Rentokil Initial's Asia MD is all about empathy & active listening

This is no surprise, as Mark Gillespie believes the measure of success lies almost solely on how happy employees are to work with the company.

Meet Mark Gillespie (pictured above), Regional Managing Director, Asia and MENAT, Rentokil Initial. His three-decade-long working experience has taken him through many different roles and ventures — starting out in finance, before taking on his first in-house role with a pharmaceutical company post-qualification. It was then that he decided it was a natural shift to venture into the hygiene space, thus beginning his career with Rentokil Initial — one which he says opened up great opportunities in his career.

"Over my last 18 years at Rentokil Initial, I have experienced many great experiences as well as the natural ups and downs. One of the high points is definitely being able to learn and grow from the finance area to a broader general management role and understand the business beyond just numbers and figures," Gillespie tells us.

"The toughest recent part of my career was during the peak of COVID-19. We experienced many people challenges and were forced to automate many of our operations and work remotely within a short period of time. It was also a difficult period for our team as many of them juggle multiple roles outside of work as a son, daughter, partner, and/or parent, career and it was hard to balance home responsibilities with the shift. It was, however, fortunate that our company has a strong people culture, and we were able to communicate openly and offer flexible work arrangements as needed."

In this interview, Gillespie shares how he works with the CHRO to make employees feel happy, his view on the top talent challenges in the hygiene industry today, the skills future-forward CHROs should possess to address shifting talent priorities, and more.

Q How would you describe your leadership style? How has it changed over the years and what experiences helped you shape it?

Personally, I believe the measure of success lies almost solely on how happy our colleagues are working with us. Thus, it is important to always be close to the ground and be in touch with our workforce, to allow us to be acutely aware of any concerns they might be facing. As someone who worked from the ground up, I fully understand and empathise with my colleagues and some of the struggles they may face as an entry-level executive or as a newly appointed leader. I frequently catch up with my team to find out any concerns and encourage them to work closely with their team members, fostering an open culture where colleagues feel comfortable to share about anything and everything.

Q How closely do you work with your CHRO, and on what matters/issues?

Like any other company, our CHRO oversees various HR initiatives such as recruitment, retention, talent development, and company culture. Aside from being involved in recruitment and retention processes, I enjoy working with our HR team on talent development programmes to upskill our existing workforce so that they can work more efficiently and develop their capability. This includes coming up with training and development programmes that could be beneficial to our workforce.

Having worked in Rentokil for nearly 18 years, I am also passionate about driving a positive and open company culture like what I have personally experienced. I work with the CHRO to come up with ideas on how to make our colleagues feel happy working with us, which includes gathering genuine feedback from colleagues, all colleagues at all levels, and also discussing with the CHRO on how we can potentially resolve any concerns and make working at Rentokil a great experience.

One thing that I am most proud of is our company’s diversity and inclusion practice. We have colleagues from all walks of life, working on the ground and behind the scenes. We emphasise treating one another with respect and equity and are working towards a more diverse workforce. We now have 40% women in the senior leadership team and are working towards achieving 50% by 2025.

Q What, in your view, are the top talent challenges in your industry at the moment?

Hygiene has always been a top priority but even more so during the pandemic. With increased emphasis on hygiene, there has been an increase in demand for our services, especially with the reopening of workspaces. While a strong increase in year-on-year revenue across the region is very much appreciated thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team, talent shortages have been a challenge for us as we struggle to recruit and train new colleagues.

One way to counter that is to adopt new technologies to increase efficiency. This also means that we have to train and upskill our workforce to adopt these technologies which might be hard to adapt for some colleagues. We work with completely different groups of colleagues – from the baby boomers and Gen Zs. These groups are diversely different in their background and exposure which adds value to the team. Thus, it is important that we review the training programmes and assess their suitability while aligning them with the employee's career development pathway.

A further challenge, and opportunity, is meeting both customer and colleague needs in regard to more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of working. Sustainability has been a huge focus for us at Rentokil Initial and our team is working hard to meet our very tough global sustainability goals.

Q In your view, how have talent priorities today evolved from what they were just five years ago?

The pandemic has definitely driven some changes in talent priorities. Work is not just about the monthly paycheck anymore and we can see that the emphasis on mental wellbeing is becoming stronger with the pandemic and working from home. It is more important than ever that we listen to our colleagues and empathise with them and work with them to make working at Rentokil Initial a great experience.

Growth and development are also a priority for colleagues nowadays and we are focused on identifying emerging talent and developing people to maximise their career goals.

Q What skills should future-forward CHROs possess to address these?

Future-forward CHROs should be ready for change management. They must be highly adaptable and be able to communicate and manage any changes in the workforce efficiently.

We have seen shifts in the workplace during the pandemic. To avoid sudden shifts for our workforce and help them adapt better, it is crucial that the CHRO is able to prepare our workforce for any necessary changes and help them integrate into these changes seamlessly so that work process can go on with minimal stress and disruption for our colleagues.

Q What is your #1 advice for aspiring leaders, and even to your children who look to you as a role model?

Build a culture of feedback by being an active listener. This way, you can improve work efficiency while maintaining high standards of employee satisfaction. The best way to achieve that is also to lead by example. I like to be open and have frequent one-to-one casual conversations with my team to gather feedback and check in on them, making sure they are doing well. I believe that this would also encourage them to do the same with their colleagues, fostering an open culture within the organisation.


Photo / Rentokil Initial [Pictured: Mark Gillespie, Managing Director, Asia & MENAT, Rentokil Initial]

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