Creating Strong Organizations Where Diversity Excels
HR Support in a Rapidly Growing Region
This series introduces some of the MC Group's global operations and the people behind them. Our fourth installment features Human Link Asia Pte. Ltd. (HLA), which provides HR solutions and services to Mitsubishi Corporation's offices and group companies in the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific region.
Applying Diverse Experience to Address Clients' HR Needs
The early morning sun reflects off the windows of Singapore's Millenia Tower. It is 8:30 a.m., and having just dropped off her two children at school, Sara Iwasaki is the first to arrive. She has a busy day ahead of her, checking emails and fielding inquiries from offices and companies all over Asia.
When Iwasaki was studying environmental policy at graduate school, she gained an interest in natural resource business, which encouraged her to apply for a position at Mitsubishi Corporation (MC). After joining the company, she did her training in the Energy Administration Department, and then spent the better part of her early career in the Corporate Communications Department. During that time, she had her first child and took a one-year break for maternity leave. In 2014, she left MC due to her husband being transferred overseas, but she was able to take advantage of the re-employment system to come back three years later, this time landing a position in the Global Human Resources Department. The following year, she was seconded to HLA and relocated to Singapore.
Initially, Iwasaki was apprehensive about her new appointment due to her lack of experience in HR, but her boss encouraged her. "HR work requires a more general skillset," he told her. "Diverse experience and people skills go a long way in this field, and your knowledge of accounting, public relations and raising children will definitely benefit you." Iwasaki took his words to heart and approached her new job positively, and today her HR work for MC's offices and group companies in the Asia-Pacific region covers a wide spectrum of duties, including HR consulting, planning and administration of training programs, HR-related clerical matters and the daily inquiries that come in from MC's rotating staffers in the region.
"Many of our group companies in Asia have only just been established, and they have no HR specialists of their own," she says. "Because they are often short staffed, I have to consider myself another member of their team and work very closely with them. That means consulting on a daily basis and going over the finest details to set up or upgrade their HR systems." To be treated by those comanies as one of their own, Iwasaki places great importance on building and maintaining trust-based relationships. Her earnest approach has quickly won the respect and admiration of her clients.
Adapting to New Challenges, Without Fear of Failure
MC does business all over the world, and its busines model, which at one time focused almost exclusively on trade, has evolved dramatically. Today it invests in businesses, assigns its people to them and proactively engages in their management. More than 2,000 of its employees have been dispatched to its roughly 1,400 group companies in Japan and around the world. Human Link Corporation (HLC) was established by MC in 1996 to provide comprehensive HR support for its domestic businesses. HLA was set up in 2016 to cover its businesses in the Asia-Pacific region.
"MC's group companies and rotating staffers have been increasing in numbers," says HLC's Managing Director Kenichiro Hama. "In Asia alone, they have doubled in just the last eight years. They are involved in a wide array of businesses throughout the burgeouning Asia-Pacific region, and we have a vital mission to support their management with the best possible HR solutions and services."
Shouldering part of that mission is Iwasaki. As the need for management professionals continues to grow at MC, Iwasaki's current focus is on the planning and administration of training programs. This past January, Iwasaki and her colleagues at HLA created a new program for officers of MC group companies. Borrowing the expertise of guest instructors from local law firms and universities, the program covers six broad areas, including corporate governance, legal obligations of board members and compliance. Although launched on a trial basis, the program has taken off, and thus far 60 secondees and local hires from 13 countries have taken part.
Another space that HLA is paying close attention to is "HR-Tech," which involves applying robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and other new developments in technology to the field of HR. The company is now working with a local venture capital firm to develop an online training system that works with mobile devices.
"One of the challenges we are facing is how to teach dry topics like finance and risk management in enjoyable ways," says Iwasaki. "We are hoping to use this system as a tool for brushing up core business skills that apply to all companies." Iwasaki and her colleagues are busy developing new contents that take advantage of videos, quizes and other elements to give the system an engaging, "game-like" feel.
"When I learn what these companies' needs are, it makes me all the more determined to answer them. I know that we will not be able to solve every problem, but I am looking forward to giving the system a try. That is the first step."
Iwasaki's considerate, single-minded approach has earned the trust of Hama as well. "There is no time to hesitate in this part of the world," he says. "The business environment in Asia is evolving at a dizzying pace, and we have to run with it and make adjustments along the way. I am confident that Iwasaki-san will continue to take on new challenges, without fear of failure."
Helping To Build Attractive Organizations that Generate Greater Value
According to Iwasaki, there are many working mothers in Singapore, a society that is very accommodating to working women. A lot of her close colleagues are also rotating staffers who came to Singapore with their children. "I have been here for two years now. There is still much for me to learn and only so much I can do myself," says Iwasaki. "That is why I share information closely with my colleagues and always remind myself to be a team player. I want to be a smooth facilitator who is capable of getting the most out of my team." Iwasaki seems to have a renewed appreciation of the fact that her skills are being put to use in a positive environment, one where she has the understanding and support of her boss, colleagues, family and others.
"The companies in the region I oversee have diverse workforces and values, spanning different cultures, generations and genders. By optimizing their combined expertise, those companies can generate even greater value," says Iwasaki, the gleam in her eyes growing even brighter. "My goal is to help them to do that by building stronger, more attractive organizations."
After the Inteview
HLA's office is located in a skyscraper close to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and some of Singapore's other popular attractions. Iwasaki and the rest of the office's ten employees are kept busy attending teleconferences and meeting their clients. During their lunch breaks, they share information in more relaxed settings, often discussing their children as well as work. Having a healthy working life that allows her to effectively balance career and family has made Iwasaki a happier, more vibrant professional.
From the March 27, 2019 edition of The NIKKEI, Advertising