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He works to retain his employees and keep them happy

The Executive Seat explores human resource issues, corporate management and hiring. The Straits Times speaks to Mr Chan Chong Beng, chief executive of interior furnishing firm Goodrich Global.

BY RACHAEL BOON

IF SOMEONE in their 40s or 50s were to look for a job at Goodrich Global, chief executive Chan Chong Beng says that he would be unlikely to hire him - but not for the common reasons that plague older workers.

"I would take only my workers who've been with me, and we've recently extended the contracts for some who are 62 and older, without cutting their salary so their package remains the same," he says.

Unless a newcomer has the specific skills the firm needs, he would rather retain his employees for the sake of the company's culture and the value they bring to Goodrich Global.

The firm was one of those which worked with the Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers, thanks to one of its campaigns called Tap into a Wealth of Experience. It highlights the value that older employees can bring to the workforce.

The committee was set up in 2005 to help older workers stay employed longer, and it also aims to change perceptions of them.

How important is it to retain employees?

From the day we employ our workers, more than 90 per cent of them are likely to stay on as employees. Maybe 5 per cent or 10 per cent will become bosses and employ their own workers.

When they come to work for us, it is our job to make sure that they really enjoy themselves here, find a career here, and the company must take care of them.

My employees here are mostly familiar only with wallpaper. If tomorrow, something happens to Goodrich and they have to leave, their specific skillset will be only about the products.

They will face the same problem of being discriminated by employers.

The company must take on the responsibilities from day one: to make sure your workers can stay on with you, and be as happy as possible.

You prefer to retain your employees but are still open to hiring people new to the business. What are some examples?

We have someone above 45 who came in. He worked in China for more than 15 years, and came back to Singapore, and it was difficult for him to find a new job.

He joined us about two years ago. We were trying to fit him into various departments. He used to deal with explosives for products like firecrackers. Those skills had no relevance.

By some coincidence, we'd just completed our building in China, so we sent him over for experience, and we may post him to China because of his past experience there. He's very familiar with the culture.

If someone has the right skills, or can offer something I cannot find here, I will definitely employ him or her. Age doesn't play an important role, it's the nature of the work.

How do you help staff stay employable?

I'm always disappointed when people leave, especially when I'm trying to retain and help them. But after a while, I get used to it and think, if they leave, it's their regret and not mine.

We have various policies to encourage employability. For young people, for instance, I encourage them to leave. When they come in, we give them training, and if they have to leave for another place, by all means do so, as long as their value has increased.

And if they don't find the new company good, they have two chances to return to Goodrich, but no more after that. The other policy is that if you leave us to join a competitor, you can't come back.

The good thing about old employees is that they understand the business.

I used to hire a cleaner. She'd make the coffee, those sorts of duties, and was with us until the age of 68. Whenever a new staff member went into the kitchen, she'd be the first one to say: "You're very lucky, you've come to the right place."

That kind of positive thinking can change perceptions a lot. If you come in to a company and someone asks, "Why are you here when everyone's leaving?", the next thing you'd do is go through the newspapers to look for another job.

What older employees tell new hires is more powerful than what I say. I can tell them to trust me, but it takes time for them to see that.

rachaelb@sph.com.sg

Credit: The Straits Times published on 1 June 2015

In Goodrich Global, older staff help younger ones fit in

Established in 1983, interior furnishing company Goodrich Global has 120 employees, with 50% of them above the age of 40. In the last five years, 13 older employees have joined the company. From years of experience working with older staff, the company feels that they can handle challenges and stresses at work better with less job-hopping.

One of these older workers is Diana Soo, 55, who joined Goodrich Global in 1983. Goodrich Global chairman and co-founder Chan Chong Beng says, "At that time, we had only seven people in the company. She was tasked with sales, and wherever there was a gap, she would be deployed to fill in. The multiple roles she held helped her understand the company's operations so that she knows what I want."

Soo's can-do attitude, coupled with her knowledge of the company, won her several leadership roles. She led a six-member team to start a procurement department this year. She also learnt how to use the company's new Enterprise Resource Planning System without much difficulty and is able to guide her team through it, too.

"We must always have a group of dedicated older people who can inspire the younger people who come in," says Chan. Soo and many of the experienced older workers help the younger hires assimilate into the company. They mentor and coach the younger staff.

In the sales team, new hires are assigned a buddy, who becomes their "one -stop shop" to navigate the company's business operations and a guide to who's who in the organisation.

At times, older staff like Soo also lend a listening ear to the younger staff. Having worked alongside Chan for many years, his older staff are more familiar with him. "Sometimes, the new people would go to the older staff," he says. "I would hear my older workers telling a new staff who is going through problems to see me. They assure him he would get help." Chan notes that this bridges communication gaps in the organisation.

In a bid to engage its employees regardless of age, Goodrich Global started the l-Cube, or Ideation, Innovation and Improvement, programme last year. Each staff comes up with new ideas and subsequently works in teams to implement good ideas to improve the company's productivity and work processes. Often, the teams are made up of younger and older employees, who bring vastly different ideas to the table.

But Goodrich Global says this creates healthy tension and co-existence between the older and younger workers. The younger workers have interesting and new perspectives, while the older ones have a wealth of expertise and experiences.Together, these multi-generational teams have come up with seven projects, which will be rolled out in the year ahead.

By tapping both its older and younger workforce, Goodrich Global has successfully kept its attrition rate to below 5% over the last three years. Cheng Yew Heng and Goodrich Global have benefited from a multi-generational workforce. Both companies have put in significant effort to engage their older employees. As Cheng notes, "Keep engaging them and they will contribute to their best capacity."

Credit: The Edge magazine dated 20 April 2015

  • From left: Diana Soo, Head of Procurement & Export; AlvinTan, Senior Account Executive; Chan Chong Beng, Co-founder & Chairman of Goodrich Global
    From left: Diana Soo, Head of Procurement & Export; AlvinTan, Senior Account Executive; Chan Chong Beng, Co-founder & Chairman of Goodrich Global
  • PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
    PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES