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Nov 2010

Case study: Boonsiri Somchit-Ong, Advanced Micro Devices Global Services

Boonsiri Somchit-Ong is the corporate vice-president for finance at Advanced Micro Devices Global Services in Malaysia.

Boonsiri Somchit-Ong, corporate vice-president for finance

She is responsible for ensuring that her 200-strong global team delivers first class accounting services support for the company’s entire global entities.

In this piece, she outlines how she has achieved, and maintains, her career success.

Feeling comfortable with choices

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career from a personal standpoint is how to be a mother and a wife while also progressing at work. One of the things I’ve learned through experience is that you can’t be everything: you have to make a choice. Whatever choice you make it’s your choice, and you can’t blame anyone else. Once you understand this, you’re able to move on and have more confidence about the decisions that you make with regards to family, kids or work. 

As I’ve progressed in the organisation, I’ve seen a lot of great job opportunities but often these are in other countries. Often I think, ‘If I were single I’d do this’. But sometimes you have to just decide that, although they might be good opportunities, family comes first.

Facing negative attitudes

In previous companies I’ve had Asian male bosses who have viewed women in the workplace in a more ‘traditional’ role. For example, no matter how good your performance, your salary increases are hampered because they believe you shouldn’t earn more than your husband, and that you’re just earning pocket money.

‘I’ve had Asian male bosses who viewed
workplace women in a ‘traditional’ role’

However, I believe these attitudes are slowly changing, and I’ve known some Asian male bosses who have supported and promoted women. A lot depends on the individual and how they themselves were raised.

Support from extended families

The good part about living in Asia is the fact that we often have extended families who live with us so we can leave the childcare and household jobs to them while we concentrate on what we do best – what we’ve been trained to do.

Having an extended family at home really allows me to focus on the office and not worry about the kids. This type of support is vital given the hours I work. Because I work for a global company, I might have to take calls at 5am or 11pm, for example, and sometimes I do night shifts. 

Learning from others

Having mentors has helped me progress in my career but I don’t like formal rigid mentoring relationships: sometimes you just want to go out for a coffee to discuss things with somebody. As a mentor myself I learn much more from people in an informal, relaxed setting.

‘I like that my role models
tell me straight when I’m wrong’

My current role models are two very strong men in our company. I really like the fact that they will tell me straight when I’m doing something wrong. Sometimes it’s a little bit painful but it’s the best way.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from them is the power of being patient. I’m one of those people who loves to make very rash decisions. But, from talking to my role models, I’ve learned to look at things from every angle and understand the risks before I make a decision.

I believe you can learn from every single person you come into contact with in business – not just your role models or mentors. Even if they’re the worst person you’ve ever dealt with, you can learn something – how not to be like them!

Making the most of female support

Male role models can be useful for technical aspects of the job but you need the support and advice of other women for certain issues. I’m part of the AMD Women’s Forum, where women get together, share experiences and learn from each other about issues specific to women in business.

‘You don’t want to be an iron lady
or the editor in The Devil Wears Prada

For example, whether you like it or not, how you present yourself is very important. You don’t want to be an iron lady or come across like the editor in The Devil Wears Prada, but you do need to find a way to get your ideas across effectively. Asian women often don’t speak up at work, and if they’re too quiet and subdued they won’t get noticed. The support of other women can help you develop a style you’re comfortable with.  

Firm, fair and compassionate leadership

I believe that I am a very firm but a very fair leader. I speak my mind and there’s no hidden agenda. I’m good at rallying the team and communicate pretty well so if I stand up and speak I can influence the group.  

I also think it’s important to be compassionate. I believe in reaching out to my people, understanding their problems and seeing where I can help. I try to be very flexible, for example around family issues.  

I believe that being a good leader is being a good human. You have to treat people the way you would like to be treated. Before you blow up or get angry, think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end. If you have that in mind, it keeps you aware and makes sure you don’t jeopardise relationships.  

A good leader must also be able to have some fun. It’s good to let your team see that you’re one of them, that we all have the same issues, and as we solve them, we let our hair down and celebrate. That’s part of teamwork.