Jana Makarem: Exhibiting a Staunch Leadership Acumen

Jana Makarem | Director of HR | Union Trading Company
Jana Makarem | Director of HR | Union Trading Company

Transcending into various roles and backgrounds while gaining extensive expertise and experience and becoming a transformative leader with many immersive strategies, Jana Makarem joined Union Trading Company as Head of HR and Admin. She was also overseeing the Legal and Logistics department. Jana is part of the executive committee reporting to the CEO.

UTC has been around since 1949 and has two major lines of business; one is retail and the other is wholesale distribution. UTC has a large, diversified portfolio of brands such as General for ACs; Glem Gas under home appliances; Hanes, Jockey, Gildan, fruit of the loom, Wrangler, and Lee in Apparel; Vileda and prestige under FMCG; Braun kitchen wear and a lot more. It currently has over 650 active employees and is still growing.

The journey of getting into the HR industry sparked when Jana’s first official HR-related job was with AMK (Al Khorafi National Group). She joined the company in June 2004, right after she graduated from university. Jana’s job was in project management, and she was tasked with recruiting certain roles for a project. At that moment, Jana realized she needed to shift her career to Human Resources.

Today, Jana spearheads the personnel, admin, and legal department as the Director of HR. She climbed up the ranks within the HR division across various companies and eventually joined UTC in September 2019.

As a business leader, Jana shares valuable facts highlighting her leadership role at UTC and the changes she has been implementing to drive organizational improvement.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Tell us more about your company and its mission and vision; how does it thrive towards enabling advancements in the dynamic business arena?

UTC’s mission and vision haven’t changed since it was founded in 1949. The mission is “To provide our customers with top quality products and widest variety of day-to-day goods”;  to this date, our motto is to get the best quality products with affordable prices so we can reach the largest group of people.

The Vision is “To uphold our longstanding legacy as a leading retailer and distributor, with full dedication to our partners and customers.”

UTC was founded by two entrepreneurs: Late Mr. Abdulrazzaq Razzouqi and Late Mr. Daniel Hasso. The descendants of the two families still own the company. I joined in 2019 after the 3rd generation descendants were elected as the new Board of Directors, and they had a mission to uplift the company to meet the new era of business.

We have worked relentlessly with the top management to make innovation a core value. We have hired qualified personnel bringing different expertise and perspectives to the company.

We have implemented an employee recognition system where hard-working personnel are being recognized by management: fully supported teamwork and innovative ideas. We have revamped the processes and workflow and introduced a new ERP system.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted the niche through your expertise in the market.

There have been a lot of changes that have developed since I joined UTC. I had a cultural shock when I joined the company in September 2019. Each department acted as the sole entity reporting to the CEO, with no connections between them. The office had high compartments separating the departments and employees. Some employees have worked together in the company for more than 20 years and don’t know one another.

The first thing I did when I joined was, I removed the high partitions and made an open workspace, and have all the departments sit together.

We started a weekly community get-together, where each department discusses its recent news, and all employees share a bite. This was to promote communication and allow the employees to be informed and involved in the operation. We have developed policies and procedures that align with the Kuwait Labor law.

Gathered employee information and developed a non-existing master sheet. Developed excel sheets with macros to calculate the payroll, leaves, and indemnities. Developed appraisal process and personal development plans for employees. Developed business strategies to keep going through lockdown without having to terminate any employees, which resulted in closing the year with growth.  Negotiated rent contracts in the past 3 years, saving the company 700K.

Negotiated supplier contracts for legal and commercial terms and set a threshold for future dealings. Restructured the shop’s staff capacity based on each shop’s location, size, sales and footfall, improved shop efficiency, and increased sales by 15%. Enhanced and implemented new inventory policies that reduced merchandise error by 30%. Restructured the commission plan to be paid on revenue rather than sales and saved a margin of 12% for the company.

Transformed previously unstructured, underperforming departments into cost-efficient, highly utilized entities and showed up to 42% improvement in services according to the corporate performance management systems.

What fundamentals do you implement to drive betterment within your organization’s work culture?

  • Being Transparent as a Leader. Being honest with employees and meeting them at the same level develops trust and a strong bond between the employee and manager.
  • Eliminating the toxic environment; providing a culture where the employees are comfortable to be themselves and thrive. (Flexibility of work schedule, working remotely, etc.)
  • Frequent coaching and mentoring
  • Recognize an individual’s contribution and give credit.
  • Communication is the key. Communicating expectations regularly.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

There are 5 values that Union Trading company that are most essential and sought after:

  • Respect: we value all employees and treat them with respect. We have employees with a tenure of over 30 years; thus, they are treated as family members.
  • Integrity: I stress this value because it is the most important. We, as a company, builds trust with suppliers and customers by always fulfilling promises and being honest. UTC has built its reputation of being what it is through responsible actions and honest relationships.
  • Quality: Union Trading Company relies on giving the best quality products and services to our internal and external customers. It is part of the company’s mission statement.
  • Teamwork is a recent core value adopted in UTC; the management believes that success comes from all departments working efficiently together to achieve the goals.
  • Customer Commitment: we aim to increase consumer satisfaction, build long-term relationships, and ensure clients become repeat buyers, and recommend the brand to their friends.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for your company?

I want to grow a bit out of the HR role into general management or operations. In the past 3 years and a half, I had the opportunity to be directly involved in operations, and I loved it and excelled at it. My goal for the company is to remain the best workplace, where employees are empowered and trusted in their job and recognized for hard work.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the dynamic business arena?

I advise taking care of your human assets because they are the reason for success in any organization.