What it does: Logistics, cold storage, recycling, mining
Staff stats: Around 130,000 globally and around 2200 in Australia and PNG
The good bits: Diverse experiences
The not so good bits: Regular relocations
The Swire story
As its name suggests, John Swire & Sons (commonly referred to as Swire) was created by John Swire. He set up a small import-export company in Liverpool, England in 1816. One of John’s two sons, confusingly also called John, set up a branch office in Melbourne in 1855. He then shipped goods, very profitably, between the (fast-growing) Australian colonies and the Mother Country.
A century before it was popular, John Jnr saw the potential of China. He used the profits from the Australia operation to push into the Far East. He set up business such as The China Navigation Co, which remains the deep-sea shipping arm of John Swire & Sons Ltd to this day.
Long story short, especially in the decades following WWII, the businesses diversified in ways neither John Swire could have imagined. It moved into industries such as aviation, beverages and food chain, energy and marine services. John Swire & Sons is now a holding group for a diverse group of businesses collectively known as the Swire Group.
Swire Group now boasts everything from a majority shareholding in Cathay Pacific, to the rights to bottle Coca-Cola throughout China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and part of the US, to an enormous portfolio of commercial, retail and residential properties across the globe.
Despite its success elsewhere, Swire has remained a keen interest in this part of the world. It’s launched business such as Swire Cold Storage (Australia’s largest national refrigeration and distribution group), bought up local road transport businesses such as Transwest Haulage and Kalari, gotten into agribusiness through its subsidiary Clyde Agriculture (though this was subsequently sold), acquired a majority shareholding in construction and demolition recycler Alex Fraser and, most recently, snapped up HSE, a mining service and large equipment rental business with offices in Perth and Brisbane.
Swire remains in family hands. It’s chaired by Barnaby Swire, who is estimated to be worth £2.15 billion. Its CEO is Merlin Swire, who is similarly well-heeled (or will be when he receives his inheritance). On the most recent figures available, the Australian businesses within the Swire group generate an after-tax profit in excess of $30 million.
Swire believes its staff are “the key to the current success and future sustainable development” of the conglomerate. It seeks to be an employer of choice. To achieve this, it provides employees with an environment that “promotes diversity and respect, fosters personal development, safeguards health and safety, offers equal opportunities and an appropriate work-life balance”.
Swire recognises it can only operate sustainably if the communities in which it operates are sustainable. In Australia, it partners with the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the National Trust. Swire also has an Employee Community Support Program. This encourages Australian staff, like their counterparts in other nations, to strengthen their local communities by contributing their time, expertise or money. Staff involved in charitable organisation or initiative can apply to have Swire donate to it.
The recruitment process
Perhaps because of its broad-ranging business interests, Swire is relaxed about the academic backgrounds of its Management Trainee Program applicants. That noted, it prefers solid performers, preferably ones who have completed an Honours year. You’ll also need to be self-motivated and possess excellent analytic and problem-solving abilities, as well as impressive communication and interpersonal skills. Grads are being groomed to become “highly capable” leaders of the business. So, you’ll need to demonstrate you have both promising leadership qualities and the ability to work well in teams. Finally, you’ll be expected to relocate every 12-18 months, so you need to be the type who can cope without that kind of lifestyle.
Applications for the grad program open in July but you can complete an online Expression of Interest form at any time. Swire doesn’t provide much public information about its recruitment methods. But those who’ve gone through it say it a longish but conventional process. One that involves online testing (both psychometric and of abilities in relation to logic, maths and the English language), a video interview, a Skype interview and a couple of face-to-face interviews.
If you are offered a position in its trainee program, Swire promises that you’ll “gain diverse experiences, have regular interaction with senior management and progress your career”. You’ll also have “access to a wide range of experienced professionals, and direct exposure to key decision makers [from the CEO down], so they can pass on their expertise and skills”.
The program involves three rotations. The first is in a head office learning about the how the business works. The second is in an operational role, where you’ll learn about customer relationship and workforce dynamics. The third and final rotation will see you shouldering direct operational leadership responsibility.
