HR in the Hot Seat: Billy Tan, Director, HR-Global – Williams-Sonoma, Inc.

The Williams-Sonoma global HR director talks about leading a team of ‘adventurers’ and the challenge of retaining key staff

HR in the Hot Seat: Billy Tan, Director, HR-Global – Williams-Sonoma, Inc.
What is your job title and what brought you into this role?
I am the HR Director for Williams-Sonoma, Inc based in Singapore with HR responsibilities for our offices outside of the US. I was brought into the team when the company decided to expand its presence outside of the US and also bring key functions in-house. We did this by opening offices in the countries in Asia where we had significant sourcing and merchandising activities.
What motivates or excites you the most about your current position?
We grew our operations and people from near zero to almost 1000 employees at its peak in less than five years. The excitement was helping the company grow exponentially and acquire excellent human talent to achieve our goals and objectives. With the team mainly in place, I am motivated by how we can continue to keep our people excited by our future. We are committed to building a company that can provide opportunities for associates to grow and to contribute meaningfully. 
What is unique about HR at Williams-Sonoma?
Our HR team is truly a group of builders. We started with a blank piece of paper and every member is a piece of the puzzle which contributed to the whole organisation. While some HR teams work to maintain their organisation having been established for a long period of time, the team here managed the challenges and ambiguity that are faced by pioneering companies. As such, our people may be seen as “adventurers” in our early years.
What will HR’s biggest challenges be for the coming year?

As we continue to grow, our biggest challenges will be to identify and acquire key human talent that will bring the company to the next level of our overall plan. Following that would be the retention of the human talent that we have acquired.
What has been the strangest HR scenario you’ve ever experienced?
Years ago when I was responsible for the recruitment function, I would regularly check the references provided by job applicants. Imagine my surprise when I discovered an applicant had listed a reference as “deceased”. And no, I did not attempt to contact the reference.
If there’s one piece of HR-related advice you could give, what would it be?
That an employee should be prepared to take on whatever duties that are assigned to him/her. Not only will this enable the person to grow and learn more about the job and company, it says a lot about his/her attitude towards learning and overcoming new challenges.

Where’s the best place to go for dinner/drinks in Singapore? Why?
I like the Rail Mall at Upper Bukit Timah road for a couple of reasons. There are a number of eateries including chicken rice, an organic food café and a really great roti prata shop which serves delicious teh-tarik. You can also stroll along the defunct railway track or head to the stone quarry which is picturesque with rock hills and a beautiful pond.

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