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How to handle talent retention after an acquisition: A dialogue with Nikko Asset Management’s Ken Cogger and DBS’ Tom Pederson

What you want to avoid

What you want to avoid

Last week eFinancialCareers attended a talent acquisition and retention conference organised by EDHEC Business School in Singapore. The event featured speakers including Tom Pederson, managing director, learning and talent development, DBS, and Ken Cogger, global head of talent management, human resources, Nikko Asset Management.

Both men spoke about the challenges of keeping their workforce happy. Retention after an acquisition is particularly pertinent for both firms. Earlier this month, DBS said it would pay S$9.1bn for Bank Danamon Indonesia. Nikko Asset Management has previously bought firms in Australia, Singapore and China, among other countries. Here’s their take on retaining talent:

Engaging employees

Cogger: Acquiring firms comes with its challenges. It is critical to retain the right talent after an acquisition, but it’s not always possible to meet with the employees of a particular firm before you actually own it. Who are the key stakeholders that you want to retain? The important thing is to communicate well with employees of the newly acquired firm and work with them in a high-touch way. We all know you can buy a company, but who built that company? It’s the people.

There may be a sense of uncertainty among employees of the firm that is being taken over. We reassure them that we are not about to parachute people in and bombard the local office with a different kind of culture; we want to build on what’s already there. At the end of the day, the brand and reputation you have are crucial to hiring good people.

Pederson: We want to give our people the opportunity to develop and grow professionally, so we have made it easier for them to move within the organisation and try a new job every two or three years, depending on their seniority. We rotate people across different business lines and geographies. Both our country CEOs in Indonesia and China are from Singapore. The challenge is getting people to leave Singapore to try an overseas stint.

Redundancy fears after an acquisition?

Pederson: Generally, Asian firms don’t acquire firms to knock off headcount. Take our proposed acquisition of Bank Danamon Indonesia for example: Danamon and DBS have complementary businesses and strengths, and we expect significant revenue synergies. Given the numerous opportunities in Indonesia, we’ll need all the resources and talent available. In addition, we believe the combined entity will create value for all stakeholders, and will broaden career development opportunities for employees of both banks in particular.

Grooming Asian leaders

Cogger: There are two career paths to consider when grooming future leaders. On the one hand, there is the “global” type of leader with an international outlook. But you have to be careful not to overlook the “local” type of leader who is a specialist in their own market. In Japan, half of our employees may not speak English, but given their focus on the local Japan market, is that really necessary? We have great leaders who are really skilled at connecting with people locally. There’s a real value in enhancing that type of knowledge.

True leaders will always have the ambition to do more. It’s up to us as a firm to provide the right platform for them to grow. Our retention strategy is to use a high-touch approach and customise each job to the individual’s strengths and abilities. Because we don’t have thousands of employees, we can keep a close watch and provide support and training to those who show the right kind of promise.

Who’s wanted?

Cogger: We get applications from all over the world, but the people who are of most interest to us are those with Asian experience. We also look for people who are smart and have a strong analytical background, with soft skills like EQ, or emotional quotient and CQ, or cultural quotient. That’s important because we need employees who can work with different people and it’s a skill-set that’s not as prevalent as one might think.

Addressing leadership gaps in emerging markets

Pederson: I would say let them fall – early and quickly. When grooming talent, I think you have to tolerate a few mistakes early in the leadership journey. Maybe that sounds counter intuitive, but I think that’s especially the case in emerging markets where we are stretching people beyond their capabilities, so we need to have tolerance. If someone makes a mistake, support them and make sure they learn from that mistake.

On female leadership

Cogger: The president of Nikko Asset Management Asia in Singapore, Eleanor Seet, is a woman and she’s very effective. Of course, we don’t hire based on gender, but at the same time we do want diversity in our workforce. We have many women in senior positions across the company, in fact, my boss in Tokyo is a woman. We can’t force it, but we can provide the right encouragement and support.

Pederson: We have five women on our management board at DBS. This includes the head of institutional banking, the head of private banking and our CFO. I think women in leadership roles are fairly common in Singapore. I think it really depends on the culture and circumstances of the particular country – sometimes there’s a need to set a target because in some cultures the best talent gets overlooked. I’m happy that in DBS there’s diversity in leadership.

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