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Talent-grooming Prowess

Standard Chartered Zero's In on Future Leaders

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Standard Chartered Bank's rigorous, custom-made International Graduate program gives an elite corps of its young professionals substantive abilities beyond their years.

Standard Chartered Zero's In on Future Leaders

By Yu-Jung Peng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 415 )

While the banking sector has been gravely wounded amidst the ongoing global financial meltdown, Standard Chartered Bank is among those few financial institutions slipping through relatively unscathed.

That Standard Chartered has earned a pass on the fallout from the financial crisis is due not only to its steady expansion into emerging Asian and African markets but also because its comprehensive global personnel training program ceaselessly replenishes the company's 70,000-strong talent pool at all corporate levels, giving it the leadership prowess needed to respond to any contingency.

Standard's International Graduate (IG) program is the bank's in-house system for identifying, sizing up, mentoring and training promising young candidates who show leadership potential.

Unlike Citibank's "management associate" program or HSBC's "management trainee" program, Standard's IG program, into which only one percent of prospective candidates gain entrance, targets high potential graduates of top-flight universities with less than two years' work experience whose work habits and philosophies have yet to be set in stone, giving them two years of intensive training.

Strategic Training of High-Potential Personnel

Jim Wu, a cheerful 28-year-old graduate of National Chengchi University's Graduate School of Business, entered Standard's IG program in mid-2007.

Listening to Wu expound on Standard's push into emerging markets and the bank's financial operations, one could be forgiven for mistaking him for a veteran of the banking industry rather than a newcomer who has been with the company for less than two years.

This venerable professionalism is the result of a carefully constructed and executed training program. Less than two months after being plucked from among a competitive pool of nearly 1,000 trainee candidates, Wu was sent to assist with integration work following Standard's acquisition of Hsin Chu Commercial Bank, getting top-to-bottom, hands-on experience in everything from credit systems and financial products to client data transfer. Thereafter, he was dispatched to Kuala Lumpur for six weeks of training with 300 other IG candidates from Britain, the USA and India to broaden their international horizons.

Standard's commitment to rotating promising candidates into various positions in different departments is the key to providing trainees with a superior ability to discern the "big picture" regarding the company.

During the course of his training, Wu has spent six months each in Standard's credit, customer relations and logistics departments, performing duties that include writing credit reports and building relations with small- and medium-sized business clients. About two months ago, he was appointed special assistant to Standard's general manager of corporate finance.

"I had to become familiar with the work and take direct responsibility for performance within a very short period of time," Wu says, adding that all of the posts to which he was assigned during his training involved real operations and not merely training exercises. Additionally, due to the relatively short period spent in each department during his training, "showing a sense of responsibility, a willingness to learn and superior social skills became even more important," Wu says, adding that the best practical experience leading to quick growth was learning how to avoid being a burden and to make a substantive contribution in each of the departments he served.

Following several months in various departments, Wu gained a thorough understanding of the processes and inner working of the various units involved in corporate finance, leaving him better able to set ego and self aside in pondering business matters.

Hands-on Supervisors Pass On Their Wisdom

Actually, the 10 year-old IG program has not always been so successful, and it wasn't until three years ago that the whole thing underwent a shakeup.

Newly assuming the helm was Helen Hui, Standard Taiwan's managing director and head for origination and client coverage in wholesale banking, who, as a top woman executive is a relative rarity at Standard.

Transferring to Taiwan from Hong Kong in 2005, Hui's first direct observation was, "The veterans were retiring and there was a gap in new talent coming in," she says. Meanwhile, there was a personnel gap for the enormous task of integration following the Hsin Chu Commercial Bank acquisition, so Hui set her sights on revamping the IG system to focus resources on training a high-potential elite.

During the past three years, Standard has recruited 41 new IG trainee candidates with an average age of 28. Among those, Helen Hui's corporate finance department accounts for 24 candidates.

Unlike other programs where trainees are passed off to human resources or department heads to "oversee" their training, Hui, a top corporate officer, personally supervises the training of new IG candidates.

Despite having more than 400 employees under her supervision, Hui's top focus is on her 24 IG candidates. She not only is able to call each one by name, but also keeps abreast of each one's progress and holds regular monthly breakfasts with them to provide attentive, hands-on mentoring.

So why exactly is she so willing to expend so much effort on a group of newcomers who have barely contributed to the bank's bottom line?

"I was also once nurtured in this way," the bob-haired Hui says with a smile as she recalls her own training period and mentor. "Not only is early identification and nurturing of high-potential candidates a corporate necessity, the bonds forged between mentor and pupil can last a lifetime."

Hui still maintains contact with her old mentor from her days at Citibank. She recalls sending her old mentor an email to share her elation years ago when she first became a trainer for Standard. Her mentor sent one back reading: "I had tears in my eyes as I read your email. First, because you have really grown up. Second, because I have really grown old."

Even though the economy is tanking, Standard Chartered has not relaxed the pace of its employee training, and the selection process for the 2009 crop of IG candidates is now underway.

"During times of downturn, personnel training must be viewed as a long-term investment," Hui says. Neglecting personnel training is definitely not the thing to do in moments of decline and crisis, "because this is preparation for when things turn around."

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy


Chinese Version: 菁英培訓計劃,教導人才不NG

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