When Ms Yong Wee Ling (Class of 1992, ACC) was posted to China in 2008 to ensure that software giant Microsoft's subsidiaries there were compliant with processes and standards, she hit a brick wall.
"Making changes in China was super tough," recalled Wee Ling, then the Controls and Compliance Group Manager for Microsoft China, on the China business culture which is traditionally bureaucratic and entrenched.
But that was when her change management abilities came to the fore. During her term in Beijing which lasted nearly three years, Wee Ling managed to uplift the audit status of a Microsoft subsidiary in China to a healthy state.
She also managed to introduce a discount management process for Microsoft China's channel partners, disproving naysayers who thought it was impossible.
"I remember a stakeholder telling me when I was driving through these changes 'Wee Ling, please don't create a riot in China!' but in the end what was achieved was very rewarding."
Today, she is still with Microsoft and is based in Redmond in the United States, where she is a Finance Director in the Finance Operations team. Wee Ling manages outsourcing operations supporting reporting analytics for Microsoft international subsidiaries, with a team of almost 200 people located in India.
Her high-flying career, which spans over two decades in three countries, really started when as a teenaged lawyer-wannabe she realized she was better at numbers than at languages. That led her to studying commerce at the Victoria Junior College, then accountancy at the Nanyang Business School.
"My accountancy degree really built up a foundation of critical thinking and analytical skills which allowed me to jump start my career, and fundamentals in subjects including accounting principles, auditing, statistics, management theory," said Wee Ling. That it was a direct Honours degree from a renowned university further boosted her credibility.
"Auditing knowledge learnt in school was also very helpful, and all that I learnt about risk and sampling were put to use right away."
Straight out of NTU in 1992, she was thrown into the deep end when she got a job leading an internal audit team at a local government organisation.
"But I would say putting what we learn in school into practice is what makes the difference, and learning from the real world is the key to success."
After completing a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Western Australia in 1996, she went on to work for Lucent Technologies, Honeywell and then Microsoft in 2005.
Impactful work moments included her first exposure to multi-national work cultures when she joined Lucent Technologies and Six Sigma training – where she learnt a set of techniques and tools for process improvements which proved to be an invaluable addition to her skill sets.
Over the years, Wee Ling developed her niche. "I see myself as a leader of change. I am always put in the position from having to build up a sustainable platform, scalable processes and a solid team from nothing," she said.
Her proudest professional achievements include receiving numerous employee awards, including a Circle of Excellence award in 2009 from Microsoft for achieving a green internal audit status for a China subsidiary within one year– an award conferred upon top-performing employees world-wide.
She also implemented a programme which involved outsourcing statutory, tax and corporate registration for all of Microsoft China's subsidiaries, which resulted in significant cost savings.
Looking back on her career, Wee Ling mused: "I am most proud of how I have been able to make and manage high impact change where people think is impossible, on a large-scale. Overcoming resistance in the beginning and turning non-believers of change into believers has been very satisfying in my career."
By Wong Sher Maine