Action speaks louder than words would be a good way to describe Michelle’s leadership and mentorship style. And that fits perfectly with Letitia, her mentee of 2 years who is also very much a hands-on person. One could tell from their interaction that Michelle takes a keen interest in Letitia’s development. She remembers that Letitia has recently changed her job and as soon as she arrives at Prive Wheelock where our interview is held, she asks Letitia about her new role in Uber. I have always heard about how great Michelle is as a mentor from Letitia, so it is an exciting opportunity for me to be able to meet her and understand more about her take on career and life.
What is a day like for you, Michelle?
Michelle: I wake up around 6am and send my kids to school before I go to work. After a long day of meetings, I usually have an event or function to attend in the evening. If I am lucky, I get home around 9pm. I then have an hour of de-stress before I go to bed... such as watching tv or spending some time with my kids. On weekends, I try to have at least 2 hours of nap to recharge for the week.
Do you like to read? What would you recommend our members to read?
Michelle: Yes I do. I just started on the biography of Robert Kuok. I tend to choose what is on the best sellers list. Before I travel, I like to read the history books of the country so that I can better understand and connect with the people that I am going to meet. I read almost exclusively non-fiction.
Being a leader in your field, what advice would you give to younger women who would like to excel in your industry?
Michelle: Staying power is key. The second thing is to have right attributes such as curiosity and the drive for success. Thirdly, many of us have technical expertise and we need to have technical expertise in order to excel. However, one also has to constantly be able to adapt to changes because the world is changing so quickly in so many different aspects.
I remember this interesting story of a senior woman leader whom I met about 10 years ago. She shared with me at an informal event that she did not set out to be so senior in her career but many of her peers moved on to other jobs or other life priorities and over time, she rose to the top. There would be phases in your life that other things may take priority but if you stay on course, you would be able to do well.
How can young graduates better prepare themselves for the future especially in this era of uncertainty?
Michelle: I would still come back to attributes. If one is self-aware, one can always see what are the things they need to improve on themselves. It is okay not to have a focus yet because not everyone sets out to be so targeted. If you have a job and you do it well, that’s the first half of the battle won. The second part is to always keep yourself updated and improve along the way.
Is there anyone that you look up to or go to for advice?
Michelle: I agree with the saying that ‘you are the combination of the top 5 people that you spend the most time with’. Surround yourself with good people, be humble and keep growing – that is key.
Michelle and Letitia, what are your thoughts on the YWLC Mentorship Programme?
Michelle: I think YWLC is a great platform. There is always something good in banding a group of young women together to learn and grow and eventually become good friends. The mentorship programme is then a way for these young women to have a different kind of exposure.
Letitia: I have been in companies that promote mentorship so I have always appreciated the importance of it. I was really excited to join the YWLC mentorship programme because I have never connected on a personal level with a Singaporean senior woman leader. I first met Michelle at a YWLC event. Even though she might not remember me that time, she left a deep impression on me and I felt that she is someone I can talk to and get to know better. So when I applied for the YWLC mentorship programme, I put in my request to have Michelle as my mentor.
In the past, I have reached out to women leaders in my company but it was hard to build a connection from there because we did not know each other and did not have a formal platform to bring us together. So it was really enjoyable to join this mentorship programme as I get to discuss with Michelle on topics that are close to my heart. Michelle is heavily involved in many activities outside her work so we get to attend events together (Michelle sits on the Board of Singapore Chinese Orchestra and is a committee member of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Career Women’s Group).
Do you have any advice on how mentees and mentors can maintain a good and long-term relationship?
Michelle: As a mentor, I can be a sounding board because of my deeper experience. The second thing I can help my mentee with is exposure. I bring Letitia to events and projects I am involved in. For example, I organised a talk for career women as part of my involvement in Singapore Chinese Chambers and invited Letitia to attend the session because I knew that she was looking to know more about the technology industry. We also do fun things – I brought her to the movie premiere of Lulu The Movie because my company was the sponsor of the show.
Letitia: To add on, I would also catch Michelle at a lot of YWLC events. I think it is great that we have very similar style when it comes to building relationships. We don’t like to sit and talk and prefer to do things together. In this way, I get to see Michelle in action and learn through her interactions with others.
Interested to join YWLC's exclusive Mentorship Programme? Want to hear from our YWLC mentors and mentees about their experiences? Find out more at our info session on 24 Apr 2018. Register here.