HR Postcard from Singapore - Insights from a HR Leader


Our latest HR postcard is from Matthew Kimball, VP and Head of HR for Shell’s Global Commercial businesses.  Global Commercial is a group of three business, operating in 150 markets with roughly 1.5 billion in earnings and close to 9,000 employees servicing 1 million customers.  
We are thankful to Matthew for generously donating the time to converse with us about his personal experience of HR across his established career in foreign markets.

What are the challenges of the business environment you are operating in?

“Our Challenge is also a truly exciting opportunity. For us, in our business, it’s a challenge around growth.  We are looking to grow by in excess of $1 billion in earnings between 2017 and 2025 and we’re well on our way”.  “Importantly, we’ve defined and identified our growth Levers which include”: 
  1. New revenues:  Accelerate our digital offer and moving more into services.
  2. Resilient sectors:  Significant investment in new technology.  
  3. New customers:  Grow our market share in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Russia.
  4. Grow Base Business:  For example, we aim to grow two times faster than the market growth in premium Lubricants and we’re looking to continue to expand our airport presence.
“At the moment we’re in more than 900 airports globally with our aviation fuels business and we’re looking to expand even further”. 


What are your key observations around HR trends that are playing out in your marketplace?

“We operate in 150 markets and from a HR perspective, I think there are 3 big trends at the moment”

Leveraging Digital and Analytics. 

“Modernising the HR function.  People remain at the centre of all that we do but there is a shift from traditional HR models to more evidence driven and digitalised HR.  This means we need HR professionals that are competent with using analytics, comfortable with communicating in the digital world and have a more data driven approach to driving the best employee experience”. 

Providing a Modern Employee Experience People Believe In

“This starts with ensuring that the HR practices are aligned and consistently applied with the values and the purpose of the organisation.  But, again we need to modernise this experience for example, employees have expectations around connectivity, new digital communities and personalisation of benefits with a focus on the whole person and wellness”.  “One way we’re doing this in our business is what’s called “the Opportunity Hub”.  The Opportunity Hub matches business needs with Shell’s Internal Human Cloud.  Managers market what they are working on and associated resourcing needs.  The Employees can engage and express an interest and availability to work on these projects in a real-time digital way”. 

Delivering Results Through Diversity

“I’m seeing a trend where diversity and inclusion is increasingly being linked to the businesses growth strategies. It’s not just gender, we know that top quartile companies have more ethnic/cultural diversity”. “I actively practice diversity and inclusion within my team, I have nine different nationalities and one more female than male in the team.  This not only represents the diverse customer base we serve, we also know that there is statistically a significant correlation between a more diverse leadership team and financial performance”. 


What are some of the differences in the HR landscape offshore when comparing to Australia?

“I think the Australian HR landscape is extremely innovative.  I’ve reflected on what makes HR in Australia so innovative and I think it’s created by three different “types of distance”. 
  1. “The first being what I call “Power Distance”; by that I mean the relationship with Hierarchy.  In Australia we have a lower power distance between the CEO and the shop floor.  People will speak-up, challenge and are empowered and this drives an environment perfect for innovation”.  
  2. “The second being the power of “Physical Distance”; yes, the world continues to get smaller and we do have that physical distance of working in Australia. With multi-nationals, it’s about proximity to Headquarters, however this often gives more flexibility in what can be achieved locally in terms of business outcomes and customer requirements”.  
  3. “The last is the “Distance To The Past”.  Australia is generally very forward looking in comparison to a lot of other countries and therefore not stuck in past practices and ideas”.  
“These three “types of distance” I feel embody the differences between the Australian HR landscape and other markets and I think they help to contribute to an exceptional, innovative and creative HR environment”.

What you have benefited from as a HR professional in stepping out of an Australian only role and into foreign markets?

“I left Australia 13 years ago and had planned to only go for 2 or 3 years, clearly that plan changed and over that period I have had the opportunity to live and work in the U.S & Singapore twice, Amsterdam and London”.  
Two of the biggest professional benefits are:
  1. The accelerated growth and development of working across different markets, cultures, industrial frameworks etc. these learnings can be applied across different businesses and countries.  
  2. Professional resilience; learning to perform in different cultures and businesses and what frameworks to develop around that.  
On a personal front, as a family it’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve had two daughters that were born overseas with one born in the U.S and the other in Singapore but both proudly call Australia home. 

What advice would you offer to someone seeking to go abroad into new markets?

“Just go for it!”  
“I still remember talking with Craig Mason back in 2005 as I was weighing up an opportunity in Australia.  He said to me “you should go overseas and work for a few years”.  Coincidentally, I had a strong mentor in the Head of HR for Merck who offered me a role in the U.S and I decided to grab it and planned to go for 2 to 3 years.  It was great advice from Craig and it’s definitely been a few years…” 

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