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Siew-Wei, Leading with heart & mind – Caretaking as a road to success

Siew-Wei is CEO and President of Schenker-Seino in Japan and Cluster CEO North East Asia at DB Schenker. She is a very successful woman who turned DB Schenker in the Philippines into a prosperous organization. Her winning formula is to guide with heart and mind. This is what she sees as a top strength of females. In a very frank interview, Siew-Wei reveals some of her tips and tricks on how to achieve your career goals. Spoiler alert: the classical so-said female strength of caretaking is one of them.

Females are often engineered to lead with the heart while taking care and displaying emotion. This is in our nature to care for our families as mothers and this is how we brought it to the workplace.

Portrait of DB Schenker Employee Siew

Siew-Wei inspires women to lead authentically

Siew-Wei, we are celebrating  International Women’s Day this week. What do you see as a specific talent of women?

Females are often engineered to lead with the heart while taking care and displaying emotion. This is in our nature to care for our families as mothers and this is how we brought it to the workplace. Thus, we care for our employees, for their welfare in a particular way. This is a special talent which I believe may pay off in a crisis situation. The first reaction of a female leader would be: what about the employees? It is not just about the P&L in that situation. It is how we take care of our people as a first priority. Having the people in your heart and soul, every crisis can be conquered because then, they fight with you  every day. Despite facing danger, they come to work because they know at the end of the day, you take care of them. 

Portrait of Siew smiling

How do you observe this in your own way of working and leading? 

This is exactly how I lead. I was CEO of the Philippines when the country was hit by Covid-19 and had to enter lock-down as the first country in the world. You could understand that it was quite a burden for me to make the right decision. It was not just about KPIs. It was about the lives of my colleagues, their families and in the end about the Philippine people. I was in tears because this was a very heavy decision for me to make. I visited our Intranet to read our purpose statement. This gave me the inspiration I needed to reflect again on the why we exist as a company: connecting the world by bringing goods to people. My decision was then made that night to say: If I stop Schenker in the Philippines tomorrow, there will be no telco network support and no food in some supermarkets. We are responsible for the supply chain. I need to encourage my people to come to work. I typed the value statement into my letter to them that evening. This is why we are here. We are here to elevate lives. We are here to support our countrymen. And all of my colleagues turned up for work the next day. I am still deeply touched by their commitment. 

How do you support that culture? What are the small things you do to show that you care?

Caring for somebody is not something you do once. You need to be consistent by doing little things every day. When you start a Teams call, you should ask how are you and really mean it . You really want to hear the answer. I truly believe I need to know everybody within my team and understand their problems. And then, we fight together towards a steady environment, get more business, whatever we need to do. 

A lot of females struggle to find their place in more male represented surroundings. What is your advice?

I think the most important advice is: know your job. This is the first of three rules of mine. It is fundamental and applies to both men and women. If you don’t and try to speak up just because you are female, of course nobody will listen to you. They know you are talking nonsense. To me, I try to learn every day. I am in air freight, I am in ocean freight, I visit the warehouse. Do I have to do that? Maybe not all the time, but I want to know what contract logistics for example is about. I want to know the details behind everything. When you start to learn little things all the time, you start to build on your own knowledge. Whatever you say in a meeting becomes very credible. This brings me to the next rule…

What is it?

Never stop learning! In the past, I tried to learn something new every year. One year, I took on a motorbike license. This is still not very common for women. People asked me: What, do you want to be a hell rider? No, I just want to learn something different. I want to pick up a new skill. Whether I use it or not, whether I will buy a bike  later on or not, it doesn’t matter.

And the final one?

Be authentic and be unique. There is a common understanding of how a CEO should dress: in suit and tie every day. This is not me. I run the show very differently. I am in my jeans whenever possible because I often visit the warehouse. I want to walk the talk. People can smell sincerity versus insincerity. If you have someone just copying management books and not doing it and not living it, you can tell straight away. So, do what you say and say what you do. 

As a leader identifying and growing talent is key. How do you do it?

I try to identify people who want to do more - who are passionate about the job. Then, I do a lot of coaching sessions with them. I give them projects that are out of their comfort zone. They conquer more and more tasks which they never imagined they can do. They grow their confidence . This is how I was trained. My bosses in the past revealed to me that you are never ready for your next job but have to develop into it. An important message for women who often do not apply for a job as they feel they do not fulfill all of the expected requirements in the job advertisement. The important thing for your mentees to know is: you are not killed when you mess up the job. Just fail fast. If you don’t do a good job, it is ok. We will correct it. As a mentor, we help you to get it right. 

What is the source of your energy?

I work for passion and for purpose every day. Being a CEO, every decision I make, may change the life of the people. In the Philippines, people are not rich. They need their paycheck every month. They depend on the company for that. Every decision I make is really impacting them. Not only them, but their families and the next generation too. Having this purpose makes my job so fulfilling.  I thank Schenker for this opportunity. When Schenker offered me the chance to move to Japan and to Korea, I was a little bit reluctant as my job in the Philippines was not done yet. But then I decided if I  have the opportunity now to impact another two countries, another 1,000 to 2,000 people - why not? And that is how I live my life. My true passion is to elevate people everywhere I go.