Mei Lin Wong is the Managing Director of DigiB (Asia Pacific), the digital innovation hub for a global chemical distribution company, Brenntag. Establishing this start-up in 2017, she leads a diverse team of project management, IT, process and change specialists focused on enabling the organization’s digital journey.
Mei Lin, in your line of work, it’s typical for professionals to move around in their careers. Could you talk us through your career progression to your current role in DigiB?
I started my career in accountancy and actually, still am a CPA. It was through my role in finance that I got involved in technology (ERP). With this experience, I got my start in consulting, working with a Big 4 firm for some time. When I moved back to Australia, I wanted to go back deep into business operations and build proficiency on how it works from the inside. I was fortunate to land myself a job in commercial systems, which allowed me to fuse my interest and skills in business and in technology. At the same time, I was also honing my skills in data science.
Soon after, my first foray into start-ups came as I established a Business Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE). And now, I’m again in a start-up environment where I have the opportunity to both shape a new organisation (in DigiB) as well as help steer an existing business, Brenntag, towards the digital economy.
Throughout my career, and in my work now in digital innovation, I hold the belief that it’s first about the business followed by the “tech”. There is a plethora of technological advancements in the past years, but I take a pragmatic and deliberate approach in adopting these new technologies. They have to be supporting the achievement of business strategy.
What challenges have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
In this field, where it is about continuously bringing about change, I often experience the challenge of getting management to look beyond the short-term and balance it with the long-term perspective. I understand that in running businesses, there are short-term needs to fill, but one can not only focus on that. Some end up with a myopic short-term view which doesn’t allow for growth.
There is no easy way to go about it. It entails a perseverance and showing results. Early wins need to be planned and achieved since these fuel the long-term journey. Communication is important to find out what is really important to my stakeholders so I can help support their objectives and get to a win-win situation.
What would you say has enabled you to progress in your career?
I touched on perseverance earlier and how it has helped me overcome challenges. I think that in order to grow in any career, one truly has to put in the work and commit to doing what needs to be done, no shortcuts!
I also feel that being self-aware has really helped me in my professional journey. To know one’s own values, being true to yourself and moving forward with integrity – that’s very important for it to be a meaningful journey.
What is your advice for other females looking to become leaders?
You are you. Learn to appreciate and have confidence in yourself. If you know who you are and are acutely aware of what you are capable of, you are able to be a gracious leader and do your job to the best of your ability, leveraging on your unique characteristics. You don’t have to compare with peers or other women. Try not to care too much what others are saying. Let them mind their own business.
Also know that you have your own time. Move at your own pace. The race is only against yourself, not with others.
You are a passionate advocate for using innovative technologies to drive change. How does ‘going digital’ enable a more diverse group of people to perform as a team?
Digital has become such a buzz word these days. Personally, I see ‘Digital’ not only as adding or transforming technology but, more broadly, it’s bringing in new ways to enhance value for an organization. Digital culture encourages the team to engage with customers and partners to create new solutions and introduce process efficiencies.
I would even say, Digital makes us more human. Having machines take care of the monotonous, mechanical tasks, allows people to focus on the more complex work that only humans can do – work that can only be successfully accomplished through building relationships and interacting synergistically with each other.