Uncovering Fitbit Asia-Pacific's HR story

One of wearable technology company Fitbit's biggest HR challenges has been in finding the right talent, its Asia-Pacific head Steve Morley shares.

For more Asia-Pacific CEOs and business leaders discussing their HR challenges, head to HRM Asia's dedicated Leaders Talk HR forum.

In the next part of this exclusive interview, we take a look at Steve Morley's own career journey, and how it has shaped his management philosophy. 

Recently, HRM Magazine sat down with Steve Morley, Vice President and General Manager of Fitbit Asia-Pacific, to discuss how the company stays ahead in an increasingly crowded market.

What are some of Fitbit’s biggest HR challenges in Asia-Pacific?

Fitbit created this category globally, and the brand first established itself in the classical Western markets of the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

The biggest challenge we have is finding talent in Asia that can be flexible, resilient, and skilled to work for markets in a business that is still centred around a Western product.

Aside from the baseline talent that requires a high degree of resilience and fortitude, it’s also very a fast-paced environment.

We run the Asia-Pacific headquarters here and run the sales, marketing and business functions.

Finding the talent to bring all those things together is the toughest challenge we have. 

Describe the corporate culture of Fitbit.

Out of all the companies I’ve worked for, Fitbit is most centred culturally around problem-solving. It’s also the most respectful, fast-paced, and relentless business.

No one here bangs tables; we all face challenges every day. We have a strong culture of problem solving, respect, and care, but it moves quickly and never ends.

What are some key trends you have witnessed over the last five years?

Our consumers’ attitudes to health and fitness are definitely changing in Asia.

People are more cognisant of the benefit of being more active and getting better sleep- metrics that Fitbit helps to improve upon.

If you take China as an example, there’s a huge change towards moderation and increasing self-awareness on the importance of performance-health at a consumer level.

We’ve also seen massive changes in the level of interest of companies have in the health and wellness of their employees. The benefits of a healthy workforce are much more than just the health of an individual.

It’s the general positive attitude that comes from employee programmes. There’s much more interest in the scientific research of health-based institutions across Asia, including governments. Businesses and individuals are using this to improve health via prevention and good habits, rather than reacting to a problem.

The biggest movers in the corporate world at the moment in terms of tapping into the power of what Fitbit has created are the insurance companies.

There’s empirical evidence showing that employers or consumers who are on a Fitbit health management programme see their cost of health insurance and incidences of claims reduced by 42%.

Clearly, that’s a massive benefit to insurers.

And how are you positioning your organisation to capitalise on these trends?

We created the category 10 years ago when the company was formed, and eight years ago we launched our first device.

We’ve now sold over 60 million devices to consumers across the world in 55 countries.

Independent reports have shown that we’re still the clear leader, despite many entrants coming into the category over the years. In fact, many of the initial competitors are no longer in the category, or no longer in business at all.

In the specific segment that we focus on – which is the activity-tracking business – we’ve accounted for more than 80% of all sales globally. So we’re in a clear leadership position and we intend to continue innovating and maintaining that position.

It has served the company well in its first 10 years, and we have so much more than first-mover advantage. We are the inventor of this category and our brand name is what

Kleenex is to tissues. That’s hugely positive for us.

How does Fitbit stay ahead of its competitors in such a crowded field?

Our intention is to continue to innovate, and we’re spending more on research and development than anybody else in this space.

We want to add utility to our products. This means that Fitbit is not a nice-to-have, but a must-have.

We have a huge advantage in that we have the biggest single in-store base health data records of our consumers. We treat that with extreme privacy, but the learnings we get from having the largest samples really fuels our ability to continue innovating.

Some of the features in our products are included because we understand the big data from our large consumer base. Therefore, we can pick the algorithms and analyse the patterns and trends.

The scale of what we’ve built fuels the competitive edge of our business. 

What challenges has the organisation faced in adapting to the Asia-Pacific markets?

As the products that we are selling get smarter, the biggest challenge is in ensuring that the products and our brand are optimised for Asia.

An example of that is the social element. Fitbit is a social network and the social media landscape in Asia is entirely different to that in the western world.

The payments infrastructure in Asia is also different to what is available in many western countries.

In addition, the attitudes to health and fitness are highly-nuanced. For example, our research shows that US attitudes to health and fitness are all about “achievement” and it is quite public. People are happy to share their health and fitness goals.

However, Asian consumers are a lot more nuanced and they’re a lot more conservative and private about things.

We’re also in such a diverse region – we’re managing up to 13 countries.

Therefore, my team’s challenge is to optimise our base product offerings to make them ideal for these nuanced Asian markets, whether they be payment structures, social media platforms, or how we position our brand relative to the attitudes of health and fitness of our Asian consumers.

For more Asia-Pacific CEOs and business leaders discussing their HR challenges, head to HRM Asia's dedicated Leaders Talk HR forum.

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