Susan Chong, founder and chief executive officer of Greenpac, shares the key to engaging staff in activities that impact the community.

Greenpac recently bagged the President's Volunteerism & Philanthropy Award 2017 (PVPA 2017) for the SME segment (Corporate), for its CSR initiatives - that reach out from school children to inmates - going beyond providing donations or necessities, to include imparting important practices about the environment and sustainability, as well as, ways to raise awareness about the environment.

We caught up with the founder and CEO, Susan Chong, at the PVPA 2017 press conference. She was joined by Grace Low, executive officer (CEO office).

[All responses are by Susan Chong, unless stated otherwise.]

Q You started Greenpac in 2002 to provide innovative, environmentally sustainable, customised industrial packaging solutions. Can you share a little about your proudest accomplishments since then?

I started with a vision, that I wanted to do good, using CSR as a foundation. If you look back at the last 15 years, we are really proud because I think we are on track. It has not been an easy journey, and I think we have done it in many ways, in terms of green, sustainability, and CSR. We have three key thrusts that we use as a foundation, i.e. responsible entrepreneurship, environmentally-friendly, and community engagement. We have worked on these since the day we started.

Is there a particular milestone that really impacted this journey?

Of course, today (winning the PVPA award) is really significant. We had never thought about this (recognition) since the day we started. This came as a way of recognition also for my team - that whatever we have contributed, it has been recognised.

What has been the biggest challenge during this journey of building Greenpac?

Obviously when you have a vision of how you want to build a company, not everyone that comes on-board has the same vision, because different people come from diverse backgrounds and it’s not easy for everyone. For some people, giving is a little bit difficult, because different people have different convictions, and they also want to give in different areas.

So for us, because it is a business, we have to make sure that all this CSR is built into the business, so as to ensure sustainability of the journey. We cannot do just one-offs, like donations, and we need the buy-in, because it is not me alone that is doing it, it is the company that is doing it.

Q Buy-in, as in from other companies?

No, from all the staff, because these are our stakeholders. If they don’t buy-in, whatever projects we want to do are not going to be successful. So it is about how we convince and explain to them the implications, the importance and how to make us better. And also as a company, how it is important for us to grow. So with the buy-in, when we have everybody’s blessing, and we have all the support, then you can do a lot more things together.
We have included CSR as part of our performance appraisal. Called the "extra mile", it means that employees are being appraised on what they do differently.

Q What kind of culture do you try to establish for your employees?

Our business is a little unique, because since the day we founded the company, we already had a vision. And, we built the culture in based on the three thrusts that we talked about earlier.

Q One of the biggest aspects of your culture is the ability to create impact on the communities around you. How do you motivate staff to engage and become involved in these CSR initiatives?

Grace Low: The thing that the company does right is make the effort to find out what employees' interests are. Because the company is very linked, there are not many of us, about forty over, so I wouldn’t say that we have a lot of resources to do CSR together. But the company makes an effort to find out the interests and hobbies of everyone; and that makes it much easier for us to be willing to participate, because it is related to our passion and something we’d like to do.

Susan: Together with Kristin (Kristin Chu, senior manager - organisation excellence), we have included CSR as part of our performance appraisal. Called the "extra mile", it means that employees are being appraised on what they do differently, besides their work, so it’s a non-work related component of appraisal.

So that helps, especially in cases where people don’t like to do it, but they have no choice because that’s probably the easiest way to score (points)! These points translate into their bonus. So we convert people through that, until it becomes a habit.

Q What kind of business impact do you expect as a result of your CSR initiatives?

Well, once our employees work on all this together, they are a lot more compassionate and willing. The bonding is very important to us. Once you have everyone being positive, then you will motivate people. And when people are highly motivated, productivity is very high, and people are willing to be a lot more compassionate, they are forgiving, and that’s the kind of culture and inclusiveness that we want.
People are our asset and our intellectual property. They have all the knowledge, so we really need to know how to take good care of them. 

Q How closely do you work with your HR team on CSR as well as overall people activities?

Very closely, because people is everything that we have. Thus in our business as a solutions provider, we conduct a lot of personal development. Within our HR systems, we try to groom people based on their competency.

This is very important to us, because people are our asset and our intellectual property. They have all the knowledge, so we really need to know how to take good care of them. It’s just like a machine in manufacturing, you need to maintain it.

Q How would you describe your style of leadership?

I think you must walk the talk, it is very important because everyone looks at you as a role model. You can’t be saying something and doing something else, then people would be left wondering.

Q Having sustained your business over 15 years, what is one learning that you would like to share with other HR leaders in SMEs?

It doesn’t matter whether your company is big or small, because giving can start with something small. It depends on your comfort level and ability. You don’t have to start with big things, but just do a small thing at a time and then eventually, the small will become big.

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