By SGN | 11 Feb 2022
Two Singaporean leaders, Lum Seow Khun, Director of Microsoft Singapore’s Public Sector Group and Patrick Teo, Google’s Head of Engineering for Payments and Next Billion Users teams share their leadership approaches and delve into how tech companies here are doing their part in developing Singapore’s tech talent pipeline.
As exciting opportunities open up in Southeast Asia, global tech companies such as Microsoft and Google, and fast-growing start-ups like Stripe, Nium and Carro have set up in Singapore. With the convergence of these companies, one common and pressing demand is for tech talent – not just for software engineers and data scientists, but also talents in leadership positions who can build up new teams and understand Southeast Asia’s diversity and complexity.
Here we feature two Singaporean leaders, Lum Seow Khun, Director of Microsoft Singapore’s Public Sector Group and Patrick Teo, Google’s Head of Engineering for Payments and Next Billion Users teams. They share their leadership approaches and delve into how tech companies here are doing their part in developing Singapore’s tech talent pipeline.
Diversity: The cornerstone in their leadership approaches
Seow Khun and Patrick recognise that leadership in global tech companies requires a special focus on managing and collaborating with diverse colleagues. Leaders need to understand how to manage and embrace differences to unlock the value of diversity to teams, especially in Southeast Asia, where different cultures congregate and connect amidst a melting pot. Sharing his perspectives, Patrick noted, “In Singapore, we have always been a part of a bigger ecosystem and are attuned to what’s happening globally. It is easy to relate to international teams as we’ve instinctively seen ourselves as part of something bigger.”
Both leaders have amassed extensive exposure to different markets in the course of their education and work. Patrick, for example, joins a growing pool of Singaporeans who have studied, conducted exchange programmes and worked overseas in jurisdictions such as the United States, the European Union and China before coming back to make an impact in the city-state’s tech ecosystem. Patrick himself spent his early career in Silicon Valley after studying in the US, and built his experience operating within cross-cultural teams across companies such as Amazon and Facebook. This varied exposure has also moulded his leadership style. Today, Patrick consistently provides a clear mission in his teams by building a strong learning culture that embraces diversity and innovation while investing in talent.
Seow Khun traces the origins of her appreciation for diversity to Singapore’s focus on multiculturalism, given Singapore’s heritage as a trading port where various cultures connect. Her international exposure during the executive courses at INSEAD and her professional responsibilities bolstered her ability to apply a global lens to her work. She shares, “Singapore’s global connectivity makes it convenient for rising tech leaders to network and learn from the international community through such opportunities. Today, I encourage allyship by embracing my team members’ unique strengths and differences.”
A nurturing environment for future-ready leaders
Seow Khun credits Singapore’s environment, with national efforts to inculcate values that will keep its workforce resilient despite economic shifts, for providing her with the necessary foundations to grow into the leader she is today. She reflects that “Integrity, responsibility and working hard have helped my career. I believe I was entrusted with leadership in recognition of these values.” These attributes have stayed with her throughout her career and in her current role, where she supports the public service in implementing frontier initiatives.
Patrick adds that Singaporeans are early adopters and keen participants in the digital space. Patrick himself took an A-Level course in Computer Science and was involved in software development as a youth. Today, students in Singapore can learn coding as early as primary school with programmes such as Code for Fun, the Singapore Cyber Youth Programme and Code in the Community (which was also supported by Google). This openness to new trends and opportunities has presented opportunities for Singaporeans to gain early expertise in fields such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and fintech and establish themselves as credible leaders.
Companies are part of the solution in building the next generation of tech leadership talent
While many environmental factors contribute to the cultivation of tech leaders in Singapore, both executives agree that companies are significant partners within local ecosystems for future generations of tech leaders to emerge.
Microsoft runs several local skilling programmes, including the Let’s Skill Up! Programme, helping local enterprises acquire critical industry-relevant skills. Seow Khun believes such programmes enable future generations to contribute to building a resilient and digitally inclusive Singapore.
Through the Google Developers Space, Google helps Southeast Asian developers, entrepreneurs and community groups level up and earn more with their businesses. Examples of such initiatives include the Google for Startups Accelerator and Women Developer Academy. Patrick shares that his involvement in these programmes is driven by a belief that tech can positively impact people’s lives.
Companies that invest in diversity, mentorship and development, as seen from Microsoft and Google, are in good stead to attract, engage and cultivate tech leadership, and thereby access growth in the region. It is an exciting time to witness what else can be built for the world from Singapore, with the growing stream of tech leadership emerging from the city-state.
This article was first published by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), a government agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry that is responsible for strategies that enhance Singapore’s position as a global centre for business, innovation and talent. More information on EDB can be found here.