.
Brady offers an example of this. Recently, GAS ran a tagline competition asking the team to sum up what life in the KL office was like. The winning entry was “Creating Value Together”, which encapsulates the inclusiveness and the importance of bringing your whole self to work.
“It is important for us to value the ideas they generate and the smarts that they bring here,” he says. At BHP Billiton, the staff members are encouraged to speak out and share their ideas freely. The firm also celebrates mistakes. (Yes, mistakes!)
“We celebrate mistakes,” Brady says, because “we need people to make mistakes and learn from them.” Team members are coached through making mistakes – with the caveat, people learn and improve on their performance.
“We’ve had positive experience with the people we’ve hired here,” he says. Malaysians – and Southeast Asians generally – place a strong cultural emphasis on education.
“Most people here don’t stop at undergraduate degrees. They pursue postgraduate qualifications. They are far more qualified than me!” he says laughing.
Grades matter but, Brady says, GPAs are just one consideration as the company prefers graduates who show capabilities beyond grades such as leadership.
More importantly, graduates who join BHP Billiton must be aligned with its values. These include sustainability (putting health and safety first, being environmentally responsible and supporting its communities); integrity; respect (embracing openness, trust, teamwork, diversity and relationships that are mutually beneficial); and accountability, among others.
BHP Billiton prides itself on workplace diversity. “We have diversity in spades,” he says, adding that the ethnically diverse and young workforce in Malaysia has created value for the organisation. The average age in the KL office is 25, which has led to some innovative results. “We’ve had people here solving some long-standing problems in months, not years.”
But there are challenges, of course. BHP Billiton is a global employer and as stated earlier, with operation in South America and supplies across the globe. There is an urgent need for people with deeper language skills.
For example, there is an acute shortage of Spanish speakers in the KL office. (Remember, KL is providing global support, not just regional.) So, if you have Spanish language capabilities and possess skills in supply, accounting and human resources, running on SAP, they would love to hear from you.
The other challenge is a broadly cultural one, touching on timezone operability issues. People need to work extended shifts, which may impact on their family or leisure time.
But Brady is keen to emphasise, there is variety in the work and opportunities to work overseas as part of the learning process. “As a global employer, our employees are exposed to opportunities in BHP Billiton worldwide. They acquire cross-function training and extensive learning when they are sent overseas.”
Another point Brady emphasises is that at BHP Billiton, there is no expectation of people coming to work with all the ready skills set. It is a privilege and the responsibility of leaders to train graduates and help them define and enhance their job scope, he says. Which means that this organisation is the right sort: There is no harm in making mistakes here; it creates a fun workplace and it wants to see you thrive.