The Human Resources Director, British American Tobacco Nigeria (West Africa) Area, Temitope Akinsanya, in this interview, speaks on the role of human resources practitioners in developing talents for businesses and the strategic importance of human resources to Nigeria’s socio-economic development as well the company’s reputation in prioritising talent development. Eromosele Abiodun brings the excerpts:
Can you share with us your first human resources (HR) job experience, why and how did you get into HR?
I didn’t really set out to be a HR professional. My first interaction with the HR profession was through a consulting engagement, while working as a Tax consultant in KPMG in 2005. At that time, a coalition of oil companies required a reward benchmarking exercise and I was assigned to the project as a Senior Consultant. The project was very successful and inspired KPMG to carve out a Compensation & Benefits Consulting Unit. I practised as a compensation & benefits consultant for about four years and later became the Head of the Practice for KPMG Nigeria.
Was there any challenge you faced when starting out then?
Once I got exposed to the HR profession, I became deliberate about being a commercial-focused HR Professional, using creative and innovative people practices in delivering tangible business results. My background in consulting and accounting, alongside a sound understanding of financial and non-financial business requirements provided the platform for me to connect with the business side of things. I think my first challenge was the need to quickly upskill myself with functional HR skills and competencies. I focused on obtaining relevant trainings, certifications and critical learning experiences on the job. I was also very fortunate to have worked with world-class organisations that prioritised my professional growth and development.
What is a normal work day like for you in British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN)?
My day is typically filled with engagements or meetings. I spend about 40 per cent of my time in business discussions on key business insights, products, brands, trade and supply chain, etc. For every major business decision, I ask important questions like – how does this affect people?, what is the need required in this space from a talent perspective?, what do we need to do differently to make sure that we can have the right level of alignment and engagement across the organisation to achieve this business objective? I spend the rest of my day working with my HR team to design effective people solutions for the business and ensure the effective running of HR systems and processes.
Can you provide insights into BATN talent export scheme and how the company is driving global mobility of talents?
BAT is a multinational organisation. Giving an international edge to your career is part of our employee value proposition (EVP). It is a natural aspect of leadership development for us because your ability to truly lead in a multinational requires that you have exposure to different cultures and build a broader network of stakeholders across other countries. These experiences are built into our short or long-term international assignment programmes. We use internal sourcing as a mechanism to promote international career opportunities; vacancies are posted on a central website where all employees, regardless of their country of residence, are given equal opportunity to apply and interview for jobs. Where they are found suitable, the employee is transferred to another country with suitable relocation support to aid his or her ability to settle down comfortably in the new country. Our talent export scheme is truly global. BATN’s talents are represented in every continent of the world. We have several Nigerians who have been transferred to various countries, including the United Kingdom,Canada and South Africa under this platform.
BATN was recently certified as a ‘Top Employer’ by the Top Employer Institute which particularly recognised the company’s leadership status in HR and its consistency in nurturing and developing talents. What are the key drivers of this achievement?
The global BAT group is keen on talent development. We have several programmes that we have run over the years which we constantly revive and make more appropriate for our next generation of leaders. One of such programmes is our Global Graduate Programme where we identify bright young graduates, profile and develop them within their area of interest and expertise within BAT, expose them to targeted training and development within a global context and also provide them with the opportunity to network with other managers and peers via cross-functional projects across the world.
How often do you have to hire expatriates to fill vacancies considering how hard it is to get competent persons locally, and what is the ratio of expatriates in BATN to your total staff strength?
Our preferred approach for leadership succession is to develop our local West Africa talents, who have a good understanding of our business environment and realities as well as the right culture. However, in some instances, the need may arise to bring in expertise at certain levels or specialist areas to support the Nigerian business and transfer skills to the local talent. Our expatriates are less than two percent of the Nigerian workforce and are hired within the BAT Group, which also creates opportunities for talent swaps to ensure that we get the right balance and can send our Nigerian talents across the globe.
How does HR function impact the bottom-line?
There are at least three ways the HR function impacts the bottom-line. First is through employee acquisition. Having the right talent in the right roles makes an organisation very efficient, acquiring and retaining the right talent will help ensure the right business decisions are taken for the company. The next, and equally important, is through employee engagement. This has significant impact on productivity and profitability. Ensuring clear alignment on goals and objectives and putting in place necessary controls, policies and frameworks on legislation and labour relations, can help a company avoid leakages and liabilities.
How does BATN drive talent retention as well as recognise and reward diligent employees?
BATN is proud of its high performance culture, hence, our remuneration structure is fully linked to performance and positioned to motivate employees. All employees have clear performance objectives annually, and their remuneration is tied to the achievement of these objectives. We also have very competitive incentive and non-monetary recognition schemes to reward overall organisational excellence. In my experience, the biggest motivation for star performance is an opportunity for growth. So, if an employee can demonstrate excellence above expectations, they are rewarded with an opportunity to fill bigger shoes.
You have traversed different careers and industries, such as consulting, banking and manufacturing. What is your biggest learning?
Ultimately, what really matters is your attitude, learning agility and mindset. Of course, there are peculiarities in the different industries which shape their talent requirements but what I have realised is that regardless of what obtains in these different industries, employees get paid to figure out how to create solutions and introduce innovations that improve the environment. So, if you have that mindset, you can grow in any industry.
What do you think will change about HR in the next three to five years?
I think there will be more automation and outsourcing around administrative HR functions, which will create increased efficiencies as we can now find faster and better ways of carrying out routine HR tasks. However, the real business of HR is in developing talents to solve business challenges and develop innovative solutions. So, with efficiencies and automation, HR will focus on strategic business partnering, talent management and organisation effectiveness, which will remain valuable to forward-looking businesses.
What are the biggest talent challenges we face in Nigeria?
The biggest challenge is getting the right kind of talent. So, when you look at the unemployment rate in Nigeria and the number of graduates churned out every year, you wonder why we say we still have challenges with talent sourcing. The challenge is really about the quality – getting the best and the brightest. There is indeed a dearth of numerous functional capabilities within the environment. Organisations need to invest more in nurturing and developing people.
What is your career advice for a job seeker aspiring to join BATN?
Anyone who wants to join BATN must have a growth mindset and be clear about their career aspirations. Furthermore, they should be open to new opportunities and ideas because the demands of the industry constantly compel us to change and improve on the way we do things. Integrity is also very important to us. we strongly adhere to our ethical standards. Once a prospective candidate shares our values, he will have the opportunity to grow within BAT to achieve his career aspirations.
Can you describe yourself?
I am a family-oriented person with a strong commercial mindset. Family is very important to me as well as my career aspirations.
Can you sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence?
Be resilient. Never give up on your dreams or be afraid to reinvent yourself.
“Having the right talent in the right roles makes an organisation very efficient; acquiring and retaining the right talent will help ensure the right business decisions are taken for the company.”