In the spotlight: Jaya Singh, Mondelez
After nearly 25 years with Mondelez World Travel Retail and its predecessor companies, Jaya P. Singh can be counted among the most experienced confectionery marketing and sales executives in the world. Mondelez boasts a portfolio of all-time greats of the confectionery world, including Bassett’s, Cadbury, Côte d’Or, Dain, Milka, Oreo, Toblerone and Trident. Now Regional Director- Middle East and Asia Pacific based in Singapore, Singh is responsible for sales of these brands across a huge and disparate collection of markets from the emerging powerhouses of China and India to the microcosm that is Dubai. In May 2013, after four years on the Board of which two as Treasurer, he was elected President of APTRA and he embarked upon a programme of development characterised by ‘inclusivity’ and ‘member-led’. Here he outlines his past, present and his visions for the future of the Association.
Was there a logical education and career progression which led you to your current role with Mondelez Travel Retail in Asia? As a child did you dream of running a sweetie shop?
Never dreamed of that! I wanted to be the proverbial fireman as they say then went on to dreaming about being a world-class soccer player until reality knocked on my little door. As I got older and ‘wised up’, I had a growing desire to make a difference in what I would do, without knowing precisely what that would be. But wanting to make a difference was definitely there.
The logical step was to get ‘educated’. Then the question came: get educated where? Coming from a tiny island country like Singapore, I always knew that there was a much bigger and exciting world out there and I wanted to experience that. So, I ended up in the UK for both my undergraduate as well as postgraduate courses. At some point I ended up with our company now called Mondelez and in a role that keeps me experiencing and learning about that big exciting world. I’m truly blessed and I enjoy it tremendously.
What is the extent of your company’s reach within Asia Pacific and what is your role within it?
We have a pretty impressive presence and are in almost all countries in this fascinating region. We’re not just in the travel retail business but, as you would expect, have sizeable domestic presence with leadership positions. It’s a fortunate position to be in as I can then leverage the combined capabilities of our total organisation to really grow the business. My role is to drive continuously the aggressive growth agenda that we have not just in Asia but in the Middle East as well. The focus is on enlarging the category as well as the retail pie within which it sits. I engage with a broad scope of stakeholders in the business model in which we operate as well as Mondelez internally to achieve this. All that makes it really fun.
Professionally which have been your proudest moments?
There are many “continuing moments” as they say: developing people and building strong teams; seeing our brands achieve strong leadership positions; seeing our championing efforts for the travel retail business in this part of the world bearing fruit; being able to do this in an inclusive manner and being able to share this with people and teams; and above all – especially in APTRA – being able to listen to what members are saying, be relevant and ‘member-led’.
Which do you believe are the most urgent challenges facing the duty free & travel retail industry in Asia Pacific at this time?
Non-inclusive nor fully-informed unilateral regulatory as well as legal policies and positions that affect the incredible growth and value-add of our industry. I worry about political tensions and we have seen how this can damage businesses and what business creates. I am into shared wealth creation as it benefits a much broader spectrum of society and it is inclusive. These threats go against that.
What do you believe APTRA’s role must be in the light of such challenges?
Our mission is support our members in whichever context – threats and challenges – may appear. Advocacy is a long process and it can be months, if not years, before we see the light at the end of the tunnel. In order to be on top of situations we developed an ‘issues matrix’ for Asia Pacific, collating data from members, from our fellow associations, from news reports and government communiqués. APTRA works closely with its fellow associations, including ETRC, and now with the umbrella organisation the Duty Free World Council. By working with them and colleagues in the affected countries we hope to anticipate issues and prepare appropriate responses before they affect our core business. Presenting our case in a co-ordinated manner, as representatives of a responsible industry, gives us the best chance of a fair hearing and a positive outcome.
Could you please outline the principal components of APTRA’s armoury and explain how these will benefit members going forward?
APTRA has a membership of over 100 multinational companies – that is its most powerful asset – and it is growing all the time. To leverage that wealth of information, we have developed a comprehensive database to improve intra-regional communication. The APTRA Database can be searched by function and location, title and product category, and enables members to find exactly the right go-to people.
Secondly, APTRA maintains an Issues Matrix which, depending on the quality and frequency of input from members and other sources, helps us to track and where possible anticipate threats, issues and campaigns.
Thirdly, we are well advanced with our programme of regional industry research, which comprises product category focuses, airport insights, consumer behaviour analysis and so on for the information of members.
Finally I would mention the area which is most public and that is training; public because we hope to see a positive trickle-down effect on airport customer service. Our Responsible Retail Training Programme has already been rolled out in Singapore Changi and other retailers are in line to have the programme embedded in their sales training programmes.
How would you like the Association to develop in the next five years?
We started something based on the principles of awareness, relevance and inclusiveness. Uncompromising credibility and integrity. I think these foundations have limitless scope and if we continue to do that we can make a real difference. I see us getting even stronger in the next few years based on these enduring principles.
Are you optimistic about the industry’s future?
With a huge area of responsibility, a hectic agenda, and the Presidency of APTRA do you have any leisure time and, if so, how do you prefer to spend it?
Yes indeed. I enjoy spending time with my family. My wife Pat, son Nicolas and myself are a small very close family. We spend weekends at restaurants where we each take turns to choose. Avoids conflict as well! We talk a lot and talk honestly and that is an absolute joy. We love sharing our thoughts, what went on, etc etc. Family holiday time is always great. It’s all very precious considering that our son is now 21 years old. He leaves for university soon and that’s exciting for him. I’m sure there will be a few visits from the wife and myself J
Apart from that I enjoy the gym and run at least 3 times a week for about 45 minutes each time. And yes, there is always that “male bonding time“ with friends where the centrepiece is always a good bottle of Single Malt whisky… something that I truly enjoy.