Jump to winners | Jump to methodology
The future is bright in HR
Companies throughout Asia are grappling with workplace challenges – from resignations and a protracted talent crunch, to remote and hybrid business models.
Helen Coult, regional president, Asia Pacific, at global talent research and business transformation firm Armstrong Craven, explains how this has resulted in HR becoming more central to operations. They are more involved in the business and in strategic planning,” she says, adding that HR now has a “seat at the top table”.
“I have been blessed to work with both HR and business leaders who, early on in my career, entrusted me with significant responsibilities and empowered me to deliver”
Gail Lim, Shell Singapore
Today’s chief human resources officers must ignite workplace resilience and drive progressive change. Fortunately, they’re not alone.
Teams of young HR professionals are taking on new responsibilities and demonstrating outstanding levels of dedication and skill. Hundreds of these young standouts were nominated by their managers and other senior professionals for HRD Asia’s Rising Stars 2022 award, and after careful review of their roles, achievements, goals and industry contributions, 19 individuals emerged.
Four of these winners spoke to HRD Asia, sharing career insights and unique strategies for overcoming professional challenges.
Twist of fates
Gail Lim, HR consultant at Shell Singapore, says her “tumble” into HR occurred by happenstance. She planned on becoming a therapist after graduating in 2014 with a bachelor’s in social sciences and a major in psychology. Lim feels fortunate that her introduction to human capital management was with Shell, which she says has robust HR practices and a genuine desire for HR professionals to have a seat and a voice at the leadership table.
“My foray into HR was completely unplanned and happened only because the commercial graduate program I’d applied for at Shell was fully resourced,” says Lim, one of HRD Asia’s Rising Stars 2022. “An HR recruiter thought my profile would be a good fit, and since they were still seeking candidates, I kept an open mind, went for the interview and was selected.”
Keeping an open mind has been a hallmark of Lim’s career. She credits this approach with helping her secure a position within a well-established company and also tackle new responsibilities.
“I have been blessed to work with both HR and business leaders who, early on in my career, entrusted me with significant responsibilities and empowered me to deliver,” says Lim. “This baptism by fire raised my confidence and further cemented my belief that I could make a positive contribution to this organisation.”
Lim recalls a challenging assignment 18 months into her career, when she was tasked with covering for a senior teammate on maternity leave. This meant assuming the role of HR business partner with two of the business units in the LNG trading organisation.
Lim says it was a fast-paced and demanding job, but by deferring to that valuable piece of advice handed to her by one of her managers, she maintained an open mind and focused on the lessons each new experience could impart while soaking everything up “like a sponge”.
Another Rising Star, Ehren Hock, an industrial relations lead at Shell Singapore, had always been interested in HR. He pursued a business degree with a major in HR at Nanyang Business School.
During his studies, he was deployed across the HR sector’s value chain, where he gained experience in talent and acquisition strategising. Then, while working in business partnering and operations, he was instrumental in facilitating the execution and resolution of HR line initiatives.
Hock now collaborates with stakeholders within Shell’s portfolio of businesses to manage employee grievances and lead collective bargaining negotiations.
“When I first joined the company, it was daunting. I had to spend quite a lot of time and effort to better understand my stakeholders, my role and how I fit into the wider organisation.”
Hock feels that his sense of curiosity, willingness to learn, and ability to “ask dumb questions” are what facilitated a fast track into his current leadership role.
Raunak Bhandari, HR business partner at Google Asia Pacific, is another Rising Star who didn’t plan on working in HR and is a self-proclaimed engineering dropout. His career began when he made the decision to pursue his passion for travel and food.
“I worked with Marriott International and did their global leadership development program, and that’s when I realised my love for people,” Bhandari says. This led to his completing a master’s degree in human resource at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “It’s been a little less than five years since I joined Google at our APAC HQ in Singapore, and I feel like I’m just getting started.”
“Professional learning and development are critical to creating a positive employee experience people want to be a part of. Companies need to look at what’s not working in order to create something that has greater value”
Raunak Bhandari, Google Asia Pacific
Every business sector evolves, but HR could arguably be distinct in its swift progression. “The important role HR plays became very clear during the pandemic,” says Coult. “HR had to jump ahead and organise all the PPE, make sure everyone was safe, and had to implement a functioning remote work model. It very quickly moved from a transactional role to a business partnership role.”
