Do you want to work for the Swire group? This UK-based company has many opportunities for people with many different disciplines. They also have many international operations, so if you’re interested in an international career, the Swire Group is a good choice. We will be analyzing how to work for the Swire Group, looking at the jobs their company is offering and possibly helping you pursue a future career with them.
The Swire Group is a UK-based company founded in 1816, with operations across Greater China and in a range of industries including agribusiness, aviation, trade, property and industry. Based in London and Hong Kong, Swire caught our eye with the professional, attractive way in which they promote their Internship Programme and Management Trainee Programme respectively, both appearing to be superb foundations for a Gen Y international career.
Particularly impressive is Swire’s catalogue of videos that delve into the lives and experiences of Gen Y employees across roles, sectors and locations. Read on for an overview of their experiences and some thoughts around how you might be able to apply yourself in a similar manner.
Before we dive in, let’s look at Swire’s business structure in a bit more detail. The group’s property interests cover Hong Kong, Greater China, the USA and the UK, among others, its portfolio encompassing retail and commercial property in addition to hotels and residences. Swire is also a prominent player in global aviation. Basing its operations from Hong Kong, it is involved with three airlines, as well as aircraft engineering and airport services.
But there’s more. Swire is a strategic partner of Coca Cola and is heavily involved in agribusiness, with top-of-the-range supply chain logistics capabilities. Swire-owned companies are present at many stages of the food chain, ranging from production to distribution via processing and transport. The latter ties in with wider interests in marine services, including ship engineering, the oil industry, trade and salvage and ship repair, dating from the mid-19th century. Finally, Swire’s trading and industrial arm involves managing major consumer brands as well as raw materials and manufacturing, most particularly in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Not your run-of-the-mill employer, it seems.
How can I work for the Swire Group?
i. Summer Internship Programme
Swire’s hands-on, highly selective summer internship programme is open to promising and talented students, angled specifically at combining skill development with flexibility and support. Swire’s interns have remarked that they are given a remarkable amount of responsibility early on and are provided with the training to identify and manage opportunities. Mentoring and ongoing feedback are essential to the course, and interns often receive a fast-track offer to join the Management Trainee programme in 2015.
Running from early July for 6-8 weeks depending on the projects in question, interns go through an initial induction process to acquaint them with Swire’s business – including its values, structure and long-term strategy. Following this, each intern is given a project-based posting at one of Swire’s operating companies in any of its business areas – Cathay Pacific or Swire Properties, for example – in Hong Kong or Greater China.
Let’s take a look at what previous Swire interns have to say:
Gary Chui undertook an internship in 2011 with the Corporate Risk Management Department at Cathay Pacific, grasping a shining opportunity to pursue his dream of working in the aviation industry and aiming to open the door to a subsequent traineeship. Given responsibility for designing a supply chain sustainability programme on his very first day, the internship demanded the ability to hone and combine skills quickly. Initially overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of the task in hand, Gary was nevertheless soon at home with Swire; he stresses that coworkers are always willing to advise and help. Unsurprisingly, he was able to fully deliver on the project and make a real difference to the company’s operations and longer-term strategy.
Primary takeaways from the programme were a broad range of management, relational and problem-solving skills picked up and developed over just seven weeks. Gary felt he was treated like a mature, capable adult within a work environment markedly different to most corporate outfits. By contrast, he also felt a strong chemistry develop within his team and collected plenty of memories outside working hours.
Most important, perhaps, is what happened next. Gary returned as a Management Trainee upon graduation, joining the Airline Planning Department and fulfilling a lifelong ambition. Currently working at Cathay Pacific’s head office in Tokyo, he is clear that the initial decision to work with Swire was a sound decision.
Kira Li interned with Swire Properties at approximately the same time. Following a brief orientation process in Hong Kong, she travelled to Taikoo Hui in Guangzhou to start working in a hands-on environment. Despite having no previous experience in property management, Kira became an integral part of the team rapidly, working closely with external partners and conducting site visits. She stresses that seven weeks may not be enough to decide firmly on a career path, but cites the mentoring scheme designed to aid such decision-making as one of the internship’s principal strengths.
Thanks to the variety of opportunities on offer at Swire, Kira was able to experiment with different industries once she joined the Management Trainee Programme; seven months at FIAT were followed by a project with Volvo’s coach business in Hong Kong. Working on multiple stages of the business process, she embarked on a steep learning curve almost immediately. The experience encouraged (rather than suppressing) entrepreneurial thought, along with honing her ability to allocate scarce real and financial resources and work with stakeholders at every level of the business chain.
Kira is clear that working with Swire will never be easy, and will occasionally be highly demanding – yet she is equally certain that the outcome is beneficial for both parties. Swire’s unique ability to enable you to work in an industry or business you are passionate about was a key determinant in Kira’s decision to build an (on-going) long-term career with the company.
ii. Management Trainee Programme
Swire’s head office in London recruits a handful of top-class graduates each year to embark on a career abroad. Though demanding and often requiring short-notice mobility across the globe, the House Staff and Group Staff programmes appear ideal for young, adventurous Gen Y graduates looking to combine travel with peerless professional development opportunities.
