In the male-dominated corporate world, being a female CEO is a major achievement. That achievement is all the sweeter for Chua Sock Koong because she helms SingTel, Southeast Asia’s largest telecommunications giant, a company that reported operating revenue of close to $17 billion and profit of about $4 billion last year.
Getting ahead of the class is something that she is used to though. At the University of Singapore, she graduated with first class honors in Accountancy in 1979. She eventually joined SingTel and rose up the corporate ladder there. Beginning as a treasurer, she was made Group Chief Financial Officer in 2006 before being promoted to the top job the next year. With her background, she brings a unique perspective to her role.
“The CFO is a very important business advisor to the CEO but at the same time, the CFO wears the governance hat,” she said. “When you’re the CFO, you’re juggling the two roles. You want to be a business partner but you have to make sure checks and balances are in place.
“As the CEO, I take a much more holistic approach in business. I play a very important nurturing role. I want to encourage new ideas, innovation, and see how I can develop people as well. A large part of my time is around talent development.”
As one of the few female corporate chiefs around, she believes that she also has an obligation to mentor younger female talent who are starting out. “Successful women leaders do have a responsibility to help mentor aspiring women leaders so that the best man or woman has an opportunity for the job.” However, at the same time, she is firmly against artificially boosting the number of women. “I’m not an advocate of having quotas to achieve gender diversity In the end, it really depends on the talent pool available and you don’t want to distort that.”
She believes the way to get more women corporate leaders is to have good human resource policies. “To start, it would be helpful if companies have HR policies that are gender neutral, that gives equal opportunities for employment and promotion within the organizations.
“At the same time, it should allow some flexibility for staff to be able to handle activities outside work hours.”
She cites SingTel as a good example of a good corporate citizen. SingTel hires and promotes fairly and has created a flexible workforce that allows telecommuting, she said. In addition, “we allow people flexi-time off and that’s not limited to women alone.”
Rising up the corporate ladder no doubt has its perks, but it cannot be achieved without sacrifice. As a result, her advice to those just starting their career is to pick one they enjoy instead of focusing on pay.”There are a lot of tradeoffs that we have to make in life,” she notes.
“You have to choose a career that is really of interest and excites you so that getting up on Monday to go to work is not a chore.
“Looking at monetary rewards alone; that is never enough.”