Dr. Kasuma Satria, Chief Human Resources Officer, AEON Malaysia

In an ever-evolving world driven by technological advancements and shifting work dynamics, the Human Resource (HR) leadership takes on a multifaceted role that goes beyond traditional management practices. By embodying visionary leadership, nurturing talent, promoting a diverse and inclusive culture, and advocating for employee well-being, HR leaders contribute immensely to the organization’s success and sustainable growth.

Dr Kasuma Satria is one such remarkable HR leader who specializes in creating a motivated, engaged, and high-performing workforce. He is a seasoned executive with over two decades of experience in growing businesses, developing people, and strengthening organizations in Europe and Asia Pacific. At AEON Malaysia, he currently serves as Chief Human Resources Officer, responsible for the Company’s Human Resources, Sustainability, Corporate Services and Corporate Communications functions. He is also a recognized industry expert at HRD Corp – Human Resource Development Corporation and a Board Member of the Government-Industry TVET Coordination Body (GITC). Today, Kasuma’s success story is a testament to the transformative power of HR for delivering a world-class workplace and a shining example for the next generation of HR leaders.

An Accidental Entry into the HRM World

Kasuma’s entry into the HRM world was accidental. He was initially working in operations for an oil and gas company when his CEO suddenly asked him to take on the role of HR, to which Kasuma agreed promptly. Soon after he joined the HR department, the Company announced that it would embark on a new business format. Kasuma was given the task of executing the transformation plan involving organizational restructuring and repositioning of employees, which included layoffs. This primary experience was his entry point into the HR profession. It opened his eyes and made him understand the importance, criticality, value, and impact of human resources for an organization’s success. After completion of his first HR assignment, Kasuma went back to the business role and, a few years later, joined another oil and gas company as Corporate Project Manager. Subsequently, he was asked to join HR and was promoted and transferred to the Group HQ office in Paris, France, as Group Vice President of Sourcing and Recruitment.

After working abroad for two years, Kasuma moved back to Malaysia to take on the role of Regional Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Development in Asia Pacific. He was then presented with the opportunity to work as Head of Business Operations in Borneo as the Vice President of East Malaysia, and Brunei, where he managed more than 200 engineers in 4 office locations, Miri, Bintulu, Kota Kinabalu, and Kuala Belait, Brunei. In 2018, after working for over two decades in the oil and gas industry, he decided to take up an offer to do national service and joined an education transformation consultancy company focusing on human capital development and national building.  In 2020, Kasuma joined AEON Malaysia as the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).

AEON Malaysia: Creating Smiles, Connecting Hearts

Headquartered in Japan, AEON Co Ltd is a Japanese diversified retail holding company and one of the largest retail companies in Japan. The company traces its origins back to 1758 during the Edo period in Japan when it was established as a small sundry goods store called Okada-ya. In 1969, Okada-ya merged with Futagi and Jiro Inoue to become JUSCO (Japanese United Store Company), and in 2001, the company officially changed its name to AEON. To date, AEON has grown to become a group of 300 companies with 570,000 employees, generating USD 70 billion in revenues, and operating in 14 countries.

AEON’s story in Malaysia started in 1984 with the company accepting the Government of Malaysia Look East Policy invitation to help modernise the retail industry.

Starting with only one store in Dayabumi in 1985, AEON Malaysia grew to a strong network of 28 malls, 34 departmental stores, 7 AEON MaxValu supermarkets, 64 AEON Wellness pharmacies and 45 DAISO shops and MyAEON2go e-commerce businesses. Currently, it is supported by more than 12,000 employees, 3,000 tenants and business partners, and more than two million AEON Member Plus cardholders. Apart from the above-mentioned, AEON Malaysia also provides shared-services support to other AEON companies in Malaysia.

A ‘Customer First’ Philosophy

AEON is committed to a ‘Customer First’ philosophy, driving strategic initiatives to adapt to changing customer needs. The company is currently undergoing a digital transformation to enhance innovation and synergy, staying responsive in the evolving digital landscape. Simultaneously, AEON is revitalizing malls to offer a seamless and modern shopping experience, transforming them into venues for diverse lifestyle activities.

Moreover, AEON prioritizes green and sustainable practices. This commitment is evident through initiatives such as the successful reforestation program in the Japan-Malaysia Friendship Forest, where 30,000 trees have been planted.                AEON has also installed solar panels in all its malls in phases, implemented measures to enhance energy efficiency, and actively works towards reducing and managing waste, particularly food wastage, with a focus on recycling. Starting 1 January 2023, AEON has pledged to eliminate the use of single-use plastics in all its stores nationwide, aligning with the increasing customer preference for environmental responsibility. The company also focuses on delivering the best value to customers through competitive pricing, promotions, and loyalty programs, thereby reinforcing its dedication to customer satisfaction.

