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Shan has done extremely well in his career – developing and extending the Unilever global communications capabilities and delivering training on a global scale.
Student name: Shanahan Chua
Course title: MBA (International Business and Human Resource Management)
Year of graduation: 2002
Delivering work that is beyond expectations is something that has been borne out of his diligence – a trait imparted by his course adviser at Cardiff University.
Why did you choose Cardiff to do your MBA?
I had the opportunity to study in the US, but I chose Cardiff primarily because it was identified as one of the best schools in the UK. I also did some research on the papers that the master’s degree students had produced which was really impressive and I wanted to be a part of that.
I chose Wales because at that time I didn’t want to be in London as it is too big a city. Further, Cardiff has a rich Welsh culture which was unique from with other the major university cities.
Do you think your MBA equipped you with the necessary skills for your job?
Academically, there are bits and pieces in both HR and International business that I was able to glean on throughout my career. The way in which I approached my studies during my MBA in Cardiff is the same due diligence I’m applying during my work now.
Studying in Cardiff was quite different to undertaking my undergraduate degree in the Philippines. Cardiff significantly impacted my life and allowed me to be independent by living far from home, country and family. I became more diligent and I learned how to manage my time more effectively. I had to learn time management because there’s no one there to force you to do work.
The biggest lesson for me was to learn to deal with various people from different background. Everyone had a different sense of culture, ethnicity and work ethic.
You’ve had an exciting career, and now you’re a Global Communications Capability Manager for Unilever. Tell us what you do.
I have started my career in Unilever in Communications, and was involved in various expertise areas such as internal media relations, external affairs, sustainability programmes and employee engagement.
All of these experiences became my foundation to build the capability of the communications function. My role entails assessing the skills of everyone in the function – whether they are an executive, assistant manager or even senior vice president – and ensuring that the right development programmes and support are provided. At the end, it is about turning the function into a world-class business communications partner for Unilever.
Mainly, what I’m doing is building a standardised platform where everyone can read off the same page when skills and roles are concerned. For example, I’m making sure an external affairs manager in the Philippines will have the same skills set as someone in London of the same job profile. I also work with training and PR agencies to deliver those training requirements to the business.
Tell me about one of the biggest challenges of your role.
Within Unilever there are a lot of different functions such as marketing, which have learning and development academies to support their skill development. However in communications, we never had those academies because we’ve always been a relatively small function and very much focused supporting local country markets.
Last year they globalised the function, so that all the targets and strategies are globally aligned. However, having done that, it became apparent that the skills of our function’s employees differed from one country to another.
With this change, I have been assigned to take the lead in building the capability of the function. I have to be flexible in terms of time management which can be quite challenging at times. But the role is quite fulfilling because it strategic in its approach and provides me the flexibility to craft the strategy behind the programmes I implement.
What have been your crowning moments in your career so far?
When I started in the new role, my initial brief was to develop and implement straightforward training programmes for the function.
However, given the creative space afforded to me, I am able to create a more strategic and impactful programme platform that will benefit the function in the long run. I had the opportunity to travel to our head office in London to present this to my leadership team and they were quite impressed that I compiled work that was above and beyond what was asked of me.
As a student from the Philippines, how did you find settling into Cardiff?
What really helped me settle in at first was going to the Cardiff chaplaincy as part of the Catholic Society. This meant I met not only my classmates during my master’s degree, but also other students or residents who are still very good friends of mine. I did not just limit myself to the Filipino community, but made sure I mingle with other people. This helped me now in my work handling a global role and dealing with different ethnicities.
When travelling and living abroad, particularly for just one year, it would counterproductive if I just kept to my own culture. If I did this, I could have saved money and stayed in the Philippines instead. Travelling and studying abroad is a great way to expand your life experience and would be a waste not to get out of your comfort zone to learn and interact with other people. You learn not just by reading and in a classroom. You learn from your experiences as well.
What important lessons did you learn in Cardiff (academic or otherwise) do you carry with you until today?
The biggest lesson I learned when I was struggling with my work was imparted by my case adviser who said that diligence is key. I realised then that I shouldn’t complain so much and just persevere. Diligence and attention to detail is important in everything I do. People say I am a little obsessive, and I blame it on my advisor in Cardiff University, because before that I was very laid back!
Do you have any advice to share with prospective Filipino students who are thinking about coming to Cardiff?
My advice would be to focus on studying, but also to expand your horizons, your life experiences. You need to meet different people and not just stay with your own ethnic group. As you learn more about other cultures you become more understanding and are able to apply that in your future career.