Tobacco company Philip Morris aims for 'a smoke-free future'
“A smoke-free future” might sound like the most unlikely campaign phrase to come from a cigarette company, but that is the initiative pursued by Philip Morris as the world’s largest tobacco group is transitioning toward heat-not-burn cigarettes from traditional tobacco products.
The multinational company based in Switzerland aims to reach its target of 50 percent sales from heat-not-burn products like IQOS, doubling from 30 percent as of the second quarter of this year.
It encourages smokers to switch to the new type of cigarette since it comes with reduced health risks compared to traditional tobacco products, a claim still countered by health authorities in some countries including Korea.
The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Praveen Upadhyay, the director of the People & Culture division at Philip Morris Korea, to discuss the transformation under way at the Korean office of the cigarette giant and the company’s effort to deliver its message to the Korean regulator.
Below are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q. The transition [to heat-not-burn cigarettes] must be a big change within the company. How did you communicate with employees here in regards to that transition?
A. This is an extremely critical element of our transformation journey. It’s all about ensuring that we communicate to our employees in a tailored approach whereby we ensure that we have the right message, delivered to the right audience, via the right channels at the right time, on an ongoing basis. It all started with the management team coming together and clearly articulating “what transformation means for Korean business and employees” and “why we have to do this.” This was then also translated into what this means for the overall organization in terms of both long term and annual business goals and the “behaviors” that we need to focus upon. To give you an example for 2021, we focused on collaboration for performance. This then got translated into individual objectives both on the “what” and “how” aspects. In doing so, we introduced a set of communication platforms to better convey our message.
In regards to the health effects of heated tobacco products, what the Korean government claims is different from what Phillip Morris International claims. I think educating the employees should be based on science and data. Could you specifically detail the training process related to the product and its health effects?
You're absolutely right. I think what we share is a lot of scientific studies. We have got various different platforms. One is the online platform where a lot of educational materials are there and again these go through a very robust sort of design and control process. It's also part of the orientation that people have to go through depending on the function that they are in. We have got a team within our External Affairs function and the Scientific Engagement team which helps to educate not only our internal employees but also externally on the science part of it. These are all materials that we get from our colleagues in the Operations Center based in Switzerland and they're all backed with scientific studies. On the science, there will be different interpretations by different people but to our employees we make sure that through both online and offline sessions and functional deep dives, we provide education on an ongoing basis.
Did the smoke-free future vision also change the way the company hires new talents?
Given new capabilities were required and the urgency, we hired a lot of talent at mid and senior levels to bring in the new required skill sets. Prior to this our key talent acquisition focus was mainly at entry and junior levels, who then build from within to take up bigger and broader roles. We also started to focus on functional and technical skill sets and the new set of leadership behaviors that we would like to drive within the organization to realize the “smoke-free future” vision. This also required having the right assessments in place as part of screening and selecting external talents.
Tobacco is a heavily regulated industry, so communication with the government is also key. The government's understanding based on the outcome that they released around 2018 was fairly cautious and negative. Do you regularly engage with government officials?
We have our External Affairs team and those team members at the different platforms within our legal framework help to share our views on the new category. It's all based on science and we try to produce as much science as possible and let the relevant authorities to do their own assessments. I think the key one is that we were very transparent and very open to sharing our scientific findings.
BY PARK EUN-JEE [email@example.com]