Strategy should centre around employees

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 August, 2009, 12:00am

Clifton Chua graduated from the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA course in 2006. He is managing director of FedEx Express in Singapore. He speaks about the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and good business ethics in his company and the industry it operates in.

CSR is a wide-ranging area - can you sum up what it means?

My definition of corporate social responsibility is that it is a set of self-imposed initiatives by corporations to ensure a healthy business environment in which all companies act in a responsible way for the community. Interpretations of and attitudes towards CSR vary, ranging from environmental sustainability, philanthropy and community service to corporate governance and responsible marketing.

Corporations are coming to understand that profit, reputation, and stakeholder involvement are more interrelated and interdependent than ever with what they give back to employees and the community.

I believe if a company is in the initial stage of developing a strategy around its CSR initiatives, it should look no further than the internal organisation and employees. Corporations cannot call their CSR strategy complete if the specific needs of their employees are not being looked after. Taking care of the employees, who in turn have the ability to take care of their families and take it forward to the larger community, is a strong and important foundation for successful CSR policy.

My experience in managing the FedEx Express Hong Kong operation, which has been named a Best Employer in the territory by Hewitt Associates three times, confirms my belief. FedEx takes good care of our employees and they, in turn, provide quality services to our customers. This takes care of our profit. But, also importantly, our employees are encouraged and inspired to participate in community service programmes both within and outside FedEx. An inspired and dedicated workforce is a solid platform on which we can leverage CSR initiatives that benefit the wider community.

What changes have you seen in your industry over the past few years that have come as a direct result of CSR initiatives? How important have these changes been, and what has resulted from them?

Sustainability has been and is a major focus for the transportation and express industry. The industry has become more environmentally conscious and responsible over the past few years. We are making some great strides. Let me give a FedEx example.

As a company, whose expertise is in transportation, it is particularly important for us to stay at the cutting edge of environmental practices. Our priority is to provide global access while minimising our environmental impact in the air, on the road, in our facilities and in our packaging. This requires careful and strategic planning on our part so that we can address our business and social responsibility.

By upgrading our fleet from Boeing 727s to 757s, we are reducing fuel consumption by up to 36 per cent while providing 20 per cent more capacity. The Boeing 777 aircraft we have ordered will give us a further 18 per cent fuel efficiency. In some markets we are deploying hybrid electric vehicles which emit 30 per cent less greenhouse gases and provide 42 per cent better fuel economy. Our packaging materials are also going green. The recycled content in them ranges from 25 per cent to 100 per cent.

But the benefits do not just stop there. These company-wide sustainability initiatives have also made our employees more environmentally conscious. It makes everyone greener at work, and away from work.

How can bad corporate ethics manifest itself? Can you give specific examples?

There is no shortage of examples of bad corporate ethics and poor business decisions from the recent financial tsunami and the credit crunch. We are, however, seeing corporations focus more on corporate governance, which will only make the business environment better and healthier.

How important do you feel it is for EMBA students to focus on these issues?

Focusing on CSR and business ethics is almost a business imperative these days. Understanding of the intricate interdependence between a company's bottom line and its contribution to the community is important to the success of a company and something business leaders should understand.

How were these issues taught on your EMBA programme?

As EMBA students, we looked at different cases from major corporations, analysed the merits and flaws from the case studies and tried to learn from them. These are covered in modules such as corporate governance, ethics and leadership, and learning from leaders. Discussions among the peers, professors and experts enhanced our understanding and broadened our perspective.