You can find yourself on assignment pretty much anywhere in Australia at any one of Swire’s Australian businesses for 12-18 months. (Consideration will be given to which business will best accelerate your professional development.) The assignments you’ll undertake are “generalist in nature”. When completing them you’ll be expected to add value “in areas which are new and unfamiliar”.
The program will allow you to “learn to cope with unexpected challenges in unfamiliar surroundings, gain exposure to an extraordinary range of business areas, and build a long-term but highly diverse career in general management”.
Information about Swire’s remuneration arrangements is scarce. However, previous management trainees say the salary is fair and sufficient to make sure trainees can live comfortably wherever they are deployed. Bonuses are not given but hard work is rewarded in other ways. All relocation costs are covered and you may have access to a company car in some locations. Benefits don’t appear to extend much beyond subsidised health costs and abundant free coffee.
Swire’s career development system, Swire Talent, is used by staff and their managers. Its key processes allow for “identifying and setting goals and competencies, providing performance feedback and identifying areas for development”.
Swire offers a range of career development opportunities “from external educational programs to on-the-job training and secondments”. The business aims to provide opportunities for staff to “advance and excel”. It also tries to “balance the business needs of the company with the career goals of our people”.
The vibe of the place
Swire takes pains to point out that only a certain type of individual is likely to be a good cultural fit. What type of individual? “If you’re interested in a diverse general management career, are looking for adventure, relish a challenge and enjoy the thought of living in interesting and diverse locations across Australia then you may be the right person for us and we might be the right place for you”.
Star Rating: 4.2 stars
From the Employer:
"Swire’s longstanding commitment to excellence, professionalism and integrity has driven our success for nearly 200 years – and it will be our driving force for the future.
That tradition is alive and well in our management trainee programme, which provides the brightest and boldest with a chance to shine. If you’re excited by adventure and the idea of pushing past your comfort zone, you could join a select group of graduates on our challenging and highly rewarding programme.in the Australian Group.
The Australian Swire group is a diversified business, spanning multiple industries including cold storage and logistics, specialist bulk logistics, recycling of construction and demolition waste (into civil construction materials), asphalt production and laying, mining services, mining equipment rental and industrial property.
We are committed to the sustainable development of our businesses and we take the long-term view – in relationships with our people, our partners and customers, the communities in which we operate, and in finding new ways to reduce the resources we use. Our history has been built on the strength of our people; we place great emphasis on their development.
About the Swire Australia Program
We are committed to developing talented young managers so they can grow into highly capable, mobile and flexible leaders of our Australian businesses. We know you can learn, so we focus on making sure you get more experiences, variety, exposure to senior management, and career support, to help you reach new heights and be more than you are today.
Assignments are generalist in nature and we expect you to add value in areas which are new and unfamiliar. Our experience shows us exposure to different industries and access to senior leadership builds outstanding management skills. We’ll support you with access to a wide range of experienced professionals, and direct exposure to key decision makers, so they can pass on their expertise and skills.
This means we can provide you with responsibility and diversity of experience and broad roles so you get to see the full scope of our Australian businesses.
We are looking for graduates from varied academic backgrounds (our current crop range from anthropology to law!) who are committed to their development and flexible and driven enough to seize opportunities.
To be considered for the graduate program, you will need to possess the following:
- A recent university degree, preferably with Honours. All disciplines welcome.
- Strong leadership potential and demonstrated ability to work in a team
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Strong analytical and problem solving abilities
- A high degree of self-motivation
- Flexibility and willingness to relocate for work within Australia
You’ll be expected to step up from day one, take responsibility and thrive on unexpected challenges in unfamiliar surroundings. Such an opportunity is not for everyone, but if you’re interested in a diverse general management career and excited by the thought of rotations in all areas of Australia, then you may be the right person for us and we might be the right place for you.
Together we can help you to get more, be more and go further than the average graduate."