Name: Shea Lih Goh
Title: President of Philip Morris Japan
Hometown: Kluang, Malaysia
Years in Japan: 1.5
With each passing day, more and more smokers are choosing heat-not-burn products over conventional cigarettes.
Philip Morris Japan, led by President Shea Lih Goh, is a major player in this changing landscape, and has captured significant regional market share, turning Japan into the most successful market for its flagship heat-not-burn products. The key to their success: an inclusive environment that embraces diversity and allows employees to unleash their creative potential.
“It’s a truly exciting time to be here in Japan, which is the leading market for our lineup of heated tobacco products,” said Goh — who became president in January of last year — at Philip Morris Japan’s headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Goh’s assignment in Japan marks the most recent chapter in her prolific career with the global tobacco manufacturer, which spans over 20 years and numerous assignments across Asia. Born and raised in Malaysia, Goh joined a Philip Morris affiliate in her home country in 1993 and since then has undertaken roles in Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Goh has long looked beyond national borders in search of knowledge, having completed her undergraduate education in Australia. She attributes this interest to a quality of Malaysian culture. “I think it has something do with my nationality,” Goh said. “In Malaysia, we aspire to learn from other countries, other people, other cultures.”
Goh also noted the encouragement she received from her supportive parents. “I come from a Chinese household, and for my parents, the most important thing was working hard and saving for the next generation. As such, my parents didn’t have the luxury of going overseas for university, and so they wanted me to experience more.”
Since arriving in Japan, Goh has been struck by the cities’ cleanliness and infrastructure, as well as Japanese employees’ work ethic and attention to detail. “I’ve been impressed by how well Japanese people collaborate and how respectful they are toward each other,” she said.
In her free time, Goh enjoys traveling, with Hokkaido and Kyoto among her favorite destinations in Japan. Despite its merits, however, Japan presents a unique linguistic challenge for Goh. “It’s my first time working in a country where I don’t understand the native language.”
Japan is the leading market for Philip Morris’ lineup of IQOS heat-not-burn products, and Goh explained the company’s success in the country may be bolstered, in part, by certain aspects of Japanese culture. “Every market is unique, but what makes this especially true with regards to Japan is that the culture is very concerned about not bothering others, which makes no combustion and similar features (of the products) resonate well with Japanese customers,” she said.
For Philip Morris, these qualities of the Japanese market make the country an attractive site to pursue their vision of a smoke-free future, a vision that entails eventually phasing out conventional cigarettes.
“For over a decade, we have been conducting research and development on reduced-risk products, and our immediate goal is to encourage consumers to convert from cigarettes to our IQOS lineup,” Goh said. “It’s a very exciting time. We are transforming from a traditional tobacco company to one focused on science and technology and realizing a smoke-free vision. This requires a lot of things to change within the company, including how we go about business and how we organize ourselves internally.”
In terms of organization, Philip Morris Japan embraces an inclusive working environment that distinguishes it from other companies in Japan. The company’s cosmopolitan workforce is comprised of employees of over 20 nationalities and features an abundance of young talent, with millennials accounting for around 40 percent of all employees.
Discussing the benefits of inclusiveness in the workplace, Goh said, “An inclusive environment where people can be open and share their ideas, regardless of hierarchy and background, really drives creativity and innovation. Millennials, in particular, are very familiar with technological trends, and this allows them to come up with great ideas.”
According to Goh, Philip Morris Japan’s inclusive work environment encourages young talent to take ownership of their work, spurring motivation that leads to individual growth. “Instead of just coming to work to complete some spreadsheets, or just do menial work, our employees feel that they are responsible for their own projects, which is important for young employees who want to contribute to the company while maintaining a degree of autonomy.”
As part of its emphasis on fostering an inclusive culture, the global tobacco manufacturer features open working spaces and a cafe to accommodate varied work styles. There is also a robust mentorship program to support new talent, and every Friday employees get to go home early as part of the company’s “half Friday” initiative to promote a healthy work-life balance.
Philip Morris Japan is also a champion of addressing the gender gap, as reflected by the equal-salary certifications it has received regionally and internationally. “We have narrowed the gap between the two genders to 0.4 percent,” said Goh, providing a sharp contrast with Japan’s 24.5 percent gap as of 2017.
Goh believes that, as part of the company’s vision for an inclusive work environment, the gender gap is where Philip Morris Japan can make the most impact in the short term. “As a company, we skew more toward men, but, interestingly, we have done a lot to bring new female employees to the company. Over the past five years, women recruits have increased from around 16 to 40 percent, and women currently account for 36 percent of senior leadership positions.”
She is also looking forward to continue learning over the course of her assignment. “I’m so happy that we are introducing reduced-risk products, because it forces me to relearn a lot of things, which is a humbling experience. It’s also great to learn from our newest talent, who are teaching us new things every day,” Goh said.
Fruitful career spans postings across Asia
Shea Lih Goh is president of Philip Morris Japan. Goh joined a Philip Morris affiliate in her home country of Malaysia in 1993 and since then has enjoyed a prolific career spanning several assignments across Asia. She obtained her Bachelor of Business from Australia’s Monash University, and her Master of Business Administration from the U.K.’s University of Hull. As president, Goh is thrilled by the challenges and opportunities that come with being in charge of the leading market for their IQOS heated tobacco devices.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.