Supporters of Singapore’s claim to be Asia-Pacific’s premier travel node have a good case. This might ruffle feathers in perennial competitor Hong Kong or in bold upstart Shanghai. Nevertheless, if you are going to choose a city for a global travel technology giant, like the UK-headquartered Travelport, Singapore is an obvious candidate.
Today, Travelport’s Asia-Pacific regional office is located in the Lion City, and its senior regional director is a Singaporean, one Chua Hui Wan.
Chua, who grew up in Singapore, and then studied in Australia, at the University of Tasmania, before returning home, first started working at Abacus International, a major player in the airline, travel and leisure industry.
With transferable skills in the travel sector, she moved in 2005, to the UK-headquartered travel technology giant, Travelport. The company has over 3,500 employees globally.
Chua now has two pre-teen children, a daughter and a son, and being a working mother, she has a lot to cope with. “I feel very lucky being Singaporean. This city is a fantastic place to bring up a family,” she says, rather than lamenting the strains of work and motherhood.
Nevertheless, Chua’s post is a demanding one that requires frequent visits to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and various parts of mainland China.
The appointment came in April this year, and gives Chua responsibility for driving Travelport’s commercial strategy and operations across the continent.
Prior to this, she held the position of regional director, Southeast Asia. She was also the director of Travelport’s airline services, where she managed and coordinated aviation relationships across the region.
Although conventional wisdom holds that there’s still room for improvement for gender equality in senior management, Chua thinks the current picture is generally very positive, and certainly so in Singapore. “[Things have] definitely come a long way since the bad old days when there was a sense of ‘a glass ceiling’. For women seeking to move up in the corporate world, a lot simply depends on having the appropriate skills and adding to them and having the right attitude. Gender inequality at the top is no longer an issue, certainly not in Singapore.”
As for her own role in shattering notions of a glass ceiling and scaling the corporate ladder, Chua reveals that dedication to her work lies behind her success. “You really have to have the right attitude to start with and passion, and routinely deliver beautiful work.”
These are lofty ideals – what if one cannot live up to them? Chua is sanguine. “The day you drag your feet into work is the day you should reconsider your job.”
Has this ever happened to her? “No. I always enjoy my work,” she says emphatically. Chua is as dedicated as a manager as she is as an employee. “I manage a team of 575 people. They see my passion for my work and it motivates them. I also have a well-earned reputation for speaking my mind, which enhances efficiency.”
Candour is a difficult thing to get right in the corporate world. Too much and one can imperil one’s position, too little can lead to crossed lines. “I speak my mind as healthy debate is important in the corporate world,” she says.
Learning from one’s peers and bosses is key in career development, and Chua feels she’s been lucky. “I have had a series of fantastic bosses, who have been my teachers, motivators and gurus... If you really want to make life difficult then start micromanaging. You’ll lose supportive team players pretty quickly.”
In a final vote for her home city, Chua adds: “Singaporeans are hard working and highly family-orientated. The two can co-exist.