For a company which started life in the UK in the mid-1920s and was known for many years mainly as a food retailer, Tesco has certainly come a long way. In the last decade it has seen rapid expansion and now has over 2,500 stores in 12 major markets worldwide, selling an ever-increasing range of clothes, toys, electrical products and home furniture.
A complex operation has been set up to support retail sales, sourcing and the continuing development of new markets, with the aim of ensuring good value for customers, long-term growth, and consistent returns for shareholders. A key part of this network is the international sourcing division of Tesco, which is headquartered in Hong Kong.
"We started in 1973 with about 15 people and have grown to over 230 in Hong Kong today," says regional HR manager Ida Yue. "Our primary purpose is to source quality products from throughout the mainland, South East Asia and shipping them to our stores around the world."
She adds that the pace of expansion has created regular demand for new recruits to work within commercial sourcing and merchandising functions. This is a direct result of the higher volume of orders being handled, as well as the addition of new product categories.
The company invests heavily in training programmes and plans to take on more fresh graduates
"We are making use of Hong Kong's geographic position to work with suppliers in the region who can offer the best combination of price and quality for clothing and a wide variety of general merchandise," Ms Yue explains. "Therefore, our merchandisers have to travel frequently because we are basically doing what we call global sourcing."
Current forecasts confirm that the business will continue to grow in the near future and, for Ms Yue, that presents something of a problem. It is already difficult to find the right kind of candidates for the merchandising team, and the competition for good recruits is likely to get even tougher.
"It wasn't at all easy to hire people with the right experience or potential even back in 2002 when the economy was depressed," she notes. "It is that much harder now."
According to her, the big brand name companies, especially those with headquarters in Europe, are competing fiercely with each other and with the smaller scale employers in Hong Kong to recruit or retain qualified staff with transferable skills.
Ms Yue adds that the most important of all is to find people who have the necessary mindset to fit in well with Tesco's corporate culture, values and team-based approach. Only with that can they expect to effectively work with the company's systematic sourcing methods and contribute fully to achieving the common business goals. She also expects candidates to have sound communication skills and to be fluent in English and Mandarin, so they can deal confidently with suppliers and overseas customers. "Our people must have a strong customer focus, a great passion for the products we source, and be able to work well as part of a team," she adds.
To ensure there are enough good people in the internal "talent pipeline", the company invests heavily in training programmes and plans to take on more fresh graduates from local universities. A series of on-campus road shows will be held in the near future to introduce to students the possible career paths and the great prospects on offer.
"Graduates will join a fast growing global organisation with strong values which is committed to the development of employees," Ms Yue says. "Since we mainly work for our UK business and source from different countries, they will get an opportunity to travel. They will also be able to enhance their skills by work in a multicultural environment where they can gain a competitive edge professionally."
In the pipeline
- Continuing business expansion has created a constant demand for merchandisers with various levels of experience
- Candidates should expect frequent travel to the mainland and other countries in the region
- Strong competition within the sector for people with transferable skills
- Extensive training and a plan to take on more graduate trainees in order to have qualified personnel in the "talent pipeline"