Developing and Sustaining Employees

One of the ways in which AEON prioritizes employee engagement and development is by identifying critical positions within the company. This is followed by identifying the key talent via conducting the people review process. A panel made of a multi-functional team reviews the selected individuals together with HR and places them in one of the 9-box diagrams of performance and potential. The person placed in the top 3 boxes of the 9-box diagram (A2, A1, and B2) is grouped under the Key People category, referred to as the talent pool. The HR team then maps the number and level of the key people in critical positions, including their status (ready for career development (RCD), well-placed (WP), and not well-placed (NWP). The key people ready for career development are determined as per their readiness state: short-term (ST), mid-term (MT), or long-term (LT). A specific career plan for the key people is then developed, which involves engagement sessions, coaching, mentoring, training, and assignments.

Next comes the power of realization. This is a crucial step where the HR team, under Kasuma’s leadership, monitors whether necessary actions are taken, reality checks have occurred, and modifications are done and made on the go. The AEON HRBPs (HR Business Partners) act as talent managers who engage with key people regularly to monitor motivation and satisfaction levels and are on the lookout for any potential issues. The engagement and development of the key people via the talent pool is structured as it is tracked and monitored closely. Moreover, the HR team ensures that the respective key individuals take ownership and accountability and participate directly in the engagement, development, and retention of the organization’s key people.

Finally, for all staff members, regardless of whether they are in the talent pool or otherwise, every year, they need to complete their Individual Development Plan (IDP) process. This is to identify their training and development needs, career aspirations, and mobility status. Employees can request training, apply for jobs in the internal job advertisement, and or request a meeting with any of the HR team, including the CHRO. Furthermore, AEON practices an open policy where staff can freely email, WhatsApp and/or come physically to meet any of the HR team members.

Crafting a Positive Workplace Culture

AEON people live the Company’s values called the AEON DNA. It states the following: (1) AEON people are always grateful to other people for their support and assistance and always act with humility; (2) AEON people value the trust of others and always act with integrity and sincerity; (3) AEON people always seek ways to exceed customer expectations, (4) AEON people continually challenge themselves to accomplish AEON ideals and (5) AEON people support local community growth via acting as good corporate citizens. These values are recited, practiced, and celebrated regularly by AEON’s people.

Kasuma, when asked about AEON’s DNA, shares, “Personally, I feel that the AEON DNA is very complete and beautiful as it provides a good moral compass on how AEON people should behave and react. This is the essence of the Company culture, and due to this, I find a strong family culture within the Company, and this is indeed a winning recipe.” He also reveals that the AEON DNA is going to be renewed as a way to keep it forever current and relevant to the workplace and marketplace challenges. In addition, several related initiatives have been identified, including the development of the new Group Future Vision and AEON Retail Malaysia Vision, Mission, and Values. The activities include a communication and engagement plan, focus group sessions, and identification of champions and ambassadors at HQ, business units, and stores/mall locations.

Unlocking Limitless Possibilities Through Collaborations

At AEON, stakeholder engagement is a crucial process that helps the company understand customer needs, enable key insights to further improve processes, products, and service levels, and strengthen relationships with relevant stakeholders for future growth. Collaborative engagement with stakeholders creates a future of limitless possibilities by fostering innovation, enabling customer-centric solutions, optimizing supply chains, integrating with communities, adopting cutting-edge technologies, and promoting sustainability. This collective approach ensures that AEON remains adaptable and resilient in the face of evolving challenges and opportunities.

Fostering Sustainable and Mutually Beneficial Relationships

AEON actively engages in community outreach programs and collaborates with local businesses and the Government to support the local economy and provide diverse product offerings. The company also fosters a supportive environment for tenants through collaboration, marketing efforts, and sustainable initiatives. Moreover, regular communication, CSR programs, and customer feedback integration contribute to transparency and open dialogue, strengthening relationships with stakeholders. Additionally, by investing in training programs and emphasizing sustainability, AEON aims to build enduring partnerships that contribute to the long-term success of both the company and its stakeholders.

Making a Difference in the Community

The Malaysia AEON Foundation (MAF) is the charity arm of the AEON group of companies in Malaysia. Since 2004, it has embarked on and supported many initiatives that are related to its basic principle of promoting peace, people, and community. In 2020, AEON adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some of MAF’s notable initiatives include the AEON Berkat Ramadhan initiative, where MAF contributed 300 motorcycles to individuals who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, appointing them as AEON riders. Another significant effort is the AEON Sayap Bagimu initiative, where MAF donated 3,000 Samsung Galaxy tablets to students from underprivileged families. Through the AEON Smart Classroom program, AEON upgrades classrooms in 52 identified secondary schools with smart facilities such as digital boards. Additionally, MAF launched the AEON KAMI initiative, a program addressing urban poverty by providing skills, mentoring, and employment opportunities at AEON-related centers. In times of natural disasters, the AEON Bantu initiative steps in to assist those affected, such as aiding individuals impacted by floods or landslides. The AEON Mesra initiative further extends support to underprivileged children during festive periods, including Chinese New Year, Eid Mubarak, Deepavali, and Christmas, bringing joy to those in need. These initiatives showcase MAF’s dedication to creating positive societal impact across various sectors.

