This article was first published in the January 2014 Malaysia edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Hamidah Naziadin subscribes to the ethos that behind every problem or challenge lies an opportunity to improve and excel. It’s a belief that’s been shaped by her humble beginnings and influenced by leaders who have taught her that each mistake or problem is simply a chance to do better. And it is this belief, along with a healthy dose of maturity, self-confidence and chutzpah, that has guided Hamidah throughout her 22 years at the CIMB Group and to her position as head of corporate resources.
‘Challenging moments give me a chance to see whether I can do things better,’ she says. ‘That has always been my approach and it’s also a message I send to my staff. I tell them that they have to learn from their mistakes and, if they do learn, then it means they will improve and be better.’
Hamidah describes herself as a no-nonsense leader. She recognises that she is a taskmaster and makes no apologies for this. ‘We are here for a job so we should do our best. I feel strongly the need to do an honest job. Integrity is extremely important to me,’ she says.
The youngest of four children, Hamidah was born and raised in Ipoh, Perak. Her father died when she was young, leaving her mother to support the family. ‘In those days money was difficult to come by and we had to do all we could to survive and make ends meet,’ says Hamidah, recalling having to earn pocket money by doing odd jobs and selling homegrown vegetables in the market.
‘When you have nothing – literally nothing – it toughens you up a lot,’ she says. ‘The only way I knew to achieve many things was through hard work, so I’ve never been introduced to the notion that there are shortcuts to success.’
The experiences of her youth shaped the way she’s viewed the world – in particular, how to look for opportunities amid the challenges. Hamidah talks about the time her eldest sister entered a beauty pageant because one of the prizes was a rice cooker.
‘We were cooking with charcoal, so a rice cooker was something we wanted,’ she recalls. ‘It’s the challenges that drive you to get the results that you want,’ she says. ‘When my sister later entered the Miss Malaysia pageant it was because we wanted a car and the prize was a Datsun!’
Hamidah’s journey in human resources (HR) was also born from that desire for new opportunities. While waiting for her A-Levels results, she applied to Pacific Bank and joined as a bank teller with a monthly salary of RM410.
‘After a short while, the personnel manager told me there was a position in the department as confidential personnel assistant and the salary was RM500. I didn’t know what the role entailed but the salary was RM90 more so I said yes.’
Hamidah stayed at Pacific Bank for eight years and in that time pursued an HR course and later a law degree from the University of Wolverhampton, UK. When she saw an advertisement to head CIMB Securities’ HR department, she decided to apply. ‘I thought I was ready for it,’ she says, ‘and the rest is history.’
Over the years, Hamidah has seen how the HR role has evolved and gained in importance, becoming what it is today, which is a strategic business unit in an organisation. The evolution is especially apparent within the group as a result of its aggressive growth.
‘CIMB in its humble beginnings was just a local investment bank and we have evolved and transformed to » become an Asean bank,’ she says. ‘With that, our human capital strategies have evolved – from the way we attract and retain talent to how we engage them. We have had to be very flexible and adaptable in the strategies that we employ because it’s not a case of one size fits all.’
Hamidah has rolled out various leadership development initiatives, including the CIMB-INSEAD Leadership Programme and the CIMB-NTU Accelerated Universal Banking Programme, to groom future leaders and universal bankers. She also introduced the biennial CIMB SEA Games as a platform to build a strong sense of camaraderie among employees across the region.
In addition, Hamidah set up the CIMB Academy to build a competent workforce and has been instrumental in developing talent management initiatives such as The Complete Banker and CIMB Fusion programmes to groom and nurture young graduates who join the group. She is especially proud of the latter initiative, pointing out that this was born out of a challenge, namely the difficulty in securing talent.
‘Organisations are competing with each other for talent and I wanted to look at things differently, and that’s how Fusion came about,’ Hamidah says. ‘The dilemma faced by graduates today is which company to work for. With the Fusion programme, graduates sign up with two employers – CIMB Group and one of our programme partners.’
The stint at CIMB Group offers participants broad exposure to the banking and finance industry, while programme partners offer exposure in fields such as accountancy, consulting, IT, communications, law and teaching. The programme partners are PwC, Accenture, HP, Draftfcb, ZICOlaw and Teach for Malaysia.
‘We are offering graduates two experiences bundled into one opportunity. The training gained at CIMB and our programme partner will give participants diverse insight into the working world and enable them to learn more about their own professional aspirations.
‘Say I take on someone who has had a stint at PwC. They will bring an extra edge to CIMB because of their understanding of auditing and accounting. On the other hand, should a participant choose to pursue a career with PwC, they would be able to draw on their banking knowledge learned from the best in Asean. Whichever path they decide to take, participants can move forward with confidence thanks to their experiences with world-class firms.’
Response has been good, says Hamidah, disclosing that it was piloted last year with 12 participants at PwC. Participants are employed by PwC in the first two years, where they work within audit while pursuing the ACCA Qualification. In the third year, they will join CIMB Group where they will be exposed to classroom training and be rotated across the various departments within the banking group.
Participants then return to PwC in the fourth year and complete their professional exams.
CIMB’s efforts in offering high standards of learning and development and continual investment in developing skills has resulted in the group being an ACCA Approved Employer.
The group is also a big proponent of diversity, says Hamidah. ‘Our vision is to be the leading Asean company. Our customer base is very diverse and, if you have a diverse customer base, the bankers themselves need to be diverse. Here, diversity is not just measured by race or gender but also by experience. The more diverse we are and the more people we have from different backgrounds means we will be able to offer value-added products and services to our customers,’ she explains.
The group has also experienced success as a result of diversity. ‘From the business side, we’ve come up with lots of interesting products. It’s also a great retention and attraction tool. People want to join CIMB because we give them that regional exposure through our enlarged footprint. And because we’re a universal banker there’s more than geographical exposure; our people also gain exposure to asset management, investment banking and consumer banking,’ she adds.
Hamidah is also proud of the fact that women are well represented within the group. ‘There are many women in decision-making positions, so that in itself is a real attraction tool,’ she says, disclosing that in Malaysia, women make up 20% of the board of directors in the various companies within the group. Women also make up 33% of the top management and 46% of senior executives. Overall, in Malaysia, 58.4% of the group’s employees are women.
‘I don’t have trouble attracting or retaining women within the group.
Although there are women who leave the organisation when they have children and their priorities change, there are women who, despite their busy schedules and having young children, want their career because they find the environment exciting,’ she says.
Nonetheless, Hamidah is mindful of the need to ensure that employees remain content, particularly with respect to satisfying their work-life balance needs. ‘We have to keep evolving, from simple things like allowing them to go home early during the fasting month, to getting a crèche ready and organising safety workshops for their children. This way, they know that CIMB values them and sees them as more than just employees, that we’re a caring employer.’
To an extent, these initiatives have also stemmed from Hamidah’s own experiences as a working mother of three. ‘When we thought of the workshops for children, for example, it is because I have children myself and I fear for their safety. You want to teach them as much as you can,’ she says.
Though she admits that rising to the top management has not been without sacrifices, there have been no regrets.
‘I am driven by achievement,’ she says. ‘I like to see and get things done. I speak my mind and I am also bold enough to try something new. Over the years CIMB has definitely been the right platform. We go through this world once and it gives me such satisfaction that I am able to touch people’s lives and make a difference.
‘Sure, there will be sacrifices. I wish I had more beauty sleep, more time for cooking or reading, but there will be time for all that when my children grow up and leave the nest,’ she says. In the meantime, there’s work to be done, challenges to confront and
opportunities to uncover.
Sreerema Banoo, journalist