We are united by our mission for a smoke-free future
Charles Bendotti has enjoyed a career spanning more than 20 years at Philip Morris International (PMI), living all over the world, fulfilling cross-functional roles, and developing the company in global and varied markets. Now part of the senior management team, he is leading the company as it undertakes its historic transformation to “Unsmoke the World” by replacing cigarettes with smoke-free products.
As SVP of People & Culture, Charles is responsible for galvanizing PMI’s 77,000 workforce to upskill themselves and adopt new ways of working, co-creating new solutions and processes, and attracting new talent for tomorrow’s business needs.
He is a committed ally who has been included on the OUTstanding Ally Executives Role Model lists in 2020 and 2021 compiled by INvolve and Yahoo Finance.
In post-pandemic times professional communities have turned into an even more important part of our lives—we appreciate more the people we spend most of our time with—our colleagues and the environment we work in. How has that affected Philip Morris International across the globe—and is it different from country to country?
The profound impact of the pandemic on our lives and work has emphasized how important it is for organizations to infuse and sustain a “people first” ethos into their cultural fabric. At PMI, where putting people first has always been our priority, we were quick to set out guiding principles from the early days of the pandemic that reaffirmed our commitment to protecting the health, safety, and well-being of our employees. This people-focused mindset, coupled with our strong shared vision of delivering a smoke-free future, is what has consistently helped us to maintain strong employee engagement, despite the turbulence brought on by external factors.
The COVID-19 lockdowns in many countries have also reinforced to us that remote work is possible—and with that, the days of “presence equals performance” are truly over. It’s clear to me that how we work has fundamentally changed, with more remote, flexible ways of working now becoming the norm. But beyond the flexible working environment, the pandemic has also triggered new workplace cultures—cultures founded on greater compassion, kindness, and trust, both in our behaviors and our communications.
We should also recognize that the pandemic has brought the added responsibilities and daily pressures of our colleagues’ lives into focus—placing mental health and well-being at the top of everyone’s agenda. At PMI, we have dedicated health and well-being committees in 60 of our markets, and, in the majority of our markets, we have deployed well-being-related interventions and benefits. For example, our affiliate in Vietnam launched Vibe, a locally led well-being initiative centered on helping employees connect via shared interests and encourage one another to look after their well-being. Meanwhile, in the U.K., our affiliate launched a network of well-being ambassadors, composed of employees trained in mental health first aid. These and other initiatives are central to creating and nurturing a working culture that enables our people to thrive, both professionally and personally.
I want to be optimistic that the world will not be called to face another pandemic crisis of this magnitude in the near future, but I do believe that this shared experience of the last three years has confirmed the need to future-proof organizations and their operations in completely new ways. Organizations that foster a future-focused mindset and are committed to helping their people build resilience and agility will surely emerge stronger, ready for whatever lies ahead.
How does remote work benefit and harm an organization? Are there more advantages than disadvantages?
Maintaining a happy and healthy workplace is key to employee engagement, productivity, satisfaction, and retention. I firmly believe that when people feel good, they are likely to contribute more to their families, their work, and society. And that is the principle we follow at PMI.
In our organization, we are committed to promoting an environment that supports employee well-being as an enabler of professional and personal fulfillment, sustainable high performance, and business results. Drawing on the experiences and changed expectations of employees during the pandemic, we have developed a global plan that adopts the concept of hybrid work (remote and office-based)—we call it “Smart Work.” The program is deployed and adjusted locally to account for cultural, operational, tax, and legal implications, which vary at the national level. As of 2021, we began to deploy Smart Work in markets where COVID-19 was receding and where local circumstances allowed it. Looking ahead, we plan to develop tailored arrangements for non-office-based employees, such as our factory and sales workforces.
What are the most important values that Philip Morris International cherishes as a global organization?
Trust, collaboration, and integrity are the core values that embody our commitment to society, our shareholders, our business partners, and our colleagues. They guide us as individuals and collectively as a company. Equally important is our strong sense of purpose. Our success as a company relies on all our people who come to work every day with a passion to achieve and a willingness to learn, grow, and take on new challenges. This is the winning culture of PMI, our shared DNA, which never ceases to energize and motivate me.
We are disrupting our own business and industry to deliver a smoke-free future. Never before has a company of our size and scale undergone such a dramatic paradigm shift. What is clear however, is that companies don’t transform themselves. People do it. And my job, and the job of my team at PMI, is to protect and enhance the working environment—which basically means protecting people. Our ambition is to be an employer of choice, fostering an inclusive culture wherever we operate in the world. This means ensuring that our employees experience fair working conditions, opportunities to develop skills and boost their employability, and a workplace that protects and promotes their health, safety, and well-being.
You’re the executive sponsor of STRIPES GLOBAL—Philip Morris International’s employee resource group for LGBTQ+ community members and allies. What motivated you to sponsor the group?
When I was young, my mother told me: “Never assume what others want or need—ask them.” Though a passing comment, her words left an indelible impression and have continued to echo throughout my personal and professional life as I make choices about who I am and how I lead. In addition, throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to live and work in many parts of the world—from Buenos Aires to Brasilia, Cairo to Kyoto, and Quito to Quebec—picking up a greater understanding of diverse cultures and communities along the way. It is this combination of experiences that has prepared me to be an ally.
Living as an “outsider”—however welcomed—taught me to listen, ask, and reach out to others to help foster a more inclusive, supportive, and welcoming world for everyone—in the workplace and in society generally—regardless of background, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or any other dimension of identity. This is why creating and nurturing a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, which faces persistent challenges, is very important for me. I respect and celebrate people’s courage to come out, their resilience in the face of having to do it over and over, and their strength when they can’t be their authentic self in a particular space. As leaders and allies, we too need to embrace our role every day.
How do you see your role as a role model in the organization? What is the role of business leaders in general to serve as an example and drive conversation around important topics?
For me personally, creating an inclusive work environment is one of my top priorities, and I remain as committed as ever to listening to and learning from all members of our organization with an open mind and heart. I think business leaders around the world have a tremendous potential to foster an important dialogue around relevant topics between employees, and their openness and commitment should serve as a model for the rest of organization.
If we can remember that our success depends first and foremost on the people in our business, our mission in HR becomes clear and simple—take care of your people and their families, give them a purpose in their work, and encourage them along the way so that they can be successful.
The material is published with the support of Philip Morris Bulgaria.