BR Interview | Transforming BAT: Innovation, Sustainability, and People Empowerment

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 01/07/2024 | 12:45

In an era marked by rapid change and innovation, industries worldwide are being compelled to evolve continuously. For BAT, this translates into dedicated focus on science, innovation, sustainability, and its people. Dr Cora Koppe-Stahrenberg, Chief People Officer at BAT, sat down with Business Review to talk about the company’s transformative journey and the broader implications for the industry.

 

How would you describe the transformation of your industry in general and that of BAT in particular?

Recent times have brought the need for a constant search for innovation and development in all industries, which need to be matched by a consistent commitment to responsibility and integrity in everything we do. The role of a large corporation keeps evolving along with the social and economic context, with global companies contributing not only to the local economy’s growth, but also generating stability, attracting further investments, driving structural evolution, societal development, and new opportunities. For us, this means a particular focus on science, innovation, our people, and our Sustainability agenda.

Our ambition is to reduce the health impact of our business. This is front and centre of our corporate purpose to build A Better Tomorrow™.  We will achieve this through Tobacco Harm Reduction—the switching of smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, from risky forms of combustible tobacco products like cigarettes to lower risk profile smokeless tobacco and nicotine products*.

BAT’s transformation journey started more than 10 years ago with the first vaping product launched in the UK and US, and our strong commitment for top class science and research to drive the development of new products. Today, we have 24 million users of our smokeless products across 75+ markets, including Romania.

Our new Group strategy outlines our vision, to Build a Smokeless World, and become a predominately smokeless business by 2035. Today, if I were to describe BAT in one word, it would be Transformation. We are at the vanguard of the development and scientific assessment of a range of innovative new nicotine products that do not burn tobacco.

To ensure our people are in the driving seat of this transformation, earlier this year we launched our new Values. Our Values were created following extensive insights from our people—shared through face-to-face session, surveys, and online engagement.

Our six Values are: Truly Inclusive, Do the Right Thing, Love Our Consumer, Passion to Win, Empowered Through Trust, and Stronger Together. They are more than just words; they are the essence of who we are and who we aspire to be.

Our Values underpin our strategy and show us the way to bring our purpose to life. They are the pillars that support our organisational culture and reflect our collective identity, influencing our culture and guiding us to achieve our goals and impact our relationships with consumers, employees, shareholders, and society.**

 

What are the main challenges resulting from this transformation of the industry, from your perspective? 

In our multi-category business, we are transforming an industry while going through our own business transformation, where science, innovation, and technology enable us to meet and anticipate consumer needs. Of course, with high ambition come significant challenges, on both the internal and external level.

Strengthening our leadership capabilities. We focus on building our next generation of leaders, who can understand the fast-evolving world, have the skills required to adapt,  and are able to challenge the status quo. Leadership development is critical for building capable leaders who can drive organisational success, where individuals can unleash their full potential and inspire others to do the same. We provide a range of training modules designed for strategic thinking, analysis, and our overall leadership expectations; we highly value our mentorship programmes offering valuable insights and guidance. Moreover, we focus on cross-functional projects that allow leaders to experience diverse cultures and markets, gaining exposure to various parts of the organisation around the world.

 

Embracing well-being as a way of working. Prioritising well-being in an organisation is a strategic decision, which creates a win-win situation where employees thrive and the organisation reaps the benefits of a healthier, more engaged, and productive workforce. We offer physical, emotional, financial, and social well-being benefits and programmes which support the “whole” person by catering to their total well-being and diverse needs. We pride ourselves on having a family-friendly work environment, as no one at BAT should have to choose between their career and their family. We also aim to support improved work-life integration to create a more productive and empowered workforce. Across our business, a hybrid remote working model is normal practice.

It’s all about the work environment we create, where people feel empowered, with a sense of autonomy and responsibility, and with a strong support system for getting results in a balanced and sustainable way. 

 

You’ve been in your current role at BAT for almost a year now. How do you perceive the entire BAT business from this perspective and taking into account your experience in previous roles?

