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“It is all about mutual respect and celebrating the differences while working together towards the same goal”

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In our Diversity@NORMA series, we highlight the diversity of employees who work at NORMA Group. In 2022, the focus is on the different cultures at NORMA Group. Colleagues from a variety of departments and countries provide insights into their culture, the countries, and cultures they worked for, if and how the intercultural exchanges influence their work and personal life.

Mark Burnett is the Global Director of Manufacturing Engineering, Water Division, in California and has previously worked in the United Kingdom and Malaysia. In the interview, he talks about how music, food and sport are the three things that bring people together and how we are all different and similar!

Mark, could you tell us a bit about your journey to your current position and location?

I began working with NORMA Group seven years ago in the UK. I spent three years at NORMA UK, in Newbury. I then took on the opportunity to work with NDS in the Americas region for a year. I later went to Malaysia to understand and work on some operational and financial issues there; initially I was there for two months – during which we identified and created improvement action plans for the team. I was then asked if I would go back for another year to implement the actions with the Malaysian and APAC team. Through some internal restructuring, I ended up in my current role here in California.

You have been with NORMA Group for about a decade now. What makes your association such a strong one?

I believe it is the diversity of the challenge that drives me. Every region and facility have got their own challenges. Understanding that our plants and facilities are not alone and part of a big group where they can get expert support, leverage different ideas and so on really does make a difference.

How were the different working styles across the countries you have worked in?

There is slight difference in the way we work due to the country we work in. I have the feeling that regardless of the region and irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, religion, caste, color, all people have the same goals and want to do a good job and positive things for NORMA Group. Whether it is individual in a small way of working or going towards the bigger financial goals together and making sure that we give our customers and employees complete satisfaction.

In the last five years, one can even see how our plants worldwide all are starting to look the same, in terms of plant standards and work wear, giving the sense of belonging to a bigger team and group.

Did working in different geographical and cultural regions affect your working style?

I would say that my working style has not been affected so much. It could be because of the way I am dealing with people – trying to understand a different culture and the diversities present. Most of us enjoy music, good food and/or talking about sport when we come together. For example, our Indian colleagues like to talk about cricket, in the US its American football or baseball, in Malaysia, Europe and in the UK its Soccer. When we celebrate a social event in any of the regions, the conversations and requests are about food, music, and sport. So, when we talk about culture and diversity, I would come back to these three things regardless of where I am working.

Do you think having people of diverse groups on a team and in a company helps?

Most definitely. NORMA UK has around 29 different nationalities. It was an incredible experience working with people from 29 different cultures and languages in one facility. Doing an exercise with such a group of people brings in a range of perspectives and ideas to improve what we are doing.  Even in India and Malaysia, we work towards the same goal with various thoughts and concepts. The different leadership and working styles are challenging but fantastic. Here at our site in California, we have people from all over the world, for example, I have colleagues from Brazil, Lebanon, Mexico, India, and Colombia – just to mention a few.

How long did it take you to get accustomed to the ways of a new country? Is there something you did to help make the transition easy?

It would take a few weeks to understand the differences from country to country. It was a big learning curve for me as well as for the people I work(ed) with. Later, the interactions come naturally. We need to understand that every single person has got some value to add to everything that we do.

It was relatively easy for me because I consider people-skills are one of my strong points and my biggest love after my family is sport. Sport is an easy conversation starter. It makes my interactions easier anywhere in the world. In Malaysia, I supported the local soccer team. Many people from the local community and the Malaysia Plant also supported the same team, even though we are from completely different backgrounds, we would come together on a Saturday afternoon, with a beer, a chat, local Malay food and support our local soccer team.

Is there a highlight or an occasion that you would like to share with us?

Couple of interesting things, every work event we celebrate it comes back to the same three topics (of music, food, sport) – when we asked our team members in Malaysia how we should celebrate certain work-related events and employee recognition – the answer was with food. The people would choose Chinese one time, Indian the next, then Chinese-Malay food. The recommended food for the fourth event was Kentucky Fried Chicken showing even in food how diverse we all are. 

Do you have some advice for international employees?

We may all change slightly to fall in line with countries and cultures but must remain our authentic selves. We need to be respectful of the country we are working in including religion, culture, color, sexual orientation and try to be yourself. This is all that is required at the end.

What is something that you always carry with you from your experiences in working in a different country with different cultures?

People. I met some fantastic people in different regions, considering them as work-colleagues to start with but now friends. I learnt so much from these people and their experiences. Invaluable understanding of different backgrounds and values. Something special about Malaysia: It is in the middle of South-East Asia with so many different religious groups from all over the world, one thing really pleasing was to see how they respect each other’s beliefs, work, and live together, then celebrate their culture and history.

In all our facilities around the world it is all about getting along with each other, respecting all views, celebrating people as individuals, teamwork and making positive changes to drive NORMA Group forward as an employer and customer of choice.

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