Leadership Philosophy

Over the years, Kasuma’s work experiences and life journey led him to understand, respect, appreciate, and adjust to the multiple cultures, diversity, and working styles of industries and people all over the world. These experiences taught him to always adapt, remain agile, be open and develop a positive mindset. He also understood that in any organization, delivering good performance is an expected outcome from the employee. However, it alone does not secure long-term success. To do well, employees must go the extra mile and strive to gain ‘acceptance and trust’ from the key stakeholders.

As a true AEON people, Kasuma’s leadership style is about living and balancing the 3H (Head, Hand and Heart). He strongly believes that we need to balance our ‘head’ (which represents IQ, theories, skills and competencies) with the ‘hand’ (which represents the ability to execute, get things done, being ‘Gemba’ or hands-on) and finally, balancing both the head and hand with the ‘heart,’ always ensuring we build and develop people, giving safe space for the team to grow and become successful, having a genuine interest in their success and wellbeing, helping, mentoring and coaching them to be all that they can be. He also believes in the magic of togetherness; we get more by sharing and giving than taking. “When you help people grow, success comes to you sooner than you think,” shares Kasuma. In the end, he considers himself both an HR professional who understands business and a businessperson who practices HR.

Embracing Growth Through Adversity

Kasuma joined AEON Malaysia at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to execute the organizational change and transformation plan as described and defined in the AEON Playbook 2020 to 2023. Looking back, Kasuma states that it was a massive undertaking with the arrival of the pandemic as the business parameters and dynamics were fast changing. Due to this reason, Kasuma and the leadership team of AEON decided to catch the market and execute their plan within one year instead of the original three years. Their strategy was not to go for perfection but rather to fly the plane while building it and land safely to its destination. “It was a very bold and aggressive move, but we did it,” shares Kasuma. He further asserts that the team worked quickly with great agility, motivation, and drive, and within one year, they were successful in putting together a new organizational structure, establishing the digital entrepreneurial division (Engine2.0), introducing data analytics, and strengthening the Company’s IT capabilities.

Furthermore, AEON introduced the concept of AEON ecosystems combining and leveraging the value and strengths of all AEON companies in Malaysia, introduced many new collaborative initiatives with suppliers and partners to get closer to market and customers, working even more closely with AEON Workers and AEON Managers Union Organizations.

To achieve their goals, Kasuma and his team strived hard and also brought in new talents with specialized skills and abilities. Kasuma highlights that it is important and critical to ensure the two groups of people (the regular and new staff) have mutual respect for one another, use the same lingo (languages), and work well together. To ensure the above, they conducted a buddy system (partnering newly joined staff with the regular staff), online social gathering sessions, formed change managers’ WhatsApp groups, and learning and sharing sessions. As the situation improved and Malaysia moved into the endemic stage, the AEON staff embraced the AEON DNA and practiced the 3H (Head-Hand-Heart) concept.

The AEON team did all the above and, at the same time, handled and managed the pandemic crisis, which was impacting the business and affecting its people. As a retailer, AEON was among the country’s first frontline. To set an example and motivate the staff, the leaders took the lead and chose to be with the staff in the front. Likewise, the staff’s health and safety were AEON’s biggest concerns. The company negotiated hard to get the government to recognize and give priority to retail people to be among the first batch of vaccine recipients in the country. It also closely monitored its staff’s covid related cases by contacting them regularly to get to know their conditions and delivering them food and medical supplies during their quarantine period; for COVID-19 casualty cases, the company provided compensation worth 12 months’ staff salary to the family, in addition to company insurances and other related benefits.

Celebrating Success

For Kasuma, one of the biggest achievements was witnessing AEON’s progress and how well the team performed and achieved goals despite the pandemic. The team was not only successful in translating the transformation plan into practice but also in helping AEON come out from the pandemic better than before.

Roadmap for the Future

Going forward, AEON Group Malaysia will continue to grow and become more modern and attractive, with better products, offers, and services that align with the needs and wants of its customers. It will also continue to strengthen its data analytics capabilities, further improve its supply chain, and incorporate more digitalization and automation. On the people side, Kasuma and his team will position and target AEON to be the reference company that is most admired for its people, performance, and partnerships.

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles