In the years before 2009, growth was stagnating at Unilever Thailand and employees were leaving in droves.
A year later, the company saw double-digit growth and halved its management attrition rate - because of a major shift in the way it managed human capital.
Unilever Thailand was one of the two winners of the Asian Human Capital Award, given out on Thursday on day two of the Singapore Human Capital Summit.
The award, presented by Senior Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor at the event, was also given to the Manila Electric Company, or Meralco.
The winners were chosen from 89 applications from 58 organisations in 11 countries across Asia. Siemens China and Indian supermarket chain Reliance Retail received special commendations.
Now in its fifth year, the Asian Human Capital Award recognises companies with strong human capital development practices. A panel comprising representatives from industry and academia selected the awardees.
In a bid to turn itself around, Unilever Thailand moved "from a vicious circle to a virtuous circle", said Ms Nadrerdee Arj-Hangwonse, the company's vice-president of human resources.
"Instead of debating whether to grow 3.1 per cent or 3.5 per cent, we decided to just do the right thing, and the rest would hopefully follow."
The company overhauled its human resource practices and internal culture. Salaries were reviewed, employee career-planning schemes were stepped up, and a slogan - "Row Tam Dai", or "Yes, We Can" - was launched.
India's Reliance Retail also took big steps towards investing in human capital, winning an award for a programme that saw corporate executives rolling up their sleeves and working on the retail front line to identify employee concerns and training needs.
In 2008, the company also set up its own in-house training academy, which has since trained over 150,000 employees at all levels of the organisation.
The firm has since seen a 26 per cent boost in sales and 10 per cent reduction in checkout scan speeds.
Dr Khor said she hopes "more will adopt and adapt these best practices".
A study commissioned by the Ministry of Manpower on talent management in Asia, unveiled on the first day of the Singapore Human Capital Summit, "showed that companies around the region still have some way to go in implementing key people practices that are most impactful to business growth and development," she added.
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