How to build a ‘culture of collaboration’

Super Group’s Darren Teo shares his thoughts on leadership, culture and building a relatable talent brand

How to build a ‘culture of collaboration’

In the last of a four-part LinkedIn HR Leadership series exclusive to HRD, Super Group Ltd’s executive director, Darren Teo, talks about the importance of creating a culture of collaboration and how to re-brand the company from within

As we enter our 30th year, we are pleased that Super Group will be part of the JDE Group as we continue to build on the legacy we have established.

This journey started a long time back. Precisely three decades ago, with a dream of creating convenience for our customers, in an instant foods industry which was nascent. With an idea that was revolutionary.

We could sustain and build on the core idea, because our core objective was not to build a big corporation. Our core objective was to solve a problem with a vision of transforming the landscape in the realm of instant foods and beverages. It was this vision, that today has led us to become part of the world's largest pure play coffee company with Jacobs Douwe Egberts B.V.

With this we enter the next chapter of our growth. A chapter where we will drive greater reach, larger distribution across geographies along with even more cutting edge innovation.

However, every journey starts with a single step; and today I want to share with you six core learnings, gleaned over the last three decades, that have enabled us to reach this pinnacle from our humble origins, when this was nothing more than an idea in our imagination.

“Making a market in uncharted territories needs the right people who can adapt to things we have never done before” 
I have always believed that organisations grow on the shoulders of people. Entering newer markets and uncharted territories means hiring the right leaders who can gauge a new market, its trends and also understand what consumers need within that cultural and economic context.

At the root of all this lies a simple word – convenience.

Super Group was born on this idea of “building convenience for our customers”. While we may be selling instant coffee to buyers as an end-product, our journey starts much earlier. We have to sell the idea of convenience to people first. As the economy develops and people start paying more for convenience, the disruptor who designs the easiest experience and the optimum product market fit, is the one who will win wallets.

Our markets are not very homogenous. There are cultural and economic differences which make it even more challenging. Hence there is no one-size-fits-all strategy which can help us scale. For us, every market needs a different approach and an adaptive mentality where we make decisions today, based on the trends that will be in vogue tomorrow. 

“A smile for every moment; taglines are not just messages for consumers. It is the way we need to live our brand” 
Our promise to our customers is that we are selling a product which is safe and convenient for consumption.

However, eight to 10 years ago, I wasn't very sure of what Super Group really stood for. We did not have much of an identity because we were so focused on selling our products at a convenient price point. Gone are the days when you can sell a product based on need alone. Today it's all about selling a lifestyle.  

The emotional attachment between the brand and its customer is thereby critical. 

Truth is, even though we are doing well now there is no guarantee that we will do good five years from now. We need to ensure longevity and continuity to our business. That's why Super Group is currently invested in driving a complete re-branding strategy, where it’s not so much about changing a logo and its font colors. It is more about “Who We Are” and how we behave as a company. How we foster a culture of collaboration with our partners.

This can only be mirrored if we can create a culture of collaboration with our own employees.

"The [family] in a family-run-organisation is more about teamwork than favouritism”
When people think of us as a family run organization, they are curious to know more.  For me there are pros and cons.  I would say we are a mix between a professionally run enterprise and homegrown family business. We created our business through empowerment. Our founders were entrepreneurs, who understood the value of empowering teams. From that aspect we are extremely entrepreneurial in nature. We believe in letting those who work with us truly express what they believe in. 

The family bit comes a bit later where we want to use the principles of building a family into fostering an employee culture which is beyond wallet share and quarterly targets; where we focus on personal growth and work-life harmony. We want to see our customers happy. Having a “happier” employee base makes it easier.

When our employees are satisfied with what their have created in terms of product and customer experience, they serve our customers better which gives us an advantage over competition. So being a “family” run organisation actually plays to our advantage. We have remarkably low attrition among young people who join us and it is this family DNA that makes it possible. 

“Smaller is a synonym for being more nimble and more agile. It allows us to fail fast and succeed even faster”
We work in a very complicated business landscape where we have massive competition from brands like Nestle who are monopolistic in their brand recall and distribution. They also have far more funds to drive research and new product development.   

Our only advantage is our size.

We are small and because of that we are faster and more agile.  It allows us to innovate within our space, iterate faster and learn quicker from our mistakes. It helps us constantly ask the question, 

“Why should our customer buy us over our competition?” The answer lies in taking calculated risks which is easier for us with our size and our scale.

“If I do not relate to a brand, I would not be very comfortable working for it”
Today's workforce is different.  Young people want to do exciting things. They have less patience and are not afraid of taking risks.  The landscape of recruitment has also changed.  We cannot keep hiring using the same strategies that worked 10 years ago. 

The rise of social media has changed the entire discovery and decision making process.   

This is also one of the major reasons for our entire re-branding exercise. We realised that we needed to create an identity that young people could relate to. We needed to build a talent brand which millennials would find aspirational. For that we needed to find platforms where potential candidates could network, engage, find information and look for learning content. We wanted to start small with one platform and LinkedIn fit the bill. Today we are using LinkedIn to build our talent brand with the sole aim of being relatable to those who spend their time here. I want us to be discovered by talent who want to work for us. 

The measurement of this is not on how much more revenue we make next quarter. The measurement of this is on how effective we are in hiring the next generation of talent. 

“If in Singapore we sell off-the-shelf, in China we are creating a marketplace on Alibaba. Adaptation is the key to survival” 
Today we have 3,000 employees with rapid expansion into countries like Myanmar, Thailand and China. Different markets, with different needs and different customer habits. While there is no specific skill gap, we do need talent who can engage with customers across different new media platforms aligned to cultures. It has to be a tailored approach for each market. 

To give an example: In China, our biggest customer base is online. So we have created a couple of warehouses and built a marketplace on Alibaba which has already got a fantastic reach and distribution service in that market. They are removing a lot of obstacles when it comes to building an in-country distribution strategy and taking care of the distribution themselves which is allowing us to deliver our products faster to our buyer. Without having to invest in a lot of IT and commerce infrastructure we are being able to deliver our products within 48 hours.

We are selling a promise of convenience and convenience is not just about how customers consume our products. It is also how they experience and buy it. In every new market we are thereby trying newer innovations which can help us deliver this value.


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