7 questions with Bridgestone SA's new head of talent

03 June 2021 - 10:29
Botaki Hlalele is the head of talent at Bridgestone Southern Africa (BSAF).
Botaki Hlalele is the head of talent at Bridgestone Southern Africa (BSAF).
Image: Supplied

Botaki Hlalele boasts an enviable CV, having held senior roles in companies like Shell, Cummins and Nestlé during his career spanning over two decades.   

He’s the author of a book entitled “Face the person in the Mirror” and is the proud father of two teenagers, in addition to being a certified life and business coach.    

His credentials on the education front are equally impressive, including a Master of Business Leadership (MBL) qualification from Unisa School of Business Leadership and a Master in Industrial Psychology from North West University.   

He recently joined Bridgestone Southern Africa (BSAF) as the head of talent and the firm’s training academy. Hlalele gave us the lowdown on the ins and outs of the job.

Talk us through a day in the life of your exciting job

As I am still within the first months of my tenure, a priority of mine as I work to establish the Talent Development and Training Academy is to foster relationships with key players. At the same time, I am looking to fill critical roles while defining the best learning delivery and operating model for Bridgestone’s unique requirements. It is a multifaceted job, and no two days are the same. The most important function is relationship building and creating the connection between the business objectives and employee needs.

Covid-19 and the workforce: how badly did the pandemic affect Bridgestone’s human capital?

While some of our retail and plant operations were suspended, we were able to continue providing services and parts to our customers in the essential services industries, such as logistics operators, first responders and certain industrial customers who were able to adhere to Covid-19 restrictions. With the easing of lockdown restrictions, we were able to provide services to the general public and gradually put more of our people to work, although in a gradual and safe way.

What’s the strategy for recovery in the wake of this, from a staffing and upskilling perspective?

Covid-19 has forced us to be responsive, flexible, embrace change and make decisive decisions for the safety and wellness of our people and the sustainability of our business. Throughout the intense lockdown, we at Bridgestone focused on ensuring employee’s wellbeing, equipping our leaders with the skills to lead virtually and ensure strong engagement and performance. Virtual leadership, in the functions that allowed for it, was a key investment that allowed our business to run smoothly as the country works collectively to return.

One of Bridgestone’s mandates is to be more “digitised” as a manufacturer. How is that possible, given the hands-on, labour-intensive nature of production?

Over the past year, we have made significant investments to bring our manufacturing facility in Brits up to speed with the latest technological advances, as well as in our head office and various retail to enhance back office and point of sale platforms. We are continuing with investment plans for kiosks and computer literacy training for our blue-collar employees going into 2022. However, while technology is an important enabler to our business, the most important changes will be realised in the enhanced training our people to more efficient ways of working. As we build cross-functional teams, we want to ensure that we break down silos, promote transparency, eliminate duplication and most importantly, ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

You’ve held roles in leading companies, including Shell and Cummins. What are some of the lessons learnt from those sides of the automotive spectrum?

Throughout the years, it has become increasingly clear that training and learning never stops, and one of the most important qualities of any leader is learning agility. In an ever-changing world, training should be seen as an essential business enabler, rather than just a bandage for poor performers. People working in a world-class operation need to have a capacity and willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn to respond quickly to changing market dynamics.

Some advice for our young readers interested in the tyre industry: are opportunities readily available and how can they gain access?

SA’s tyre industry has a rich heritage, with Bridgestone marking its 90th year globally and the Brits manufacturing plant marking its 50th year. As the tyre industry looks to reinvent itself, becoming more digitised and expanding its value proposition to encompass more than just the end product, young people have the ability to bring fresh thinking and passion to take us into the next chapter of our journey. In 2020, we welcomed 70 young graduates through the Yes4Youth Programme, which opens the door for young candidates to gain valuable work experience while developing holistically as individuals.

What is the ultimate legacy you want to leave behind at Bridgestone before you move onto the next big role?

I come from school of thought that one needs to constantly look at challenges as opportunities, and to self-correct where required in order to impact people to shift the needle. I want to get to a place where we can measure and demonstrate the value of developing people, particularly as it impacts the key nodal points of the business. My goal is to elevate training and development in the minds of people, from an optional function to a key enabler of long-term success.