The Executive Seat explores human resource issues, corporate management and hiring.

This week, Rachael Boon speaks to Pwee Bun Min, head of human resources at Jurong Aromatics Corporation.

AS THE new kid on the block, Jurong Aromatics Corporation (JAC) needed the right HR strategies and policies to attract talent.

The privately held firm that makes aromatics and oil products has an upcoming plant on Jurong Island that will produce 1.5 million tonnes of aromatics and 2.5 million tonnes of transportation fuel a year.

Mr Pwee Bun Min, 41, JAC's HR head, decided to appeal to potential staff by promoting the idea that working at a start-up would be an attractive job experience.

His efforts paid off, with headcount growing from 45 employees in 2011 to 220 today. Mr Pwee, who has 18 years of experience in HR, honed his craft in major companies such as Chevron Oronite and Nokia Siemens Networks. What drew you to HR?

I was thinking of a career when I was in university, and I talked to my older sister, a HR professional, to find out more. She said she liaises with people, helps them address issues and I thought it sounded interesting. I'm an extrovert and like talking to and interacting with people, so I thought it'd be the career for me.

How did your people skills come in handy in life?

I was in the National Police Cadet Corps in secondary school and was the best unit cadet. In my pre-university days, I was a co-opted councillor. The tutor said my classmates picked me for that role, and I was involved in programmes like orientation.

In the army, I was also selected to be an officer and was the second person in-charge of the company.

During my reservist stint, I was assigned to the applied behavioural sciences department. It was a unit run by psychologists, where they assess recruits to see if they are suitable for officer cadet school, for example.

There I was, as an officer assessor, trying to see if recruits could be future leaders and subsequently, I was promoted to captain and lead assessor, which is very much like my job today.

You've had 18 years experience, with time at Chevron Oronite from 1998 to 2007. How did that shape your HR career?

That was probably a changing point in my career. It's a huge American multinational and an established player in the energy sector. You are exposed to how a multinational functions and to good HR practices; how they roll out programmes and policies.

I was given the opportunity to revamp the recruitment selection process to make it more robust.

We (as a team) added things such as a behavioural structured interview process, where you're trying to understand a person's past behaviours. That's the best indicator of how a person would behave in any circumstance, as all of us are creatures of habit.

We also introduced things like computer-based simulation training to assess a person in competencies like multitasking and to see how a person reacts under stress.

For example, the operation technician needs to address issues that pop up on the console or computer screen that shows different parts of the plant.

What have you brought to JAC as its HR head?

JAC is a new greenfield start-up so we didn't have a parent company to pass down corporate policies.

I brought the knowledge that I have from being in Chevron and Nokia Siemens to explore what policies are suitable for this company, and how to partner the business in running the company.

HR has evolved from being the personnel department that just does the payroll, to doing consulting work. You have to understand the business and how to support it with solutions.

What is your strategy for JAC?

It needs to be aligned with the company's strategy. One of our goals in 2011 was to start up the facility this year and we needed to hire talent to support this.

We understand the labour market conditions of this industry, which is very tight as every company is vying for the same pool of people. So we defined and established a very strong compensation philosophy and benefits structure. With this attractive package, we can hire the right people to support the company's growth.

For example, the leave system is a bit different. We take into account your past working experiences even if it's not relevant to the company and give you a higher leave entitlement. Why should we discount a person's career when they've worked for so long?

We also offer comprehensive medical insurance coverage, not just for the employee, which is common, but also for the immediate family members. Coverage is at no cost to the employee.

I've an employee with seven kids, and he was very happy when we told him.

And it may be simple, but we provide lunch for our staff at the plant every day, including the weekend. These are some of the things we do because we are focused on people.

How do you hire? We were thinking how to attract people in such a way that they would even want to send their resume to us, because we're a new company, unlike a multinational.

We are a greenfield start-up, and what that means is that we're building a plant from scratch.

Not many people have this experience, and to have such an experience is valuable. You're going to be pioneers of the company, you will know what you need to do to set up a company, its processes and see the plant coming to completion.

So we decided to focus on that and broadcast messages with words like "pioneer" to indicate that people who join us are going to be pioneers of a greenfield start-up, through full-page colour job ads and media interviews.

I was surprised by the number of applicants as we are not a big company and it showed our strategy worked, because many told us they wanted to be in a start-up. CHANGING ROLE HR has evolved from being the personnel department that just does the payroll, to doing consulting work. You have to understand the business and how to support it with solutions. - Mr Pwee Bun Min