A successful career built on three Cs


  • Business
  • Saturday, 05 Apr 2003

BY STEPHEN BOEY

 

CONSULT. Convince. Communi-cate. Practising these three Cs diligently has taken Chua Seok Theng to where she is today – chief information officer (CIO), information technology, at Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, the only woman CIO in the local telecommunications industry. 

“I have always used the 3Cs approach. No matter which level I am in. I have to consult, I have to convince, I have to communicate,” Chua tells BizWeek in an interview. 

“For what I am not very sure, I have to consult. 

“For what I am very comfortable and very sure of – for example, I am very well-versed with DiGi's operations and business – I have to convince. I am the best person to do the convincing, because this is my knowledge area.  

“After these two things, I must make sure that everything is communicated effectively. If you don't communicate properly, a lot of complications can result.” And in her climb to the boardroom, Chua had not only to contend with the gender factor, but also that she graduated with a degree in electrical engineering majoring in computer science from the National Taiwan University, which was not recognised by the government.  

My growth has a lot to do with DiGi's growth says Chua Seok Theng.

“But people know that Taiwanese graduates work very hard,” adds this DiGi stalwart, who also has a masters in engineering from the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand. 

She began her professional experience in 1982 as programmer/analyst with the then Dataprep (M) Sdn Bhd (since listed on the second board of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange) where, in her six-and-a-half-year stay, she was instrumental in developing a wide range of packages for specific financial institutions. Here, too, Chua had her first exposure to Unix, a very new operating system then. 

A move to Far East Computers Sdn Bhd in 1989 as a software manager provided her with new experiences in design, planning and project management in the Oracle environment.  

A year later, she was recruited into the Formis group. From 1990 to 1995, Chua served as a manager of systems integration at its software consulting firm, Bass Consulting Sdn Bhd, handling all the turnkey projects in major accounts within the securities industry. 

Then came the defining career move to DiGi Telecommunications, or Mutiara Swisscom as it was called then.  

Chua recalls: “I never expected to be tapped. I was servicing the Berjaya group in terms of broker information.” Berjaya was then a major stakeholder in Mutiara Swisscom. 

Chua joined Mutiara Swisscom in June 1995 as senior manager, information technology, assumed the mantle of general manager two years later, and elevated to CIO in January 2001.  

Along the way, corporate changes saw Mutiara Swisscom evolve into DiGi Telecommunications, today one of the top three mobile telecommunications players in the country. 

A 21-year veteran in the information technology (IT) field, Chua describes her move to the then Mutiara Swisscom as a major decision.  

She recalls: “At that time, I was focusing more on the financial sector and broker houses, in software development. When the opportunity just came by, I decided to make the switch to telecommunications. 

“It's quite a major decision because when I joined Mutiara Swisscom it was a very new start-up, and mobile telecommunications was a very new concept.  

“I joined as senior manager, and I started with a small team of 10 to 15 people. When we signed up subscribers, it was only in the10s. It was a small number to take care of. We only had a small subscriber base to support, and so our role was not active.” 

Today, DiGi Telecommunications is a far cry from what the company was then, and Chua now leads a technical unit more than a hundred strong.  

“My growth has a lot to do with DiGi's growth,” acknowledges Chua, who sees herself as a change agent. “Change is very dynamic. We have to be positive about change. The important thing is to anticipate, manage and communicate change.”She has changed the traditional IT shop she oversees into a business unit as well. “We participate very closely in terms of business strategy. It is very rare. You'll be surprised to see me sitting here as head of IT to say that business is the driver, but we must create business value that a professional will want. 

“Here at DiGi we conceptualised together as a cross-functional group consisting of marketing, IT, technical and sales, to see what is the best way to develop any services into a product that we want to bring to the industry.” 

Thus, she is particularly proud that DiGi Telecommunications was the first local mobile operator to begin operations – on May 24, 1995 – the first to introduce prepaid cards, and the first to launch a cost-saving post paid mobile service to suit the different usage and lifestyle patterns of the customers of today in line with full deregulation. 

In January this year, DiGi Telecommunica-tions unveiled its Content Provider Access (CPA) concept, a pioneering proposition for mutual growth and expansion for the content and telecommunications industry.  

CPA, a concept borrowed from parent company Telenor (which has succeeded Swisscom as the foreign partner), will essentially lead telcos in the opening up of the value chain to content providers, enabling them to directly offer their content and services to the mobile market in Malaysia.  

Currently the platform caters to services based on SMS (short messaging service) but will soon expand to encompass WAP (wireless application protocol), MMS (multimedia message service), and Java, a platform-independent programming tool.  

As a member of the senior management team at DiGi Telecommunications, Chua also sees people development and succession planning – not only in her own IT division but in other areas as well – as very much a part of her extended responsibilities.  

She explains: “You see, when I do projects, I have also to work with other divisions. It is also my interest, for the good of DiGi, to see that talent everywhere is nurtured. When it comes to organisation development, I develop about two, three layers. When people get developed and contribute to DiGi, I feel very happy. 

“I see myself as people-oriented. I give them a lot of support. I move around, to give them that kind of comfort. But I am also a taskmaster when it comes to targets.  

“I don't believe that financial or monetary reward is everything. Sometimes a chat, a small note, will make them feel very good that at their low level they are also seen by people (at board level). I think that is very important.” 

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