Talk by Ms. Olivia Lum of Hyflux

Olivia lum talk nus 2008

Student blogger Srikanth reports on a talk by Olivia Lum of Hyflux on 30th January 2008.

Over the past two years, we have had opportunities to interact with a range of eminent personalities including industry experts, politicians, Nobel laureates and academicians. However, there is a different kind of excitement in the air when it comes to meeting up with and hearing from entrepreneurs. It is even more so, when the entrepreneur happens to be an alumnus of your school. Mr. Ivan Lee and Mr. Adam Khoo were two energetic entrepreneurs who fell in this bracket and are indeed very famous around. But when I heard about this talk by Ms. Olivia Lum, I wasn’t quite sure what we were in for. As you can guess, NUS happens to be her alma mater as well. Other than that, I ran a Google search to find out more information on her. And I did find loads of it in there that laid a good platform for the talk. Ms Lum had received numerous awards such as Nikkei Asia Prize Award 2006, Asiamoney’s Best Corporate Executive of the Year in 2005, Businessman of the Year 2004. My expectations were growing and I began looking forward to the talk.

On 30th of January 2008, we had this unique opportunity to interact with the Group CEO & President and Founder of Hyflux Ltd who started her corporate life as a Chemist in Glaxo (S) Pte Ltd. She began with a brief story about how she started her life off as an entrepreneur. As you can expect, giving up a secure job from a leading pharma company to begin an uncertain business on water purification was a significant step to take. But Ms. Lum had conviction behind her business idea and importantly, was willing to work hard to make it a reality. It was inspiring to hear being the lone female two-wheeler driver on the roads of Singapore in those days scouting for prospective business opportunities. Her enterprise was exemplified as she explained us about the way she went to Malaysia as a ‘foreign’ business person selling her idea, only because she was finding it tough to make an impact in the local circles. Her decision to venture into the China market was yet another interesting part of her experience. She took us through every stage of this part of her venture which included her decision to invest, challenges in funding, project execution and end results (which were bad to begin with which she ultimately turned around).

olivia lum talk 2008

Every topic of her introductory note had some interesting anecdotes which kept the audience glued to their seats and to her speech. Needless to say, there were some important lessons to be learnt as well. Then came the Q&A session where people got an opportunity to ask questions to this eminent business leader. She answered questions ranging all the way from changes in her management philosophy through the two decades of business to her idea behind identifying the right people and teams for her organization. In every answer of hers, I could feel the intellect of a confident and committed business leader. I’m sure the audience had more than a fair share of inspiration from this icon who had all of us connected through the 90 minutes of interaction. By the end of it all, I did add her to the ‘elite list’ of our alumni who have made an impact in this global business world. If Ms. Lum is at the helm of a corporation that handles four different businesses across multiple geographies in the environmental space, there is a lot more than just coincidence and luck behind that!

Srikanth Sridharan
Class of 2008