Soon Teck Low - IHH Healthcare Berhad Singapore

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Intro  0:13  
Many aspire to reach the upper echelon of the healthcare industry, but few are able to successfully navigate the corporate ladder. As Asia becomes the world epicenter of the healthcare industry, C-Suite Partners sits down with international healthcare executives asking the tough questions and unpacking the personalities of the top industry leaders.

Welcome to the boardroom.

Michael Murray  0:49  
Soon Teck,  thank you very much for joining C-Suite Partners in the boardroom. 

Soon Teck Low  0:53
My pleasure. 

Michael Murray  0:55 
I want to understand your career. So can you talk me through the previous 20 years up until today?

Soon Teck Low  1:00  
Well, I started as a lawyer actually initially working in Singapore for about three years in a small boutique firm doing corporate work and then I made a decision in the early 90s to join a family on business in Hong Kong because at that time China was opening up I thought be exciting. Somewhere in the 1999 and 2000, when the dot-com boom was taking off, the family have a major role as investment role and commercial role. And then from that point, I switched over to more business role within the family-owned conglomerate. In early 2002, I decided that I needed to do an MBA to validate that move, from law to finance. I came back to Singapore in 2005 and was offered a role in the commodity business in Singapore. 

Michael Murray  1:52

Soon Teck Low  1:54
So I did the traditional financial controller role, went to Treasury for a few years and then finally landed at a CFO role.

Michael Murray  2:04  
So there’s a lot of companies in Asia at the moment trying to do business and they’re going through a lot of challenges. I’d like to hear about some corporate challenges you might be facing at the moment in the current market.

Soon Teck Low  2:15  
So, I’ll give you one example of we’re currently facing. So we’re opening the first private hospital in Chengdu, a small 250 bed. It’s the first time a private hospital is going to open Chengdu, the regulators are not familiar how to license a private health care plan. And in a way we’re helping them to write the rulebook, which is good. And we’re engaging them every step of the way and saying look, this is how private healthcare does it and this is how you know, we do it in the rest of the world, right. And it does help that, you know, Singapore has a strong reputation for healthcare because we are saying that we’re bringing the standards across. The other parts is in, even in the hiring of our staff. Because in China, most doctors and nurses tend to see the safe haven for for occupation being in the public health care. So to look at the private health care, a lot of them are taking the wait and see, they are actually doing their due diligence on us as to what we stand for, who we are before they join us. Okay, so we find that pretty interesting. But it’s part of the I think the challenge of working in markets like these new markets that we’re entering,

Michael Murray  3:29  
Talk to me about the way that you hire executives, what do you look for?

Soon Teck Low  3:35  
I think we look for a few things. So number one, on our list will be integrity. By integrity, we mean not just in the ethics but also in the service offering that we provide. I think the second part is, is the leadership trait. By that because if you’re hiring people at a senior level, you are necessarily driving the rest of the team, Right?. And that’s why we look for people with strong leadership track record, and traits. I think the third part is because we are in Asia, the ability to handle and manage across cultural teams is very important because that is the nature of the workforce that we have in each of the markets that we’re in.

Michael Murray  4:18  
How do you retain them? So you’ve done all the hard work to get them on board. And you know, it’s not a hard sell with your top organization with the opportunity to keep that talent there.

Soon Teck Low  4:28  
So the thing I find interesting, Michael, is the fact that you know, it’s beyond money and for the really smart people, the really driven one, they actually like working with others who are equally smart, and equally driven.  And so it becomes self perpetuating. When you work with these guys. Everybody feels that everybody’s carrying their weight. Everybody is contributing to the discussion. And they come to work, very motivated. So I think we try to create a culture like that in the company, we try to bring people across from other markets to share the learning, we tried to create many platforms where at different levels, the sharing of the information. One example is we have this yearly Quality and Innovation Forum, where project teams get to come together and share the learning that they have done and the projects that put up.

Michael Murray  5:22  
So we go back to, I don’t know, maybe 15 years ago, for your, for your career, Tell, tell me about a time that you made a mistake in your executive career, whether it was a hiring decision or once again, maybe within a deal. Can you just talk me through that moment?

Soon Teck Low  5:42  
So one particular incident stood out. And that’s when I was working actually in a media business. I was actually Director of Operations at South China Morning Post, which is the daily newspaper in Hong Kong. So when I first got aboard I thought I knew it all. So you know, people seeing that you are the new guy at the top, they came to you, all kinds of problems. So one mistake I made was listening to just one side of the discussion. So the editorial people said, look the cut-off times too early, This is not realistic, we are missing on great news, etcetera . So I just, in a very heavy handed manner, told the operations, this is not acceptable. We’re going to push up the time. and this and that. I didn’t give them a chance to put up the discussion as to what were the issues that they face, you know, and the challenges that they face because of the infrastructure that was already in built. So the printing plan was built in a certain manner and there was a fixed process because there was very little you can do to change it. Okay. So I’ve since learned that in these kinds of discussions, especially in operations, you need to bring the whole team together and and get everybody to buy into that decision takes a bit longer requires a bit more patience, but it works better all around. 

Michael Murray  7:03  
What about you in terms of your your personal life to get rid of the stress? Are you going holidays? Are you going to gym? Do you play golf? What do you do?

Soon Teck Low  7:11  
So I try to balance off, you know, beyond some time in the evening. I really put down the mobile devices. I find that going for a walk or exercising after work does really help and in the weekend it’s really about the family. So when I’m with my family, I tried to really focus, you know, and not think about work at all. And I made it we have a rule in the house that my wife and I, we don’t talk about work once we’re back. Okay, yeah. Because, you know, you find that then that discussion goes on and you carry over the emotional baggage that you may have at work, you’re angry at somebody or issue and you still bring it back to work.

Michael Murray  7:50  
Well, Soon Teck Thank you very much for spending time with C-Suite Partners in the boardroom. 

Soon Teck Low  7:54
Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you.

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