I started my career in HR almost 30 years ago and I have always been passionate about creating an environment where people can thrive and perform at their best. I joined BAT with enthusiasm and a high interest to be part of an industry that is transforming at a rapid pace, with science, innovation, and sustainability at its core. Therefore, for me it is an exciting time to be part of the Management Board, as we work together to create a modern, inclusive, and dynamic workplace.

The opportunity to have a real impact and contribute to delivering BAT’s purpose to build A Better Tomorrow™ for all stakeholders is a great motivation for me personally. Our employees play a vital role in this journey and the overall success of the company, therefore shaping the people side of the business and our culture for the best outcomes is something I will drive with all my passion and energy.

 

How are topics such as diversity and women’s leadership approached at BAT? 

We celebrate our strength in diversity, with unique backgrounds, perspectives, and talents that fuel our innovation and enable us to better serve our consumers. Our focus on inclusion is key to making sure that we create an authentic and inspiring place to work. Measuring our progress is critical for ongoing improvement.***

In 2023, women held a 42% share of management roles and represented 33% of senior leadership teams globally. All our key Regional/Functional Leadership Teams achieved a +50% spread of distinct nationalities. 37% of our Senior Leaders are from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Our voluntary gender pay equity analysis has been expanded to cover all of the group’s Direct employees and for the first time, the group is quantifying and publishing its global unadjusted mean gender pay gap for all its Direct Employees.

At BAT, we recognise that to maintain a diverse and inclusive workforce we need to make sure our culture supports our people. We embrace people from all backgrounds, so our community shares a powerful diversity of thought. We invite candidates to bring their own unique experiences and perspectives to the table.

We are proud of the fact that BAT is among the Financial Times Europe’s Diversity Leaders in 2024. This is testament to our commitment to fostering workplace diversity. The Financial Times has recognised BAT’s inclusivity across gender, LGBTQ+, age, ethnicity, and disability.

 

Romania is a strategic market for BAT Group, with prominent talent having reached significant international positions. How do you see Romanian talent? Are there particular cultural or technical skills that make Romanians stand out? 

BAT is the leader of the tobacco industry in Romania and a strategic employer: the company has tripled its employee count in the last 10 years, from approximately 1,200 in 2013 to over 3,000 employees today, and it generates another 30,000 jobs across the wider economy and supply chain. In the last year, BAT Trading has extended its local team and invested significantly in renovating its offices in Bucharest, to foster flexibility, collaboration, creativity, and a reduced impact on the environment.

There are currently around 80 Romanians with leading positions in different BAT markets, and that is a testament to Romanians’ extremely positive reputation and skills. We are happy to see many women in leading roles in Romania and across the South Eastern Europe Area and we are committed to delivering an excellent experience for them.

BAT has been recognised as a Top Employer in Romania, following a complex evaluation process that certifies employers with best practices in the human resources area. This recognition was made possible by the amazing team of people at BAT, all of whom continuously evolve, seek opportunities for growth, and go the extra mile to reach their objectives.

 

*Based on the weight of evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk free and are addictive.

**bat.com

***2023 Diversity and Inclusion Report, https://www.bat.com/investors-and-reporting/reporting/diversity-and-inclusion-report

 

Short bio:

Dr Cora Koppe-Stahrenberg joined BAT’s Management Board as Chief People Officer on November 1, 2023. Her previous roles included Global Head of Human Resources at Fresenius Medical Care and Chief Human Resources Officer for GE Money Central and Eastern Europe.

Her work has taken her to many places across Europe, as well as in the US and the UAE, with a global career spanning various sectors such as healthcare, financial services, and government. These experiences have influenced her development as a person and as a leader and enabled her to create best-in-class strategies in human resources. Cora loves to work with truly diverse teams across the globe and is confident that the value she brings can help accelerate BAT’s transformation journey.

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Mihai-Alexandru Cristea | 28/06/2024 | 12:25
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