International Women’s Day Special: Meet Salima Bekoeva, The First Woman Supply Chain Director At HEINEKEN Malaysia

Happy International Women’s Day! As we celebrate women everywhere, near and far, there’s nothing quite as motivating than hearing it from another woman who has stories to share. In conjunction with this International Women’s Day, Salima Bekoeva, the first woman Supply Chain Director of HEINEKEN Malaysia, shares her story with us.

About Salima, And Her Early Days At HEINEKEN

Salima Bekoeva is from Russia, and 50 years young this year. She has two sons, and enjoys practicing yoga daily. Having joined HEINEKEN in 2005 as an Internal Audit Manager at HEINEKEN Russia, Salima has been with HEINEKEN for more than 15 years, and HEINEKEN Malaysia for two years now. From her initial role as an Internal Audit Manager, Salima went on to tackle other roles such as Finance Manager, General Manager, and now, Supply Chain Director. Here’s her journey with HEINEKEN, which has launched her into an international career from Russia, Indonesia, and now, Malaysia.

Journeying Through HEINEKEN

You made a bold switch from Finance to Supply Chain. How did the move happen?

It’s all about yourself, but HEINEKEN has made it possible for me. In HEINEKEN, you can grow your career in any function so long you dream about it and work towards it. I moved to Supply Chain 10 years ago, and it was probably the biggest challenge that I took on in my career It’s not easy managing breweries regardless of their size, because we’re not just processes and systems. Supply Chain is also made up of a diverse team of people from all backgrounds. So there’s a need to balance between producing world-class beers, stout and ciders together with keeping your people inspired and motivated to do their best. While it has been challenging, I enjoy what I do. Ambitions come with their own challenges, so accept these challenges and tackle them head-on.

What were your early days in Supply Chain like? Were there people who treated you differently because you’re a woman? Have things changed over the years?

Once, a person with my background would not have had the chance to lead Supply Chain. But the world is changing, and so is HEINEKEN, to further embrace inclusion and diversity. When I first started in Supply Chain, I had the feeling that I was treated differently and I shared this feedback with my superior. However, in hindsight, I now believe that those were my own doubts. It can be common for us to form preconceived ideas, but it’s crucial that we work through them and destroy any stereotypes that other people, or even ourselves, have about us. As an individual, I have always been a person who constantly looks for new opportunities and asking for support. My superiors and the Human Resources department has always supported me, and I am grateful for that.

How has HEINEKEN Malaysia supported your career journey so far?

HEINEKEN Malaysia is a great company, and not just for our world-class brands, but also because we prioritise our people and their development. There are plans and programmes in place to help our people grown in their career and achieve fulfilment. The support system here is great, and my superior, peers and team members has helped me immensely in adapting to the local cultures initially, allowing for a better transition into my role. Whenever I require advice or feedback, they always provide me with honest input. Many may not realist this, but feedback is very crucial for career development as it highlights areas for improvement.

More On Supply Chain

What does a day in Supply Chain look like for you?

Each day starts with a debrief with my team, involving daily functions wrap up but prioritising those that are more critical for operations. I provide feedback during these sessions, as well as to motivate my team and make them smile. Frankly speaking, I have too many meetings, but I have a way of managing it: when I am overwhelmed, I go down to the shop floor to watch the production processes and to engage with people working there. I find this therapeutic because I enjoy connecting with people. I am also currently hosting two graduates from our Asia Pacific Graduate Programme, and I spend time mentoring them in weekly sessions. As a firm believer in personal development, I don’t forget to allocate me-time where I either do e-learning, watch videos, or read articles on a specific topic.

There are perceptions that Supply Chain especially that of the beer industry is men-dominated. Is this true? If yes, please share with us the challenges that women may face.

The brewing industry may be men-dominated but we’re changing the rules at HEINEKEN Malaysia. We actually have many women leading core functions at Supply Chain, from brewing and quality assurance to planning, customer service, and distributions. Perhaps the biggest challenge women may face whether in Supply Chain or elsewhere, is in balancing their private and work lives. Women are naturally multi-takers, yes, but it’s important for organisations to support them in the regard. By respecting their personal circumstances and empowering them to achieve work-life balance, we are helping women to achieve fulfilment–both at work and at home.

What do you love the most about your job?

Working with people. I enjoy being with people, talking to them, asking them questions, challenging them, driving their performance, as well as working together with them on their development. 

Salima’s Insights

What are some of the challenges that you face personally, and how do you tackle them?

I had a lot of personal doubts prior to the Supply Chain move. I didn’t think that I could do it since I had no technical background or skills such as engineering and brewing. Eventually, I listed out all the pros and cons of such move and decided to go ahead. My mentors were also a great source of comfort and encouragement, as I could call them whenever I needed advice. My team was also supportive in helping me learn and adapt, and now I am glad that I chose to challenge the norms, allowing me to embark on an exciting career journey all the way from Russia to Malaysia.

What career advice would you give to women who are looking to achieve success at work? 

Dare to dream, think big; take risks, only then can we change something in our lives; be yourself, stay true to yourself; work with people, respect others and help them when we are able; and develop a sense of humour, which will help in any challenge we face.

How do you #ChooseToChallenge?

The answer is in the question. To choose to challenge, the key word is “choose”. We need to make a conscious choice to accept the challenges and tackle it head-on. We cannot change the world if we don’t choose to do anything about it.  

Last But Not Least…

You are the first woman Supply Chain Director for HEINEKEN Malaysia. What legacy would you like to leave behind?

When I first joined HEINEKEN Malaysia, we had a company-wide sharing session. We received feedback from other functions, and one that stood out particularly to me was that people found Supply Chain’s processes to be old-fashioned. We have actually automated a lot of the processes at Supply Chain, so this remark gave us the insight as to the impression that people have of us. After lots of self-reflection and discussion with my team, we decided to build better branding for Supply Chain, identifying the key ingredients in doing so: honesty and openness in decision making, commitment in people development, continuous improvement of processes, and delivering results–these are what I would like to implement during my time here. 

All images courtesy of Salima Bekoeva.

While Salima Bekoeva may be the first woman Supply Chain Director in HEINEKEN Malaysia, we can safely assume that she will not be the last. Many thanks to Salima herself for her insightful responses, as well as to HEINEKEN Malaysia for making this possible, and for supporting women. We hope that this is a motivating piece, and once again, Happy International Women’s Day! You too, can #ChooseToChallenge!