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Leading, Her Way: Jade Ng on Building Cultures of Resilience

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Leading, Her Way is a Leadership Development interview series featuring a line-up of remarkable female leaders in Singapore as they share their thoughts on self-exploration, career development, overcoming failures and work-life alignment.

In our first interview for 2022, we feature Ms Jade Ng, China Venture Supply Chain Manager at ExxonMobil. She shares her insights on building a career in a traditionally male-dominated sector, leading with transparency and vulnerability, and the importance of cultivating a culture of resilience in challenging times. __

How did your education or early professional experiences prepare you for the career that you have today?

I graduated from the National University of Singapore with a major in Marketing. The skills that I honed as an undergraduate have helped me with pitching ideas, getting support for initiatives, and being more vocal about opportunities or having different views.

ExxonMobil hires many men and women from STEM backgrounds. While I may not have had the technical background, my background in marketing has helped me to deliver my points and messages in a succinct manner. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘elevator pitch’, where you have only a minute or two to sell an idea to a senior leader whom you meet by chance in the lift.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in this industry?

Motherhood prompted me to reassess the priorities in my life – between juggling the needs of a newborn and a demanding career. With my husband’s support, I made a conscious decision to reset my goals and priorities. My Christian faith has also guided me. When I went for the ExxonMobil interview, I told myself to give my best and let God decide on the outcome.

Since joining ExxonMobil, what has resonated with me is the company’s philosophy and fundamentals that offer employees the potential to pursue long-term careers and opportunities for professional growth - these have certainly contributed to ExxonMobil standing out as an ‘Employer of Choice’ in the energy sector.

Tell us more about your earliest roles in your career with ExxonMobil. Did you ever face challenges as a woman on the job, and if so, how did you deal with them?

I joined ExxonMobil in 1999 as a Business Process Reengineering Analyst. My early assignments included leading the delivery of two major projects which fully leveraged my prior SAP and program office experience. These assignments required me to quickly understand the complexities of ExxonMobil’s businesses and the potential impact of the changes that I was proposing on their operations and efficiency.

Most of my supervisors and managers are male, and this was something that I had to adjust to in my initial years with the company. There were times when I was the only Asian female in a regional or global meeting. This setting was a complete contrast to my previous work environment, where most of my colleagues and the team were female. Although they did not request it, I felt that I had to put in more effort to gain credibility and earn their trust by substantiating my case for action with extensive data and insights. I would also schedule reviews with subject matter experts in the company to incorporate their opinions and guidance.

Over time, I adapted and grew to appreciate the culture of the organisation. It is a place where people are very willing to help one another, share their knowledge and insights, and be a sounding board for others and brainstorm ideas, regardless of one’s gender. One incident that left a deep impression on me took place during my assignment in Houston, Texas. Due to my lack of manufacturing experience, I would often approach the department’s senior engineer for help on operational issues. He would take the time and effort to map out operational flow diagrams on a whiteboard and patiently take me through the processes to help me get up to speed. He did not jump straight into providing answers but instead, took the time to onboard me so that I could propose a solution with the new knowledge I had attained. This really motivated me in the learning process, and I am grateful for the time that he set aside to do so.

Jade and her family. Photo is courtesy of Jade Ng.

You have had overseas assignments and postings in Houston, Texas and subsequently in Shanghai. What was this experience like? What are some of the major differences between living in Asia and the US?

Working overseas has had a positive impact on my family.

Prior to my current assignment, my family moved with me to the US and Shanghai. This meant that we had to work as a team to adapt and learn about a new environment. We felt the loss of the extended support structure that we had in Singapore (e.g., grandparents, friends). But it was a bonding experience that brought us closer together. It also enabled us to extend help to other families and we ended up being a part of a ‘new’ extended family.

One of the noticeable differences is the attitude towards learning. In the US, you could sense that people were more generous with their compliments and sharing words of encouragement. In Singapore and Shanghai, however, I found that the feedback tended to be more constructive (e.g., “Let’s do even better next time”).

You recently moved to a new role of Supply Chain Manager in China. How has the transition been like for you?

Like many who took on new jobs or positions during the pandemic, the transition has been challenging, given the prevailing travel restrictions and having to rely on virtual meetings to connect with new teams and colleagues. On a personal front, differentiating time for work and family became difficult. There were times when I was invited to attend more than 10 back-to-back Zoom calls in a day! At work, my biggest challenge is having to conduct virtual meetings in Mandarin Chinese while establishing and developing new partnerships with commercial service providers.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for the opportunity as it allows me to build on my decades-long specialist skills and expertise in supply chain management. I am looking forward to bringing supply chain expertise to this venture and making it work in a fast-paced environment.

I remind my team to be open and that asking for help is not a sign of failure. Working as a united team will only make us stronger and more resilient.

The pandemic has brought about upheavals and uncertainties around the world. How did you cultivate resilience personally and in your team?

Staying connected with team members and having transparent, open dialogue are important. Sometimes, it can be better to over-communicate!

I remind my team to be open and that asking for help is not a sign of failure. Working as a united team will only make us stronger and more resilient.

I also make an extra effort to celebrate small wins with the wider team and inject some fun into the workplace. For example, the group-size restrictions for social gatherings meant that during the 2021 Lunar New Year celebrations, we had a virtual “Lou Hei” and team building session with our colleagues in the region.

What are some practical tips for being a resilient leader?

Being a leader in such perplexing times has been one of the most challenging moments in my leadership journey to date.

One tip that has worked for me is to be transparent and vulnerable with my team. Tell them that you may not have all the answers, share how you personally feel, and be accountable for difficult business and/or personnel decisions that you have made. I recall doing so during the pandemic and after my sharing, some colleagues came up to me privately and thanked me for being open with them.

A leader’s journey need not be a lonely one. At ExxonMobil, there are open discussions and clear plans to groom and develop the next generation of leaders. One way is to lean on other leaders. Drop them a text message or ask for a quick call. They can be a useful and safe sounding board.

While it is important to build resilience, one also needs to be mindful of their mental well-being. How do you keep yourself from getting burnt out?

One of my personal philosophies is that I want to come to work with a smile. If something prevents me from doing so, I need to make time to release that stress. I would either take time off or go somewhere to pen down my thoughts and write about the issues or frustrations that I am facing. That usually helps me feel better.

In a hybrid work environment, I have had to intentionally schedule “me-time” in my calendar to take a break, have a meal, or simply de-stress.

Last but not least, having a group of trusted family members, friends and colleagues also help me to recalibrate my thoughts and keep me from burning out.

What do you think are the greatest challenges for a young working woman today, and how has that changed since you were working and raising your child?

Society today is moving at a much faster pace, where people expect to see results a lot more quickly. Therefore, having the ability to change and adapt is an increasingly important survival skill for any working professional.

As a wife and mother, learning to outsource is important (e.g., engaging a part-time cleaner versus doing household chores yourself). Where possible, be open to available resources and even technology to help you out.

For professionals married with children, remember to work with your spouse to share the load and support each other in your parenting journey. I can personally attest that this helps me become a better leader at work.

Lastly, in one sentence, what does ‘Leading, Her Way’ mean to you?

Being genuine and staying true to your core values and moral compass.

As I learn from inspirational leaders and role models, I tell myself not to lose my identity, especially when I am under pressure and tempted to meet and exceed the expectations of others. I would like to leave this message with you for those tough times: Remember what has made you strong and keep going back to your core values.

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