Rapid overseas growth, corporate restructuring and massive market sector disruption might flummox some change-wearied HR professionals – but not this month’s profiled HRD, who relishes the challenge and is looking ahead to a new era for an iconic brand
There’s nothing like a corporate rebranding exercise to help you take stock and reflect on the path that has led to the present time, and ponder the way forward. This is something that Scentre Group – formally known as the Westfield Group in Australia and New Zealand – is undertaking right now.
Essentially, the company has split into two refocused and renamed listed property trusts. Westfield Corporation will continue to operate 44 shopping centres in the US and UK/Europe, while Scentre Group will focus on growth in Australia and New Zealand, today operating 47 shopping centres.
The rebranding process presents an interesting challenge for Janine Frew, director of HR at Scentre Group, and her fellow executive colleagues. How do you build a ‘story’ for a brand that has not previously existed? Fortunately, there is a rich heritage to draw on. Westfield has a 53-year history, and this transition to Scentre Group is akin to a corporate entity change, rather than an overall brand overhaul. The Westfield brand will continue to live on in Australia and New Zealand in all consumer-facing communications – and of course in the 47 shopping centres in the region.
“The majority of our employees who work in operational or corporate roles specific to the Australian and New Zealand business are largely unaffected by the restructuring,” says Frew.
“In fact, the most notable change will be a new email address and business card. For many it will remain business as usual.
“We do recognise, however, that this time of change can be unsettling or confusing for our people, and we have undertaken an internal communication program aimed at providing clarity, inspiration, and creating excitement as we enter this new chapter for our business.”
REPOSITIONING THE BUSINESS
Prior to the official roll-out of the Scentre Group entity in July, the leadership team and a cross-section of employees took part in a diagnostic exercise to find out what makes the company great, what they would like to retain in the new entity, and what the ‘blockages’ were that could prevent the organisation from being more agile, innovative and collaborative. It was a timely exercise to take stock of where the company has been, what it is today, and where it might go in the future.
“We’ve essentially identified our DNA,” says Frew. “We’re very aware of our heritage; we’re always pushing the limits; we’re focused and results-oriented; and we have high levels of accountability. We know the areas that we need to continue to focus on include being innovative, imaginative and more collaborative. Our EVP will evolve over time as our business strategy evolves – as it should – and we will continue to build on the strength of the Westfield culture.”
Frew adds that candidates she’s recently interviewed already ‘get it’ – they understand that decoupling the local entity from the global entity is the next phase in the company’s evolution. Historically, Frew says there was a tendency for local operations to be lost amidst the international developments, and there have been plenty of those in the last two decades. “Without that diversion of effort, we can now be very focused on the local market. We have a clear growth agenda which will mean fantastic opportunities for our people,” she says.
While specifics have not yet been revealed, Frew says Scentre Group will be leveraging off already-existing capabilities within the company, but this does not necessarily mean developing and managing more shopping centres.
THE SHORT HISTORY OF HR AT WESTFIELD
Given all that has happened in recent months, it’s surprising to learn that a dedicated HR function has only existed within the company for the last 15 years.
The centralised HR team consists of just 20 people, based primarily at the Sydney corporate headquarters. There is no HR representation in the shopping centres themselves, and instead it is the responsibility of business leaders to drive the HR agenda. Three HR business partners and a number of centres of excellence (OD, Talent, Remuneration, HRIS, Internal Communications) provide support and develop solutions.
“The line has clear responsibility for the management of their people agenda,” says Frew. “Our heritage has a lot to do with that. In the early years the focus of the HR team – a very small team of four people – was on the top 50 leaders. We focused strongly on leadership development for that group of people. When you look at the profile of our senior leaders – the top 50 – the average tenure is 15 years, and they have grown in our organisation, having full responsibility for managing everything relating to their people.”
Frew adds that the Ulrich model has been “great for the team to work in”, because it has meant that HR has been able to focus on value-add initiatives, such as the culture and leadership development agendas, for the company’s 2,500 employees.
“Our mantra is very much that our role is to be on the business, not in the business. We are not here to solve the problems of managers; HR has a role to coach. We are not here to complete the paperwork or handle performance issues; our role is to provide the tools, resources and the skills to make sure managers can manage their people as best they possibly can.”
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT AND OVERSEAS OPPORTUNITIES
Frew herself has enjoyed a rich learning environment since she joined the company eight years ago. She played a critical role developing the UK business and leading the HR agenda as the company prepared for the opening of its Stratford Centre and the 2012 Olympics. At the same time, Westfield was exploring opportunities in Europe, which meant Frew was exposed to undertaking due diligence on potential businesses.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” she says. “The UK is an emerging market for Westfield. It is now 13 years old; when I was there it was 11 years old. It was a very different environment to what I was used to.”
In contrast to the well-developed and stable Australian working environment, the UK operations did not yet have a deep operating culture. “We were building the ship as we were sailing it,” Frew says.
The pace of business and the sheer scope of projects undertaken was also an eye-opener. “The Stratford development was more than just a shopping centre. It was an urban regeneration project,” she says.
No discussion in the retail space can avoid touching on the massive upheavals the industry has faced recently, primarily due to the emergence of internet shopping. Frew concedes that the burgeoning digital agenda has had the most dramatic impact on Westfield’s business over the past few years.
Rather than positioning digital as a threat, the company is positioning it as an opportunity. To that end, Westfield established R&D Labs in San Francisco to build capability in this space and connect shoppers to Westfield’s retail clients in innovative ways using the latest technology. A recent example is Westfield’s fully searchable online mall. Shoppers can identify goods and locate them in their local shopping centre or opt to buy them directly from retailers’ own e-commerce sites.
The company’s digital, operating and financial strategies are now given equal focus.
“We need to assist our retailers in connecting with customers any way we can. Bricks and mortar shops are not going anywhere, but we need to adapt to how people are buying products,” Frew says.
Frew refers to the best part of her job as seeing people grow and develop within the company, and being richer for the experience.
“What I mean is that personally they’ve experienced growth, regardless of how long they’ve been in the business, and they have gained experience, new skills and knowledge. They have built strong relationships and friendships, and financially they’re better off too.
She adds that the Scentre Group has a bright future. “We have exciting growth prospects which will benefit our investors and provide wonderful opportunities for our people to develop and achieve their ambitions. It may sound cliché, but working with great people in a great business makes it a joy to come to work each day.”
This feature is from the August issue of HRD Magazine. Download the issue to read more!