Michelle Ho, managing director, UPS Singapore, shares her views on HR, leadership and how senior leaders can support community safety programmes by ‘walking the talk’, in this interview with Jerene Ang

I understand that you’ve been in UPS since 1993, what made you stay with the company for so long?

One of the privileges of working at UPS during my 23-year career here was the opportunity to rotate into different roles across different countries. This enabled me to gain different cultural perspectives and make business decisions wearing multiple hats. With my recent appointment as the managing director of UPS Singapore, the role challenges me to view our business from the customer’s point of view, which is helping us transform the way we enhance the customer experience.

One important UPS value that led me to stay with the company is its strong business ethics. The high standards that UPS upholds in business conduct matches my own personal values; we have earned the company a good reputation in every community we operate in, and are highly regarded in our industry. UPS constantly strives for excellence and that has challenged me to consistently deliver the best results for our customers and for the company.

Intrinsically, I have stayed because of the prospect of being able to make an impact on nurturing people in my organisation. As I have benefited from the strong UPS corporate culture of continuous learning, team spirit and belief in its people, I hope to play my part in ensuring these values endure within the organisation.

What has been your most memorable moment with UPS?

The most memorable moment I have with UPS was the first time I received my International Management Incentive Program (IMIP) award. It is a reward given to management to recognise their achievements, hard work and dedication.  This reward also meant I began to own shares of the company.  This made me feel a true sense of belonging, a belief that our collaborative powers will help us achieve our goals.

Our founder, Jim Casey is famous for saying, “Determined people working together can accomplish anything.” This has paved the way for how UPS is built on collaboration — between our customers, each other, and our company. As an IMIP recipient, I understood then that we share the rewards of our company’s success. Our people are our greatest asset and each employee contributes to the success of the company.

How would you define your leadership style?

As UPS’s Singapore managing director, I believe that being available and accessible to all employees across the board is important. As the head of the organisation, being communicative and appreciative about how each role helps UPS serve customers, is one of the key tenets of my leadership philosophy.

This comes from the emphasis on the importance of investing in people. In UPS, our most valuable resource is our loyal and capable people, which no technology or tool can replace. I believe in nurturing talent and giving them the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. When you have motivated people at the foundation of your business, there is no obstacle that you cannot overcome as a team.

My first priority as I took the leadership position in Singapore was to engage with my employees on the ground, especially with the UPS drivers who work tirelessly on the road to ensure that we deliver on our promises to our customers. I have learnt that simple gestures such as meeting with them before they go onto the road and providing them with small goodies for their trip, makes a difference to their day. I want to continue building a culture of camaraderie and support where everyone, no matter the rank, can encourage each other in their daily work.

Having held various roles across China, Singapore and Asia Pacific, what similarities and differences do you notice in the people challenges across the region? And how have you adapted your leadership style?

What I have come to notice is how strong and similar the UPS culture is across countries. I’ve experienced that in UPS, people share a common working culture so despite the geographical differences, we think alike and work around the same core values. This has certainly influenced my leadership style over the years, placing strong focus on our people and integrity.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

A senior leader in our company once told me that interactions with people are the most impactful. You are remembered for your leadership on how you groom your people and your interactions with them rather than your achievements on the paper. That is why at UPS, people development is always our number one priority and we make it a point to communicate appreciation and recognition.

What is your view of human resources as a business function? How can the HR contribute better to your organisational goals, in your opinion?

I believe the function of the human resource department has been constantly evolving in the past few years. They are no longer thought of as a business function that only handles recruitment.  Today, they are regarded as strategic partners that manage human capital – the main performance driver of any business. They are as important as the finance team that manages the financial resources of the company. Apart from attracting talent, they have the responsibility of retaining and engaging current employees, which is arguably, as important as servicing our customers.

As the HR department is responsible for the company’s workforce management, it is critical for them to collaborate closely with every department and garner insight into their needs and culture to help ensure they attract, retain and develop the right talent.

How closely do you work with your HR head and on what kind of issues?

The health, wellness and safety of our people are of utmost importance to us. Which is why I work very closely with my HR department especially in matters concerning safety. At UPS, we hold regular reviews to ensure safety measures are in place and concerns pertaining to safety are addressed timely. As a strong advocate of workplace safety, I make it a point to attend these sessions regularly.

Other than safety, my HR head and I do work together to organise other employee engagement sessions with various departments as well so I can hear from them. People are our best asset, without them we can’t function even if we have the best product and technology to offer. That is why HR is also an integral part of UPS’s management committee and is involved in many of our decision-making processes so they can ensure we have the right people in the right roles to achieve our business objectives.

In March 2016, UPS committed 14 million to support community safety programmes. As a senior leader in the organisation, how do you support the programme?

I am a strong believer of ‘walking the talk’ and I enjoy participating in many of UPS’s CSR programmes. This sets an example for other employees and encourages other employees to participate see the value of giving back to society.

In Singapore, UPS contributes to the local community not only through economic means, but also by lending our supply chain knowledge to help non-profit organisations overcome supply chain challenges. For example, we collaborated with The Food Bank Singapore, a non-profit organisation which runs a food distribution network, to help them reduce wastage through better food storage and packing management at their warehouse. UPS staff – including senior leaders – were involved in this project and each of them brought along their experiences and perspectives and contributed to the project’s success.

In another project which is close to my heart is our contribution towards Pathlight, a mainstream curriculum school for children with mild to moderate autism. After our Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs Lee, was seen carrying on of their products at the State visit in the United States, they experienced a surge of online sales. They needed urgent help to fulfil the large volume of orders. Within a short span of time, we rallied together a team of UPS volunteers, to help them pack the products for their back-logged orders.

Could HR leaders make it to a CEO level? Why/why not?

HR leaders are increasingly becoming more involved in major decision-making processes and already have a holistic comprehension of the business. At UPS, we have a wide range of projects to support the development of our people such as mentoring programs. I constantly encourage my people to take part in these programs, be open to rotations, or even simply speak to colleagues from various functions so they can gain a broader perspective. A thorough grasp of the business, together with their insights and expertise of workforce management can position them well to become senior leaders.

With this, I don’t see a reason why HR leaders can’t become CEOs, or any leader from any department for that matter. At UPS, we have a history of appointing Managing Directors from diverse backgrounds. For example, I came from a finance background myself and now I am leading the UPS operations in Singapore. We have also had HR leaders who led our people as a CEO in various countries.

A company like UPS, which celebrates diversity, will value the experience that people bring from different functions. At the end of the day, if you have the tenacity to grow your skills, I believe you will succeed in every role that is given to you.

Photo / UPS Singapore