SUBSCRIBE: Newsletter

Human Resources

Toggle

Article

American Express Ng

The secrets behind leading large, multi-national firms

Human Resources magazine and the HR Bulletin daily email newsletter:
Asia's only regional HR print and digital media brand.
Register for your FREE subscription now »

Leading large, multi-national companies is never easy, and that is why bosses need to ensure they are self-aware about their own strengths and weaknesses before leading staff, advises Ng Siew Choo, senior vice president and head of global network partnerships Asia, at American Express. 

You’ve been with American Express for more than twenty years. What is the best part of working in the company?

At American Express, our vision is to be the world’s most respected service brand. Whatever we are doing is dedicated towards providing the best service for our customers and providing the best value for our stakeholders, and also towards being the best company for our employees to work in.

We are well-known for our customer-care and innovation to our products. We have won several awards over the years, including Aon Hewitt’s best employer award for the third time now.

You don’t stay still in this company, rather, you continue to compete effectively in the marketplace.

For me, personally, I like the fact that it is a multi-national company. I have luckily been given the opportunity to work across different lines of business within the company.

I’ve also worked different markets – New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Working in these different regions gives you a global perspective on things and helps you understand a bit more on diversity.

American Express also believes in people development – which is really important. For a service company, your people are your best assets.

The company has therefore invested a lot in making the workplace conducive and to improve employee engagement and loyalty.

How do you think you have grown as a professional in American Express?

For me, I have also grown professionally within the company. I’ve had the opportunity to be groomed in various learning and development programmes.

You don’t stay still in this company, rather, you continue to compete effectively in the marketplace.

As a mid-level manager, I have been sent to New York. And as a woman senior manager, I have had the opportunity to participate in several programmes that help groom female managers.

Seperately, we also have programmes across the board for employees. These programmes are dependant on employees’ needs – such as specific sales negotiation skills or presentation skills.

So the broader segment of the population also has opportunity to learn – whether it is onsite or whether it is online.

These programmes also provide information on market trends, what are the latest developments in the payment industry etc.

From that perspective, I can honestly say American Express has one of the best training and development programmes in the market.

As a woman leader, have you seen instances of a gender gap in the corporate world today – specifically within the banking and finance industry?

Generally speaking, women do sometimes put their family ahead of their career – and that is a personal choice.

Markets like Australia do tend to have policies which are more encouraging. For instance, in Australia, maternity leave can last up to two years.

And that is why I think gender gaps have more to do with the type of employment policies the market offers rather than what individual companies offer. The overall policy of the country also needs to support that of the company.

How would you define your own leadership style?

I would say it is empowering.

It is important that you empower people to do the work you hired them to do, so that they feel accountable and responsible for their jobs.

People feel good about the fact that we display trust and confidence in them to do a good job. They like being appreciated for their skill and talent.

It is important that you empower people to do the work you hired them to do, so that they feel accountable and responsible for their jobs.

However, you have got to set them up for success- you need to set goals and milestones in order to check that they actually are doing the work they’re supposed to do.

Another important area is collaboration. People need to work together – you can’t have an individual contributor or performer. Everything is a process, and if there’s a breakage somewhere the whole group isn’t going to work properly.

You also have to manage change all the time.

At American Express, its philosophy about constant innovation and making sure its people are getting the right training programmes and the right growth mindset is therefore very important.

What are some key traits a leader needs to run companies such as American Express?

Business acumen is one, and so is having a vision. Those are given.

Besides those, you should know what are your strengths and weaknesses. This will help you to hire those people which can complement your skill set.

Doing so will ensure you do not hire the same kind of people in your company with the same profile.

You should be able to hire people who are strong in areas where you are weak at, in order to support you to be more efficient. This will help staff also to feel better-utilised.

When you are able to effectively lead using your own strengths and weaknesses, you will have a stronger followship.

How do you encourage de-motivated employees to perform better?

Firstly you need to understand the reasons behind their de-motivation. You need to get to the root cause of the problem.

Are they de-motivated because they don’t know how to do their work? Is it because you aren’t using the right leadership style to lead them?

Think about whether they have the right skill set to do the job, and whether you are leading them correctly.

How do you unwind when you yourself are stressed out?

I try to make sure I give myself time during the day. I take one hour during office hours to go for yoga classes.

Think about whether they have the right skill set to do the job, and whether you are leading them correctly.

In the weekends, I spend time with my family and I go on Sunday morning walks.

So do you think it is possible to achieve a work-life balance?

I think what is possible is to reduce the imbalance present in your life.

How would you summarise the value of the HR function, specifically in a company like American Express?

We work together with our HR hand-in-hand. They are the ones who support us in terms of organisational effectiveness – that’s a given.

If you don’t know how to optimise your organisation then that means you don’t have the right people to do the work. You need HR to attract, retain and continuously manage talent.

HR strategy needs to be tied in with the business strategy. It needs to address questions such as where is the organisation headed towards? What are the skill sets we need? How do we get the right balance of talent in the organisation?

I always work very closely with our HR department to answer these questions.

What is the philosophy behind American Express’ HR department?

I think it is about how they make this the best place to work, together with the business.

A lot of times HR leaders work with the business to identify areas of improvement – whether it is improving employee engagement in the company, or establishing a good work-life balance for our employees etc.

If you don’t know how to optimise your organisation then that means you don’t have the right people to do the work.

How do you think there can be smoother collaboration between HR and business leaders?

Communication is obviously very important. Always make sure leaders are sharing.

HR and business leaders should form a partnership together and work on organisational issues together.

Do you think HR leaders today are equipped to become CEOs?

From my personal experience, I have seen HR practitioners move on to run parts of the business. That is a good pathway to leading the business, and that would also ensure they have certain competencies to lead the entire business.

They should go through a rotational path to be better equipped for the job.

 

Human Resources magazine and the HR Bulletin daily email newsletter:
Asia's only regional HR print and digital media brand.
Register for your FREE subscription now »

Read More News

Trending

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.