Coult explains that the pandemic put a lot of pressure on HR professionals, giving further credit to the Rising Stars’ admirable performances. “HR was suddenly in charge of business partnering and keeping organisations up and running. This put a lot of pressure on them because their workloads were increasing. And then when it came to redundancies, which were very unpleasant, it became wearing.”
Each of HRD Asia’s Rising Stars 2022 expect diversity, equity and inclusion to remain at the forefront of workplace culture.
“The Great Resignation impacted almost every industry in 2021,” says Bhandari. “Today, many HR leaders are facing an inflection point. In the face of the mass exodus from the labour market, attracting and retaining talent will be the hot commodity in 2022.”
“Professional learning and development are critical to creating a positive employee experience that people want to be a part of. Companies need to look at what’s not working in order to create something that has greater value,” Bhandari explains.
“When I first joined the company, it was daunting. I had to spend quite a lot of time and effort to better understand my stakeholders, my role and how I fit into the wider organisation”
Ehren Hock, Shell Singapore
An inclusive HR culture
Coult predicts the types of HR professionals companies will be looking for are those who can really shine, like HRD Asia’s Rising Stars. “They don’t need people who can shuffle papers; they need people who can take the initiative and perform two or three roles. HR is for people who can think outside of the box,” says Coult. “It requires both IQ and EQ, but especially EQ, because creative problem-solving is the only thing that’s going to drive transformation.”
Lim says creating workplace cultures in which everyone feels welcome and included should always be a key goal. “When I was an undergraduate, I assumed HR was about payroll, performance management and administrative work, but that myth has been busted,” she says, noting those activities may be the bread and butter of HR, but the role is fundamentally about people, and people need to feel like they belong.
“There are all these additional layers where you can add value,” adds Lim. “HR will always be interesting and different because you're working with people.”
Bhandari says leaders should be asking themselves how they can best support their team members. Highly conscious leaders, he says, create supportive environments in which employees feel comfortable voicing their capacity concerns, taking time for personal wellness, collaborating with colleagues and coming up with innovative solutions to their challenges.
Lim and Hock agree that Shell has created a psychologically healthy workplace culture. “I think that's the mark of success,” Lim says. “Creating a psychologically safe environment where people know they can ask any question, or table an honest concern without the threat of backlash, encourages more participation and engagement.”
- Adleen Kassim-Baldé
Talent Acquisition Specialist
- Alyssa Than-Stark
Group Well-Being and Rewards Manager
- Annette Heitmann
People Engagement Lead, Southeast Asia
- Crystal Teo
- Ehren Hock
Employee and Industrial Relations Lead
- Gail Lim
Human Resources Consultant
- Jin Shaun Yee
Regional Head, People Strategy, Planning and Analytics
- Karynne Choong
HR Manager – APAC HR Consulting
- Matilda Chen
Manager, Talent Acquisition and Workforce Planning
- Ming Yong Lee
Senior Consultant, HR Transformation
- Olivia Cheong
Senior Executive, Human Resources
Singapore Storage & Warehouse
- Sam Neo
Founder and Chief People Officer
- Samuel Quek
HR Leader, Southeast Asia
Johnson & Johnson
- Sarah Auyong
Lead, People Services – APAC
foodpanda APAC – Delivery Hero APAC
- Si Qi Tan
Senior Human Resources Business Partner
Marina Bay Sands
- Toh Pei Ling
Careers Business Partner, Asia
Cotton On Group
- Ying Soong
Management Associate, Group HR
Nominees had to have HR work experience of 10 years or less, as well as experience in executing progressive HR initiatives, and be committed to a career in human resources with a clear passion for the industry. Nominees were asked about their current role, key achievements, career goals and the contributions they had made to shaping the industry. Recommendations from managers and senior industry professionals were also taken into account. The HRD Asia team reviewed all nominations, narrowing the list down to 19 of the sector’s most outstanding young professionals.