That was the key message that a group of six postgraduate and MBA students heard earlier this month from Eddy Pirard, JTI’s Executive Vice President, Business Development, Corporate Affairs and Corporate Communications. The students, drawn from elite business schools across Europe, were meeting Eddy as part of the HiPolink, ‘Walk in my Shoes’ program – an organization that connects high-potential students with large businesses.
Following the making of a video about JTI that was then posted on the HiPolink website, students at each business school – IMD, London Business School, EDHEC, ICHEC, HEC Lausanne and HEC Liège, Eddy’s own alma mater – were invited to submit three questions to the Company. Five women and one man – one student from each school – were then selected to meet Eddy and put their winning questions in person.
The wide-ranging questions included the secrets of JTI’s success over the past 15 years, the increasing threat posed by regulation, and the opportunities for e-cigarettes. The students were also keen to know how JTI operates within the industry, how the Company is different to its competitors and how it deals with some of the external restrictions placed upon it.
In response, Eddy was bluntly open about the challenging nature of working in this field. “We are a controversial industry, by any stretch of the imagination – and they knew that,” he said afterwards.
He was equally unequivocal about the regulatory issues facing the industry. “Governments have to govern and we abide by their decisions. But we feel that our voice should be heard and we will defend our rights as a legitimate business when we feel that regulations are disproportionate and unjustified,” he said.
He was keen also to emphasize the special skills and outlook that are required to work for an industry leader like JTI. “I started by saying: “You will make mistakes – and that’s OK!” Not everyone is born with a straight line to the top. There are many different ways people can be happy, many different ways people can find satisfaction through their job, but it’s important that the job is more than just the paycheck. I reinforced the message that a career is a long journey, and life is short. Enjoy it!”
He spoke too about the unique DNA that makes JTI different: the importance of the principle behind JT’s 4S model – responding not only to the needs of the client base and shareholders, but also to employees and society at large – its long-term view, a philosophy of continuous improvement and how the Company’s brands respond to changing consumer needs.
Asked about his own leadership style, he reflected for a moment. “People think I’m an extrovert, I think I’m an introvert,” he said. “Whatever’s true, one thing is for certain: I have a real passion for what I do – it’s what gets me up in the morning and it’s what motivates me every day.”
The students were clearly impressed with what they saw and heard. One commented: “I learnt a lot about his leadership style and how JTI deals with different regional cultures and challenges.”
Another was impressed that: “He shared his career path…his experience, his emotions, dreams, and expectations. I think I have observed some of the things that I will have to take into account for the future.”
A third added that she was: “Surprised by his willingness to answer any question that we had, and by the frankness of his replies. It certainly reflected the openness of the company.”
“I was very inspired,” said a fourth student. Asked if she would consider joining JTI, she replied, simply: “In an instant.”