After an initial 1-2 year secondment to a Swire-run subsidiary, subsequent assignments tend to last longer as the trainee becomes more senior and can involve any of Swire’s diverse business arms across any of the countries in which it is operational. Singapore; Dubai; Port Moresby; Hefei; Douala. Who would turn any of those down? Swire’s own material makes it very clear that programme trainees be expected to cope with unfamiliar situations and unexpected difficulties form the word go. Comfort zone material it is not. Exposure to such challenges, however, is often exactly the impulse needed to strengthen management skills across the board. Previous trainees’ experiences certainly appear to bear this out.
Following an induction at Swire’s Hong Kong hub, Jamie Morrison was given a position selling Coca-Cola in China, where he was promptly made responsible for over 200 accounts in the city of Xiamen despite being very inexperienced in the industry. He found it difficult to begin with, particularly given the monthly sales targets and linguistic and cultural barriers, but within weeks was navigating aspects of local culture and commerce rarely experienced by the so-called ‘outsiders’. He cites the support on offer as outstanding and on reflection is glad to have had a baptism of fire – being in the metaphorical firing line gave him invaluable knowledge and experience.
A six-month stint as a salesman was followed by rotations through other departments at the Xiamen office, then a transfer to Coca-Cola in Hong Kong. Again, the experience was challenging, but notably less so given Jamie’s previous position – what’s more, he was able to adapt to a different market and become more involved in strategic and operational decisions at a regional level.As Jamie’s career with Swire develops, he expects to be moving around frequently to both high-end and underdeveloped locations – not for everyone, certainly, but an adventure nonetheless. Jamie now works with teams as far afield as Cameroon and Micronesia.
Sophie Swingewood embarked on the same programme, but was instead seconded to Swire’s trading and industrial division. Her first year was spent rotating through each department, building a picture of key processes at the front and back ends of the retail business. Her work with the Business Development team opened the door to working in China for three months, after which she returned to bring major new brands to market – including well-known retailer Cath Kidston.
Sophie echoes Gary and Jamie in highlighting the importance given to career development through first-hand experience. Initially surprised and slightly terrified by working with top management, she quickly adapted to the demanding environment and felt able to take her own initiative and pursue new projects independently. Again, compatibility with Swire’s values is essential – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (or chai, indeed). Giving 100% is expected of everyone, at every level.
Now working in Hong Kong, Sophie regularly converses in different languages and enjoys a great work-life balance, enabling her to pursue personal development alongside her career goals. Swire, she says, is best for those looking to travel and gain experience of various global industries.
So What’s the Catch?
To get a look behind Swire’s own, decidedly polished testimonials, we took a look at its appearances on career review site Glassdoor. Several previous interns were good enough to share their insights into life at the company.
In general, Swire’s summer interns’ experiences were highly positive and reflect the points made above – heavy responsibility early on and a very steep (yet structured) learning curve, appears in every review. Strong support to interns from colleagues across the board, and a great work environment, feature prominently as well. Swire’s prestige in Hong Kong, optimism about the company’s future prospects and the diversity of its operations also appear to bolster interns’ experiences.
So what are the downsides? Well, very few interns are offered positions as Management Trainees and several interns felt as result that their opportunities with the firm were limited. One intern suggests that the career path following the internship was not made clear and some Swire-owned companies were weaker than others in terms of career development. Decision-making was criticised as conservative and salary as slightly below the industry average.
Given Swire’s extraordinary diversity, it strikes us that the decision-making culture may well be slow, but for legitimate reasons involving the group’s overall strategy. From our perspective, it doesn’t strike us as surprising that Trainee selection is competitive either. Nor will you earn as much at Swire as you would at a top-tier investment bank. But as Jamie, Sophie and the others stress, a career with Swire is qualitatively different on a host of different levels which will – of course – not be to everyone’s liking.
Why Do I Care?
Despite the rise of globalisation, round-the-world trade and 24-hour business, young people are struggling with today’s job market. The opportunities are out there, certainly; but all too often, young professionals are unable to travel, to experience different cultures and to have a say in the future of global connections.
We’ll finish with why Career Hack thinks Swire might provide you with a genuine shot at capturing that elusive competitive edge, the key to getting the job market working for you (rather than the other way around). Swire is almost unique in its ability to place promising graduates like you in positions across the globe that will differentiate you from the masses. It’s not what you can do that’s important: it’s what everyone else can’t do, and that’s the big decider for us here. Working with Swire may just help you to develop those skills and experiences you are unlikely to find anywhere else, whether you remain with the company or not.
If you like what you’ve read and are in a position to join one of Swire’s programmes, from our perspective, it’s a no brainer. What do you think? We’d be delighted to hear your views – just drop us a comment below.