Traditional corporate beliefs have always placed a company’s top man in the limelight. But for the country chief of Bosch, it’s collaboration that drives greater results

Appointments of CEOs, COOs and Managing Directors have had the ability to massively influence the rise and fall of stock prices in the past. Fact is, corporate performance is often perceived as a byproduct of one individual’s leadership. When we think of the success of organizations like Apple, Microsoft and PLDT, we often associate their excellence not with the thousands of people they employ, but with the individual leadership of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Manny Pangilinan.

For Joseph Hong of Robert Bosch Inc., a subsidiary of Robert Bosch GmbH Germany, it isn’t any different. Recently appointed the company’s managing director in the Philippines, the fact that Hong is also Bosch’s first Filipino country chief means all eyes are on him as he begins his term this year.

Hong’s credentials, which include 12 years spent working across different leadership functions in the company’s Automotive Aftermarket and Sales and Marketing divisions both here and abroad, clearly bespeaks that he is the best man for the job. “I think I bring a deeper understanding of the local market, culture and history,” says Hong of what his management will bring into the company.

“Working with this local knowledge and the international experience I got from the Bosch group, I think my team can come up with the most tailor-made strategy in developing the company’s position in the local market.”

People and Progress

Hong is a firm believer that leadership in a vacuum isn’t leadership at all. After all, what impact can a managing director have when he’s speaking to an empty room? “I think I would tend to be more collaborative,” says Hong. “It means working closely with the managers and the staff, and trying to get a 360-degree view to be able to come up with the most feasible decisions.”

With Bosch offices worldwide treading the path of recovery from the global economic crisis of 2008, the company joined the bandwagon of organizations implementing cost-cutting measures to keep afloat. “Aside from prudent management of our inventory and ensuring we had enough liquidity, the key was really to maintain our core team,” says Hong. “We didn’t want to let go of people unnecessarily because we didn’t want to find ourselves with a shortage of qualified people when the recession is over.”

This bode well for the company as it continued to invest heavily in research and development even during the crisis. While the company’s revenues had reportedly gone down, it was still within expectation. “In 2009, we registered and applied for about 3,800 patents—that’s 15 patents every working day, and this remains to be a key focus for us,” says Hong. “This year has been quite good.

We’re in the clearer recovery phase and we have really strong growth in our Automotive and Consumer divisions. We’re also in the position to further expand and take advantage of the untapped potential in the Philippines.”

Yes, We Can

With Hong’s collaborative leadership style, Bosch may very well strengthen the position of its three different divisions in the Philippine market. Being a company that depends largely on the quality of its staff, collaboration is key. According to Russ Juson, an organization development consultant and facilitator of the Organizational Change Consultants International, Inc. (OCCI), this brand of leadership promotes ownership and responsibility among employees.

“It really starts with leadership at the top, which drives a culture,” says Juson. “Culture drives innovation and whatever else you’re trying to drive within a company—innovation, execution, whatever it’s going to be. Hong’s collaborative leadership empowers his people because they really feel they’re part of the progress. There’s pride, ownership and responsibility, which naturally leads to better results.”

Instead of always focusing on the bottom line, Juson says people should keep in mind that culture, leadership and people (and their ideas) are ultimately driving the numbers and the results. “So it’s a flip,” Juson says. “It used to be that the CEO was always regarded as ‘the star,’ the sole driver of results. But once companies let go of that belief system, that was when they started to create better results.”

With the proliferation of teambuilding and leadership workshops made available to corporations, it has become apparent that more organizations are beginning to realize the value of their people.
Kenneth Yang, the president and CEO of Golden Arches Development Corporation (McDonald’s), shares Hong’s mindset. In an article he wrote for the Philippine Association of National Advertisers, he said, “We believe in investing in people especially during these times. It’s the best way to tighten a company’s belt. Maximizing an individual’s potential—training and encouraging them to be the best in their field—increases a company’s efficiencies without shortchanging anyone in the process, especially our customers.” Even McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc always said, “None of us is as good as all of us; you are in business for yourself, but not by yourself.”

It’s just like that bit of advertising telling, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’.” The same goes for a company like Bosch—Hong may be team captain, the man of the hour, but there’s also a core group of people he’s leading to score the most number of points.

Published in the Business Agenda Section of Manila Bulletin, 7 June 2010.