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Leading Women: Interview with Tan Bin Ru

As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia. In this story, we speak to Tan Bin Ru, Chief Executive Officer (SEA) of OneConnect Financial Technology, Co-Chairwoman of the Blockchain Association of Singapore, as well as the ‘Top 5 Women in FinTech’ and ‘Top 50 Asia FinTech Leaders’ at the recent Singapore FinTech Awards 2019. Here, she shares the greatest career risk she’s undertaken, what she learnt from an unexpected interview question, as well as the only thing that takes her mind away from work.  


 

Q: What personal sacrifices have you made throughout your career?  

Bin Ru: When I began my career, it wasn’t about striving towards success necessarily. It was about having enough to feed the family, support my parents and bring up the kids. So in terms of sacrifices, I would say time for myself, my children and my parents.  

Q: Could you name a woman who’s inspired you the most?  

Bin Ru: I am very fortunate to have had female mentors. When I was working at Hewlett-Packard for 10 years, half of that time was spent working under women leaders. One of them really taught me about people management, how to manage a team of three to four hundred, as well as empathy for others. I guess you can say that I can be somewhat aggressive at work, and I tend to switch it on to achieve maximum business outcome. This particular mentor taught me how to slow down and still make an impact.  

Q: What’s a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt that’s unique to being a female leader? 

Bin Ru: I almost always regret not speaking up. I think that a lot of women might feel a lack of confidence, especially if they’re not an expert in the field. You end up not asking basic questions or sharing your views. Now that I am a leader, I learnt to be genuine and to contribute. Even if you ask basic questions, your understanding is a whole lot better afterwards.  

Q: How do you unplug from work?  

Bin Ru: I’ve tried reading, I’ve tried exercising, I’ve tried watching Korean dramas, but nothing works. I still think of work all the time. The only thing that does is spending time with my dogs, actually. Dogs need attention and grooming them takes a bit of time. The amount of focus allows me to really switch off.  

Q: What’s the best work-related advice you’ve ever received?  

Bin Ru: I am very lucky to have met many good mentors. One of them, when he moved from Hewlett-Packard to Microsoft, I decided to move as well. Initially, he wanted to give me a new role but, during the interview, he had second thoughts about the decision. I grew defensive and gave him all the reasons why I should be hired. I reiterated my experiences and the fact that I was his top performer at Hewlett-Packard. Instead, he told me to go back and think of a different set of reasons why the organisation should hire me. It took me a few days and, when I went back, I told him that the organisation was at this particular stage, and that my expertise was complementary. He then told me that, even though the reasons were largely the same, this time it wasn’t all just about me, but about the organisation as a whole. This really stuck with me because, a lot of times, we are very competent individuals, and we have a tendency to only look at our own strengths and what we deserve. A lot of times, that’s what’s getting in the way of you moving up.  

Q: Do you recall any biases or assumptions made about you?  

Bin Ru: In many ways, I feel like I have benefited from being a woman rather than being discriminated against. I think, in the area of tech, women are very well looked after because we need more women in the sector. I have not gotten into a role that I was not worthy for just because I was a woman. With that said, there are general biases, of course. For example, women are perceived to be more emotional [when] what you are really trying to do is to be authentic and empathetic.  

Q: What energises you about work?  

The idea that failure is going to happen all the time, and that we should focus on even the slightest things. I think that’s how you can get a bit more momentum. I remember, when I did my first major deal, things didn’t exactly go as planned afterwards. I was down because, the more effort you put in, the harder you fall, right? What helped me move on was the expectations others had of me as a leader.  

Q: What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken as a professional?  

Bin Ru: Switching careers to something that I’d totally never done before. In my early days, I’d never done sales before. I was a mathematics student, and I started in compliance and operations. At one point, I was looking after three or four hundred staff in operations, and I decided to switch to sales instead. It was very difficult. Everybody told me that it was not wise because I was way too senior to move, and it was to a smaller team on a lower corporate level. The whole world was basically telling me that it was a downgrade. But I did it for the skills that I wanted to learn, and I have never looked back.  

Q: How do you manage self doubt?  

Bin Ru: During moments of doubt, I tend to ask a third party, and my husband is a good person to analyse the situation, and he’s been very supportive. He taught me that going with your heart is not always a bad thing. In fact, your guts and intuition is right most of the time.  

Q: What is your biggest indulgence at home?  

Bin Ru: During the COVID-19 pandemic, my biggest takeaway has been how I spend my time. Because I have been on the road quite a bit, travelling almost every week. So when I got to spend time in Singapore, I appreciated that a lot. I started doing things that I wanted to do, like cooking for my husband, which I have never done in the last 20 years. I opened a Netflix account during the circuit breaker period and watched whatever I missed out on before. With that said, at the end of three months, I realised that I was not cut out for retirement. I should continue working!  

 

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