Chocolatier delighted at sweet result

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am

The local office of upmarket chocolate manufacturer Godiva was delighted with the strength of the company's performance in the Watson Wyatt survey.

'It showed us to be above the Hong Kong average on all but one attribute,' said John Holmberg, the company's Pacific Rim managing director, who has responsibility for operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

'Of the 10 categories, we are significantly above the norm in nine of them.'

Mr Holmberg oversees an 80-strong regional team, with 24 office staff and 56 in retail and operations. Godiva, which has headquarters in Manhattan and a factory in Brussels, has 12 retail outlets in Hong Kong, four in Singapore and 12 in Taiwan.

Mr Holmberg joined Godiva in June last year after five years in Taipei as marketing director at Nabisco Taiwan, and general manager at Kraft Taiwan after the company bought Nabisco.

He was keen to take part in the Watson Wyatt survey, because although Godiva does internal surveys, he wanted to see how it fared against other firms.

Godiva was one of the many companies found to have undergone change in the past year. Mr Holmberg said this was driven by the need to solve some problems.

'The business was not doing particularly well. We didn't have fully engaged staff and we had some communication issues. We were not maximising the power of our brand very well.'

When he arrived, his first objective was to get people pulling together as a team, then to get them achieving.

'As a result, the improvement in our numbers has been quite spectacular, so I was really happy to see that we seem to be doing much better than our peer companies in Hong Kong. And the survey showed that our team seems quite happy, in particular.'

Mr Holmberg said he set about the transformation in the business by ensuring that everyone understood the company goals and Godiva's clear vision statement: 'Inspiring passion around the world'.

Then they needed to unite in pursuit of the company's goal - making Godiva 'the world's ultimate chocolate indulgence'.

Mr Holmberg has strived to establish an open, partnering and supportive workplace, in which company outings are a regular feature in the schedule.

Everyone who reports to Mr Holmberg attends a meeting twice a month to make sure that they understand the current business issues. 'I think we do a good job of that,' he said.

Steps have been taken swiftly to remedy the one area in the survey highlighted as a weakness - Godiva's benefits programme. Even so, Godiva's staff retention is good by Hong Kong standards.

'I have heard horror stories of 60 per cent and 80 per cent retail staff turnover. Ours is a fraction of that. I'd be surprised if it was more than 20 per cent for the year.'

When it comes to motivating its office staff, Godiva operated a transparent bonus system, based on company performance against very well-defined objectives, Mr Holmberg explained.

The company's frontline retail staff warrant a different approach, involving what Mr Holmberg described as 'a very attractive sales commission plan, if they can meet and exceed their sales targets, [which] I believe is highly incentivising for them'.

However, he emphasised that it was not all about money. Mr Holmberg said he believed staunchly in empowering and encouraging employees.

'I have 12 very talented people reporting directly to me. They have to make good decisions every day - fast. And I can't and don't want to make every little decision. My team understands I am counting on them for that and they like to have that power. I believe it's a big part of our success.'