Managing Multicultural Teams and Embracing Lifelong Learning with Jimmy Ong

In this conversation, we sit down with Jimmy Ong, a senior business leader with over 20 years of experience. Throughout his diverse career, Jimmy has held roles in technical consulting, sales development, and strategic planning, leading teams of more than 50 and driving business of US$5 billion in emerging and developed markets. Today, Jimmy leads the Global Channels team at HP,  working with channel partners and creating solutions for customers.

Jimmy is also recognised as a leading expert in learning and development. He has been engaged in consulting assignments with multinational companies and facilitated more than 100 workshops on strategy, leadership, and business transformation.  

*The responses provided here have been rephrased for brevity and clarity. For the exact answers and a comprehensive understanding, we strongly recommend watching the full video podcast or tuning into the audio podcast.

Q: Could you provide insights into your current role as the BDM for SEA at HP?

A: Certainly. Across my two-decade journey with HP, I've held various roles, and presently, I'm leading the Global Channels team. In this capacity, my primary focus is collaborating with channel partners in this region, working to amplify their businesses with HP. Given the shift to a hybrid world, the needs of our customers for IT services and solutions have evolved. About 80% of our business is conducted through channel partners. My responsibility involves co-creating solutions with these partners, ensuring our customers receive the right IT solutions and an enhanced overall experience.

Q: Among the diverse roles you've held, which role stands out as your favorite or most memorable?

A: One of the roles that resonate deeply with me is when I served as the Chief of Staff for the country Managing Director in Southeast Asia. This role was particularly exciting because it placed me in a unique position, based in Singapore, to oversee the Southeast Asia region—an area marked by significant emerging economies such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

In this role, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the managing director to craft investment strategies that aimed to seize the tremendous opportunities in these markets. It involved working on multiple fronts, including business partnerships and learning and development initiatives to nurture talent in this dynamic part of the world. The role allowed me to contribute to strategic decision-making and investment planning, making it one of the most exciting and impactful roles in my career.

Q: In leading teams across diverse cultures in Southeast Asia, what differences have you observed?

A: Leading teams across diverse cultures in Southeast Asia demands an understanding of each team member's historical and cultural background. Southeast Asians tend to be less expressive, requiring more probing compared to Western counterparts who are generally more outspoken. Empathy plays a crucial role in leadership in this region, necessitating leaders to spend time with their teams and build connections. As the saying goes, "When there's no connection, there's no correction." This emphasizes the importance of establishing connections before addressing issues or providing guidance.

Q: How does your understanding of different cultures impact the way you motivate teams to succeed in achieving their goals?

A: Motivating teams involves understanding the two critical aspects: willingness and commitment. Leaders need to discern whether the team possesses the necessary skills and whether they are willing to commit. If the gap lies in skills, training is the solution; if it's a lack of will, coaching becomes pivotal. Understanding cultural nuances further refines the approach to motivation. For instance, different cultures may respond better to one-on-one settings rather than group discussions, emphasizing the importance of tailoring leadership styles to individual and cultural preferences.

Q: Can you share specific examples of cultural differences you've observed in different countries in Asia and how these differences influenced your approach to leadership?

A: Certainly. Let's start with China. In China, building trust is paramount. Initial meetings might not delve into business discussions; instead, they could involve sightseeing or other activities. This is a way to test sincerity and observe interactions before embarking on business discussions, emphasizing the significance of trust.

Moving to Thailand, the Land of Smiles, people are friendly but opinionated. They demand trust before collaboration, and although they may express agreement, pushing certain ideas can be challenging due to their strong opinions.

These examples underscore the importance of trust as a fundamental in Asian cultures, but the ways trust is established and expressed can vary subtly between countries.

Q: How is your experience of living overseas different from frequent travel across the region, and how does it impact perceptions?

A: Living overseas differs from frequent travel, particularly in how you are perceived. As a frequent traveler, you contribute to the economy, and you're welcomed. However, living in a country might lead to perceptions that you're taking away jobs and competing with locals. This difference can create tensions.

Living in a place allows for a deeper understanding of the culture, values, and how people react to various situations. The example of knowing which hospital to call when sick in Shanghai illustrates how living in a place gives a more profound understanding of the daily life and culture than mere visits.

Q: How has your experience of living abroad influenced your perspective on leading teams and learning and development?

A: Living abroad or spending time overseas, whether for work or study, exposes individuals to diverse environments. It challenges preconceived notions and updates one's belief system. For me, it's been transformative in understanding the impact of different seasons on mood and coping mechanisms. This exposure cultivates empathy, open-mindedness, and a heightened social quotient. Initially, I was narrow-minded, thinking Singapore offered the best education. However, when my daughter sought to study overseas, I objected unless she got a scholarship. She did, and now, in her second year in Canada, the experience has convinced me of the value of overseas exposure in shaping one's worldview.

Q: What advice do you have for young professionals considering working or studying abroad?

A: I strongly advocate for it. Embrace the local way rather than adopting an expatriate approach. Engage with the people, immerse yourself in the culture, and build empathy. This not only updates your belief system but also enhances your social quotient, crucial for effective interaction in various contexts.

Q: What's your leadership philosophy?

A: My leadership philosophy follows the ABCDE model:

  • A (Authentic Leadership): Be genuine, share thoughts, and genuinely care for individuals.
  • B (Belief): Believe in your team; avoid being judgmental and help them find the right fit.
  • C (Communication): Communication is not just about telling; it's about listening. Connect, and correct through communication.
  • D (Decision Making): Leaders need to make timely decisions, providing clear direction.
  • E (Energy): Energy is crucial and comes from passion, mental and physical fitness. It's important to refresh and renew in the fast-paced IT industry.

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