Article: TechHR Spotlight: Olivia Chua of Jebsen & Jessen


TechHR Spotlight: Olivia Chua of Jebsen & Jessen

The CHRO on her passion, dedication and the adventures that brought her career to great heights
TechHR Spotlight: Olivia Chua of Jebsen & Jessen

In the emergence of non-linear career paths, Olivia Chua is a trailblazer.


From age 15, HR leader Olivia Chua has understood the value of hard work and dedication. This would later become the foundation of her work ethic as one of Southeast Asia’s most highly respected CHROs.

Growing up in Malaysia, Olivia balanced her studies with side hustles. Even before the multi-talented student graduated from university, she had already experienced taking on up to eight different jobs.

Starting young, gaining experience

“There was no pressure from my family,” Olivia, who serves as CHRO of industrial giant Jebsen & Jessen, told People Matters in an exclusive interview.

“I didn't come from a well-to-do family and a lot of the time, if you want something, you need to work for it. But I never thought of it as something that would hold me back in that sense.

"Every year, I would look forward to my vacation. Vacation was not the time for me to take a vacation, unfortunately. It's the time that I would find a new job,” said the seasoned leader, who will speak at TechHR Singapore on 18 July.

For Olivia, who has always had an adventurous spirit, each job brought a new experience. “Every job that I took on was different from the other. It's more for myself to learn about different industries. I was in retail first, then [Food & Beverage]. I was in banks as well, then logistics,” she recounted.

After graduation, I started looking for a proper position. I did not feel so afraid to tackle a new environment or new responsibilities.”

Olivia’s early exposure to business led to her mastery of computer skills which wasn’t yet taught in schools. “Because I had worked with so many companies,” she said, “I was learning Excel, Word, PowerPoint, everything.”

The HR leader believes starting young prepared her for bigger challenges. “People will not see you as green. You are also able to express yourself better, and you can share more because you’ve already had a few experiences before. When they ask you questions, you're able to relate,” she said.

From statistics to human resources

The journey into HR may have been a matter of chance for Olivia, a statistics graduate. “I chose statistics because it was the hardest topic. Not because I was interested in it … I thought, I might as well challenge myself and do something difficult,” she recalled.

At university, however, the future CHRO didn’t take a single class on HR. So, how did she transition from crunching numbers to managing people?

Her decision to apply for high-calibre employers set her on the path to HR, particularly recruitment.

“I didn't apply for any HR positions at all,” Olivia said. “What I did was, I just applied to companies renowned for building up fresh grads. To me, that was important: to join a company well-known [for teaching you] how to be a proper professional … like a management trainee.”

Olivia’s vibrant personality won over the hearts of her interviewers. “They asked me, ‘Would you like to try recruitment?’ I was like, ‘What is recruitment?’ They said, ‘Basically, you get to meet and interview different people and arrange events and travel.’ That sounded fun!”

From the start of her professional career as a recruiter, Olivia worked with different stakeholders, many of whom were senior members of the firm.

“Imagine a young person reaching out to partner-level members and going through profiles with them. I built a lot of confidence,” she said.

“How statistics helped me is by being analytical. For instance, if you're going through CVs, as simple as that, you’re analysing the CV itself and comparing it with the job description. You’re analysing the job description to see the similarity between this person, with these qualities, and what is required based on the job description.”

Trailblazing, building a career in HR

In the emergence of non-linear career paths, Olivia is a trailblazer. An example of a well-rounded, well-travelled leader who is unafraid to take on new adventures. Yet, her advice to professionals who want to go into HR and talent leadership echoes a back-to-basics approach.

“No matter what degree or studies you have done, you can go into human resources,” Olivia said. “But the difficulty, once people get into human resources, is dealing with people. We're not dealing with machines; we're not dealing with numbers. We’re dealing with humans with different emotions. So, HR has a different complexity. If you have an interest in people, then that will already help you.”

Olivia’s advice is to get the right exposure: “Whatever career stage you are at, if you have any opportunity to join activities – whether it relates to HR, health and wellness, anything – try to be more exposed to it and get to know your HR people. Ask them if there are any projects you could be involved in. Try to create that interest first. Or you can ask, ‘Can I do job shadowing with you?’”

Gaining global exposure: growth through discomfort

An important part of Olivia’s growth as a professional can be attributed to her decision to work in the UK, France, Scotland and the Middle East. “I wanted to be in an environment where I was not comfortable,” she said.

“Because I had already experienced so many different jobs and environments, it wasn't so scary for me. I enjoyed my experience,” Olivia said.

Experiencing language barriers and cultural differences, however, opened new challenges. Learning French, for example, gave her the right focus and pushed her to learn and adapt.

“Having all these different experiences just really toughens you up. [You become] unfazed,” she said. That's why until now, whatever challenges come my way, I don't get easily distracted, frustrated, or disappointed.”

Eager to hear Olivia Chua in person at TechHR Singapore? #TechHRSG continues the conversation this July. Register now to be part of Asia’s Largest HR & WorkTech Conference!

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Topics: Leadership, C-Suite, #TechHRSG, #Career, #HRCommunity

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