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15 minutes with Phor Hooi Khoon of Agilent Technologies

In HR we need to listen more to what others say in order to understand business needs and employees’ concerns, says Phor Hooi Khoon, senior HR director for Agilent Technologies.

Your career has largely spanned the technology space, with Seagate, Dell and Intel before Agilent – what excites you about this sector?

The speed! I’m the kind of person who likes to work fast, so the speed of change makes me feel challenged and gives me a lot of exposure.

What was the motivation for you to start your career in HR?

Since my second year of university, I enjoyed working closely with people and guiding them to resolve their issues. I was also very active in extra curricular activities, as the leader of St John Ambulance, which further developed my passion for working with people.

So my career started in HR because I saw the value of serving people when I was at St John Ambulance.

What did you learn from your first job?

I started at Seagate in the specialist role of a staffing administrator, and I was hungry to learn. Because Seagate was highly labour-intensive during that time, I was also extensively involved in recruitment, including working through weekends for walk-in interviews.

I would conduct orientation sometimes for up to a 100 people in a day. Besides recruitment skills, I picked up project management skills and people management skills

I absorbed as much as possible, whether it was within or outside of my job. Everything was new for me to learn.

What has been your proudest HR achievement?

When I joined my last employer Dell in 2007 the company was not an employer of choice in Malaysia.

I realised we had an opportunity to change this perception and spoke to my general manager to get the directors involved in the people agenda.

I strongly believe the people agenda is not for HR to own, but for everyone. We organised a directors’ summit to chalk out the strategic plan for Malaysia that covered the people agenda.

This was the first time the people agenda was not led by the HR team. When we participated in the MIHRM awards for the first time in 2011, we actually won the Grand Gold Award.

The key differentiator was that everyone was engaged and willing to help drive the change.

I strongly believe the people agenda is not for HR to own, but for everyone.
Here at Agilent, what is your regular workday like?

I have two main focuses: one is within the HR team, and the second is with the business.

For the former, I am a strong believer of HR putting its house in order to serve the customer better. So I spend time on making everyone more collaborative and developing the HR team members, while making them feel proud to work at Agilent.

I personally feel proud to be working for a company that provides solutions to improve the quality of people’s lives.

For the latter, we look at how we can transform our people and processes. We are essentially a new company, in that we split from the old Agilent a year ago to focus on life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemicals, so we want to be a strategic site to support the company’s vision.

I also spend time talking to the business leaders, employees and HR team members.

This is because in HR we need to listen more to what others say, to understand business challenges and employees’ concerns so that we can better partner with business leaders in supporting their needs.

How do you see the overall HR industry moving forward?

As HR functions march towards the HR-shared services model, this will free up some of the leader’s time for more critical pieces. Another trend we’re heading towards is collective leadership in HR.

As HR functions march towards the HR-shared services model, this will free up some of the leader’s time for more critical pieces.
Have you had someone who has played a mentorship role for you?

The first leader who made me think differently was my HR big boss in Seagate. I was so focused on my job as the HR administrator that I was shocked when my VP of HR at the time, based in Singapore, visited Penang and asked me if I had ever thought about changing roles.

As a fresh graduate, for me it was about doing my best and getting promoted from one level to the next. So when he asked me this, I got worried he would ask me to leave the company.

Instead, he said I had done very well in staffing, which is essential to managing HR, but it was now time to think of the bigger picture. That was a breakthrough for my second career in Seagate in moving to the C&B side.

What is your advice to today’s fresh graduates?

Work hard and smart. There is no shortcut for us to learn certain things. The second thing is to be open to change and to come with an innovative mindset.

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