At the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in February, Fabrizio Freda, chief executive of Estée Lauder, emphasised the importance of Asia to the US cosmetics company. Demand for skincare innovations has made Asia the company’s fastest-growing region, and as Asians become increasingly mobile, Freda expects them to shop for more creams, lotions and make-up.

Because Asia has become so important, Estée Lauder now sees the region as a crucial hub for developing talent. The company has teamed up with Korn/Ferry, the executive search and consulting group, to supply it with a steady stream of strong internal candidates for executive positions.

“It is very important for us to focus our talent grooming through a series of leadership interventions that focus on the needs of the Asia-Pacific region,” says Figin Seng, regional director of learning and talent development, Asia-Pacific, for Estée Lauder Companies.

“All of us know that the talent war in Asia is very serious,” she adds. “One of our key beliefs is to develop talent from within.”

Estée Lauder’s programme was launched in 2009 and consists of three “modules” that take place over nine months. Employees, who continue to work full time, are trained in self leadership, team leadership and organisational leadership skills. At the core of the programme is “learning agility”, aimed at helping executives be more flexible, nimble and fast so that they can capitalise on the rapid change occurring in Asian markets.

The importance of agility was highlighted at the New York conference, when Freda explained that Asian travellers like to shop more than US holidaymakers. Because of that trend, the company needed to adapt quickly to take advantage of the opportunity to bolster retail sales at shops in Asian airports.

So far, about 100 senior managers have made it through the programme, with many being promoted after completion. Estée Lauder says ideas and strategies that emerged from the programme have also made their way into the company’s plans.

According to Korn/Ferry, the programme costs between $15,000 and $18,000 per person, including course fees, travel and project expenses. Seng says the company nominates people to participate in the leadership programme, but that its success is evident from the high number of requests to take part. Bringing in Korn/Ferry has been useful because it allows the training to blend academic theory and real-world relevance, she says, adding that the company expects to eventually launch similar programmes in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“This will continue to be a pillar for us,” she says.

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