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Moving with the Times

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 3:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 3:41pm

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For Dr James Thompson, Chairman of Crown Worldwide Group and also a member of the HKUST Business School Advisory Council, diversity and inclusion policies are not impositions to be tolerated, but winning strategies to be embraced. “For a company like ours, diversity is everything, it’s our power,” he says.

Born and raised in the United States, Dr Thompson founded his global mobility and international relocation business in Japan in the mid-1960s. The exigencies of the industry, as well as his natural open-mindedness, led him to become an early proponent of a pro-diversity corporate culture.

Today, Crown has a global workforce of over 5,000 full-time staff, made up of over 50 nationalities. They are spread across 265 locations in almost 60 countries. These people, Dr Thompson points out, move between the company’s offices around the globe to deploy their skills as and where needed.

“If someone is from India, Africa or Europe and they’re great in, say, finance, we could move them into Asia and use them there. We always try to find the most capable person for any job and try to be blind to all other aspects - because that’s in the best interests of the company at the end of the day.”

But Crown doesn’t only value this variety of nationalities for their business skills.  “We also savor the other aspects of diversity, whether in terms of gender, race, religion, or whatever. In a personal service business like ours, we believe the broader the nature of the employees in the company, the greater our strength.” 

Creating a truly diverse workforce

In the course of his career, Dr Thompson has seen great progress made towards the creation of truly diverse workplaces.  During that time, a number of women have grabbed the headlines by becoming national leaders, but he notes that significant gains have been made in the field of gender equality at all levels within all sorts of organizations. Many of these gains have been won by women networking together and pushing their agenda forward. “This has been a big progressive step forward.”

The promotion of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights, he believes, has been driven in a similar fashion. “The fact so many people have come out and said, ‘We deserve equal treatment’, has also led to big steps being taken in this area in the course of my lifetime.”

Crown has established formal diversity and inclusion policies, which the company endeavors to implement globally. “The responsibility for diversity lies at the very highest level of the company, the executive board and what we call the senior management group. They’re the ones whose duty it is to see that our policy is executed at every level.”

The word is then spread throughout the organization via training sessions and seminars run by Crown’s HR team. “I think we’re overcoming the challenges, but it is a never-ending process. If we find any discrimination at any location, large or small, of course we have to fix that.”

On a less formal basis, Crown has established a network for female employees, and another for members of the LGBT community, to allow them to connect and exchange information and ideas.

Besides access to the widest range of skills and the deepest pool of talent that a thoroughgoing diversity policy makes available, Dr Thompson can point to other commercial benefits.

“A lot of companies, who are our customers, first look to see what our policies [on diversity] are. So, from a purely competitive angle, it’s a big advantage to have a good policy.”

With Hong Kong currently enjoying, for all intents and purposes, full levels of employment, graduates now have a greater range of choice when entering the job market. Dr Thompson believes company culture, including policies on diversity, are likely to be a factor in young people’s decision-making process. “If they want the best university grads, I don’t think employers can overlook this.”

An optimist by nature

However, local laws and deeply ingrained cultural attitudes in some of the countries and regions in which Crown operates, mean it is not always possible for the company to implement its diversity and inclusion policies as fully as Dr Thompson would like. But, an optimist by nature, he envisions these remaining obstacles being gradually overcome.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress over the past 50 years, and now there’s actually more momentum than we’ve ever had before. I think that is absolutely great, and we at Crown have embraced this progress.”

Dr Thompson sees Hong Kong – the city he’s called home since 1978 - as somewhere with a good attitude in general to gender equality in the workplace. And his succession plans for Crown seem similarly free of old-fashioned bias.

“My daughter will be the person to take the company forward after me, instead of my son, because of her interest and qualifications,” he says.

Support for a Good Cause

Known for his philanthropy, Dr James Thompson is interested in charities that focus on children’s health and education, including his long-standing support to HKUST. Even before the Thompson Center for Business Case Studies was established with his backing, Dr Thompson was already supplying the HKUST Business School with cases from his own company.

“I’m a great believer in the importance of case studies,” he says. “These are real situations, whether they will be success stories or failures. When a student reads a case, it really helps them understand what the textbook was trying to tell them.”

As he renews his support for the Center again this year, he explains that he’s always been highly impressed with the energy, leadership and curriculum in the Business School. “I feel very happy to be connected with HKUST, as I think it’s just an outstanding university.”