May 2015
Accountancy is the language of business

Having benefited from her Accountancy degree, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Software executive Tay Bee Kheng is looking to pay it forward as a member of the inaugural NBS Alumni Advisory Board.

As Vice President and General Manager for HP Software Asia Pacific and Japan, Tay Bee Kheng is no stranger to developing strategic sales plans to align her teams to global and regional objectives.

Now, as a member of the inaugural NBS Alumni Advisory Board, Bee Kheng is hoping to be a key influencer in setting the strategic direction for the School and its students too.

She says: "Tectonic shifts in technology, changes in population demographics and the rebalancing of economics powers - these are trends that impact every industry and affect everyone."

"Students must be kept up-to-date on these trends, especially the rapid changes in the technology landscape, and be cognizant of the effects on industries and consumerism. Ultimately, they must develop the ability to maneuver in a climate of mega changes."

Bee Kheng adds that her experiences of working in multinational companies and interacting with people from many countries and cultures enable her to bring a practical perspective of what it takes to make NBS students stand out.

"I could help with establishing a set of 'recognizable attributes' for NBS graduates that would resonate with leaders of various industries," she shares.

You wouldn't bet against Bee Kheng achieving these aims. The 20 year veteran of the IT industry is known for her drive and ability to produce highly-motivated teams.

Shares Bee Kheng of her management style: "I always look for 'the right people with the right attitude, in the right job, at the right time'. By following this basic tenet, you are already halfway towards forming high-performance teams. Then you set the vision, strategy and the execution plan to achieve the vision."

"I believe that, given the right environment and the right direction, people can be motivated to perform beyond expectations."

Likewise, a chat with her dad at the tender age of 16 gave Bee Kheng the motivation to excel.

Feeling "devastated" at receiving a poor grade during an exam, the eldest of three siblings discussed her dream of being a hairstylist with her dad, who then offered to send her to a top London academy for hairstylists. "My father ran a bakery but we were not rich. He would have had to work very hard and scrimp every cent to give me the opportunity to be the best in my chosen field."

To the young Bee Kheng, it was a valuable lesson on the willpower and sacrifice required to realise one's goals. It spurred her to persevere with her studies and she went on to graduate from the then-Nanyang Technological Institute's School of Accountancy in 1987, scoring a position with "Big Four" firm Deloitte.

Says Bee Kheng of her accountancy background: "Most successful executives would agree that accountancy is the language of business - even if they did not take this discipline back in school, they certainly acquired the skills during their careers. Similarly, this foundation has helped me do well in my many roles."

In 1990, she made the switch to the IT industry, joining tech giant IBM. She says: "I am someone who craves to learn new things all the time. IT is very different from audit, but the pace of change was not as fast as it is today so it was easier for me to catch up."

Her accountancy studies certainly helped. "Like many other undergrads, I found subjects on fundamentals of accounting principles, P&L and cash flow statements to be relatively boring. But these have given me an edge in that I've been able to quickly understand every line of business that I’ve been involved in."

Bee Kheng has since built up a wealth of experience in the IT industry - her roles have included direct and indirect sales, managing alliance partners including overseeing sales to the manufacturing industry, and functions like sales operations, sales force enablement, finance and marketing.

Not one to rest on her laurels, she declines to name her biggest achievement, saying: "Those who know me will tell you that I'm big on letting go of the past and focused on pursuing my goals for the short and long term. I've never thought of any of my achievements as being my best one because I still want to achieve so much more."

This single-mindedness is evident even in her career-planning. She cites a piece of advice given her by the Executive Vice President of HP's Printing and Personal Systems: "Have a career map, like Tony Buzan's mind maps, so you have a clear path of where you want to go and the relationships you need to build to get there."

But while she may be a driven career woman, Bee Kheng isn't one to neglect her family. She says: "I need to juggle many roles – being a mother, daughter, leader, manager and employee."

"A lot of women try to be perfect at every role and find themselves falling short. Hence, I don't try to achieve perfection, but instead strive for the optimum. I do so by letting go of things that do not have a significant impact in my life and focusing on the ones that matter."

This includes sharing good wine and great conversation with close friends, and spending quality time with her two kids.

And speaking of which, Bee Kheng has contemplated sending her children to NBS: "Why not? It is one of the top schools in Asia!"

By Christopher Ong