10 Great Places To Develop Leadership

Dec 02, 2013 1 Min Read
developing leadership

Last week, someone suggested we build a list of the top 10 “coolest” workplaces. I asked her what constitutes “cool” and she described the usual gamut of X-boxes, awesomely-designed offices, office sleeping booths and other fun office gear.

Cool office toys are great, but does that make an office a great workplace? Imagine a super cool office where everyone hates each other’s guts, gossips unceasingly, plays dirty office politics and exudes constant tension and bitterness.

I would not want to work there. Just having great “hardware” doesn’t constitute a “cool” office. Great workplaces are much more than “cool” office spaces.

So, what makes a great office? To me, the best places to work are offices filled with people that care and having bosses that show concern to develop and challenge me to my full potential.

And so, I decided, instead of writing my usual Be a Leader article, I would compile a list of great workplaces that I have come across, focusing on the way they are growing talent.

A recent study amongst CEOs in Asia by The Conference Board claims that Asian CEOs believe human capital development is the No.1 issue facing Asian companies.

In fact, in Malaysia, the study states that the biggest issue facing CEOs is growing talent internally. Yet, little is written about companies that do a great job developing leaders.

So, here is my attempt to identify 10 workplaces that develop leaders.

Disclaimer: This is based on workplaces I have personally come across and have seen, so there may be other great places that I may be unaware of and may have not included in this list. Here goes:

1. Malakoff Corporation Bhd

Malakoff clearly stands out as a developer of leaders at all levels. For the past few years, since Zainal Abidin Jalil took over as CEO, Malakoff has invested deeply into leadership development.

Their investment starts at university level where Malakoff develops future leaders at the pre-hire stages. Their recently launched MUTAP programme accelerates university students and builds their leadership capability even before they graduate.

Once they are hired, there are various leadership programmes for all levels. And there are even global development roles overseas.

But the reason why Malakoff stands out amongst the pack is because it has a CEO who really cares. Zainal personally takes time to teach his employees leadership and really spends time with his employees, coaching and growing them.

Not many CEOs invest time really developing leaders. Zainal is a true role model. Malakoff even organises leadership camps for its employees’ children. Talk about really developing leaders at ALL levels!

2. Johnson & Johnson

I spent a few years working on a global role at Johnson & Johnson. As I travelled around the organisation, I learnt of its remarkable global entry-level programmes.

It has a specific programme for finance (FLDP), human resources (HRLPD), operations (GOLD), IT (ITLDP), procurement (PLDP) and a special international programme called IRDP that many graduates all over the world crave to enter.

On top of that, each business unit at Johnson & Johnson has its own entry-point leadership programmes like the marketing leadership programme (for their consumer business), the sales leadership programme (each business unit has its own version) and even a regulatory affairs leadership programme.

And most J&J leaders whom I have worked with have a deep and sincere desire to develop people.

3. Alliance Bank

Alliance Bank CEO Sng Seow Wah is another leader who is passionate about people development.

Alliance is not only committed to developing its employees through various leadership offerings but it recently began leadership development for “potential” customers.

The Alliance Bank BizSmart programme, although a competition, is rooted in helping develop entrepreneurs into great leaders.

You would be hard pressed to find banks committed to not only developing their employees but also their potential customers.

So, if you can’t get a job at Alliance, try taking part in their BizSmart competitions and BizSmart Academy for leadership development.

4. Sime Darby Bhd

A number of years ago, I was invited by the leaders at Sime Darby to be part of the process of developing a leadership development framework for their organisation.

I was extremely impressed by the devotion of many of their leaders in wanting to grow their talent.

One of the outcomes from the session was to create a mandatory leadership programme for all employees.

The programme, named CEP1, ensures that every employee gets some form of leadership development in the early part of their career followed by other opportunities as they progress in the organisation.

Many companies only invest in a select few. While Sime Darby has specific programmes for its high-potentials, its willingness to invest in leadership programmes for everyone has to be applauded and commended.

5. Shell

A few years ago, I spent many hours in a hospital having a long conversation with Datuk Seri Idris Jala on his career. His story of how he grew into a great leader was primarily driven by his “learning while doing” experiences at Shell.

At Shell, he was constantly rotated into new challenging assignments forcing him to learn and grow through the process.

Many global organisations have a leadership development rotational process in place. The difference is that Shell has a large set-up in Malaysia and can provide many rich experiences for Malaysians.

6. RHB

Like Sime Darby, RHB has a number of great development programmes for growing leaders. At the branch level, it has a number of branch manager leadership programmes to help ensure its branch leaders are developing their personal leadership and management ability.

But it doesn’t stop there for RHB. It has a series of leadership programmes called LDP which require participants to be pushed outside their zone of comfort.

This “push” development approach ensures that employees are not stagnant but are constantly innovating and leading at the cutting edge.

7. Johor Port Bhd

JPB makes it to my list because of its special long-term high potential employees accelerator programme called LAP.

This programme takes a select group of employees and provides monthly interventions, including live projects and experiential learning, forcing them to keep learning and growing constantly.

Upon graduating from this programme, these talents are then provided various other career development opportunities. And of course, all of its training programmes are conducted by the seaside in their amazing “oasis” location.


At DKSH, BATMan is loose. Well, BATMan is the specially customised leadership development programme that DKSH has unleashed on its employees.

This is a long-term development programme designed to ensure everyone becomes a “talented” super hero leader like Batman.

9. General Electric

OK, maybe I am biased here but I am grateful to GE for helping develop me as a leader (so it makes my list). And to be fair, it does have a decent track record of developing global leaders.

GE does a great job (at least when I was there!) to push specific high-potentials significantly out of their comfort zone constantly, accelerating growth and learning in the process.

10. TalentCorp

My list would be incomplete if I don’t include at least one “cool” government agency. TalentCorp gets my vote not because it has “cool” offices but because it too has a caring CEO in Johan Merican.

His team is focused on helping to develop Malaysian talent all over the globe, yet it also invests in the development of its own employees.

In spite of being a small agency, it has a talent programme for its high-potentials and it continually ensures leadership development internally is a key agenda for its teams.

TalentCorp edges out Pemandu who will be my other great government agency on my list (If I had space for more than 10).

So, there you have it, my list. I could add another dozen or so companies as there are some caring leaders out there. I do hope as you read this, you will realise that a key ingredient for an organisation to be a leadership engine is for the leadership team to really care about its employees’ growth and development.

Every company should be a place where employees that want to become great leaders have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

But remember, development is painful so employees must aspire to go through the pain of development.

So, go out there and make your company a great leadership engine. And remember to tell me about it, so I may be able to include it my list for next year.

Roshan Thiran is captivated by lists, even though they mean nothing. To debate with him about his selections (or to tell him about how great your workplace is), email him at mystarjob@leaderonomics.comClick here for more articles.

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Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at www.roshanthiran.com


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