Walmart’s Asia Team Goes From Zero to Onboarded In Six Weeks

Jan 11, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

How do you go from zero to six senior-level e-commerce pros in six weeks?

That would be a tall order in Silicon Valley or Research Triangle. How about if you were in Hong Kong, the hiring executive is in San Francisco, the job is in China, and the req asks for Chinese-speaking, retail-savvy, online experienced, e-commerce marketers?

Simon Heaton, Walmart’s managing director in Asia, admits it isn’t easy. It was, he says, “difficult to do and difficult to repeat.” Yet, starting with a “a good clear brief as to what was needed,” Heaton and his team assembled a group of candidates, qualified them, and had everything ready when the decision-maker flew in for the interviews.

At the end of that six weeks, Walmart’s new e-commerce group for China was hired and onboarded. “It requires good alignment,” Heaton modestly explains.

Not even a year ago Heaton was working in Bentonville, Arkansas. Today, he’s building Walmart’s executive team in India, China, Japan, and wherever next in Asia the company grows.

Heaton made the move during a particularly trying time for Walmart Asia. In the spring, 24 of the company’s stores were in the area of the 9.0 earthquake to hit Japan. In the fall, the Chongqing city government shuttered 13 of the company’s stores for 15 days and fined the company in connection with food mislabeling and handling violations. Two of the company’s top executives resigned immediately after the penalties were announced.

Yet in the months since Heaton arrived he opened Walmart’s first Asia recruiting office, brought in a recruiting team, and filled several senior positions in Asia. He manages global executive recruiting and helps with best practices for the recruiting teams in each country. “We’re a bit of a center of excellence for them,” Heaton says.

Filling such senior positions — whether e-commerce, or, more commonly, VPs, SVPs, and occasionally senior or executive director — is not an easy task. The group’s focus is primarily external recruiting, and his most important tools are all social media, especially LinkedIn.

The UK native has been a headhunter as well as a corporate recruiter, and has recruited professionals from all over the world during his 20-year career. “It’s much easier to find people, people with specific talents, than it used to be,” Heaton explains.

In China and India in particular, he says, the corporate retail market is not well established. Finding executives with the background and the cultural knowledge necessary to be successful often means his team searches for expats with retail training.

“It’s much different than when all I had was a Rolodex,” says Heaton. Now, his team will typically turn to LinkedIn first to scour the planet to find the kind of professionals Walmart needs to be successful as it expands globally. Not all expats want to return to their home country; others simply aren’t interested in retail.

“I’m not going to go in with a hard sell to convince someone who doesn’t want to return,” say Heaton. Enough do, making repatriation a key source for the senior positions Heaton fills.

One of the things that surprised him about recruiting overseas is how many people are connected to each other online. At a party thrown by a Hong Kong neighbor, he discovered several people with whom he had either a first- or second-degree connection. “Here,” he says, “You can quickly find someone who knows someone … people are very willing to share their network.”

Even early in his career back in the United Kingdom, Heaton knew he wanted to work globally. “I’ve always wanted to do a global role,” he says. To prepare, he would volunteer for projects that had a global component, and take on searches for overseas candidates or jobs.

“You kind of get a reputation for doing that kind of work,” he explains. So when an opportunity comes along, experience and reputation position you for the job.

That’s the path he recommends for others interested in working globally. “Put your hand up and volunteer to do the work,” he advises.”Network with your teams and colleagues. Help them when you can.”

With Walmart expanding rapidly — some reports, Heaton notes, say the company plans to nearly double in size to 4.3 million workers — there will be a need for talented in-house recruiters in the months and years ahead. Right now, he notes, the next recruiting team is being built for Latin America. Spanish is one of the requirements.

“Globalization is going to continue,” Heaton says. And that means opportunities for recruiters who want to work abroad will expand. Start building the contacts and developing the experience and smarts now for those overseas jobs in the future.

“The first contact is not always when you have a job,” Heaton says. He’s speaking specifically of how his Walmart team works, but his comments are relevant for recruiters thinking of an overseas career. “Make those contacts and stay connected.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!