Inspiring Women Leaders

Stand Out, Stand Proud

An interview with Lee Hui Li, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore
Lee Hui Li mobile bg

Stand Out, Stand Proud

An interview with Lee Hui Li, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore

Lee Hui Li, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore, might be a minority in the tech industry but is confidently leading the charge towards its continued success.

Many people would balk at being the odd one out but not Lee Hui Li.

In fact, she is comfortable standing out and has successfully built herself a career in the traditionally male-dominated tech industry over the last two decades.

Hui Li started her career in the public sector before moving to the consulting and high-tech sectors. She garnered both regional and global experience in her roles at EY, HP, Dell, Symantec and IBM.

In April this year, she took on the position of Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore, lured by the opportunity to be based back home. She was also keen to build a resilient, digitally inclusive nation and make a positive impact on customers, partners and communities there.

“I never felt being a minority was a challenge,” she revealed, quick to debunk the myth that the industry might have appeared daunting because she is a woman.

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Hui Li is passionate about technology solving societal problems and a champion for diversity and inclusion, so I could not be prouder of her journey, from successful regional and global roles to now ‘coming home’ to lead the incredible team in Singapore. She is dedicated in developing people, and her ability to initiate change through her mentoring programs as well as her ‘nothing is impossible’ mindset makes her a wonderfully collaborative leader.

Andrea Della Mattea, President, Microsoft in Asia Pacific.

The key to her staying the course was confidence and having a growth mindset – bringing transformational leadership and a positive influence, while empowering every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more.

Although relatively new in her current post at Microsoft, Hui Li is clear about what her plans are for the business, as well as how she can merge her personal leadership style to build the culture there.

What are your key priorities at the moment?

The first is to get to know my team, our customers and partners. I am actively listening and getting 360-degree feedback, intentionally and deliberately planning my time to meet with all our stakeholders.

I am also building our business strategy and priorities, together with my senior leadership team, that aligns with Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organisation to achieve more, while we positively impact our customers and communities around us. I keep these principles clear in my mind and am very deliberate about communicating them to our team constantly.

My third key priority is to build the right culture, which involves embracing diversity and inclusion through strengthening collaboration across all teams.

Building culture is notoriously challenging. How do you intend to do it, especially at an established multi-national like Microsoft?

I joined Microsoft because its mission and strategy resonated with me: to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. I am aware that I am not building it from scratch, given the strong foundation it already has as a global company. What I offer is my personal leadership in providing clarity to our strategies, building a strong, talented team, creating a cohesive culture and empowering my team. It is also important that I recognise, acknowledge and reward those that amplify our local 5Cs culture – Customer First, Collaboration, Care, Consistency and Compliance.

How do you encourage a lively entrepreneurial spirit within Microsoft Singapore, which is perceived to be an “old tech” firm?

I am actively inculcating intrapreneurship and innovation within my team. At its core, entrepreneurship is about taking risks. I always share with my team that they do not need to be in a start-up to be an entrepreneur. I encourage them to innovate and think beyond the box and take on bold risks. This is possible because of our scale and resources at Microsoft, where we can be the platform for innovation for everyone. Our ideas are easily presented to our customers at our Executive Briefing Centre and Technology Centre, where we can bring them to build MVPs (minimal variable product) and pilots as part of their digital transformation journey.

I constantly remind my team that we should be strategic partners and not vendors to the customers, partners, and communities that we serve. We need to evolve to become trusted advisors because we are helping our clients transform and achieve business outcomes. Another important factor is knowing when to pull the plug and embrace failure – fail fast, learn fast. As a leader, it is my job to encourage this mindset and create a safe environment to make people feel comfortable to take risks.

We should be strategic partners and not vendors to the customers, partners, and communities that we serve. We need to evolve to become trusted advisors because we are helping our clients transform and achieve business outcomes.

You mentioned that attracting talent is a key challenge faced by many companies now. How do you address this challenge here?

Firstly, I think it is important we share our own transformation story as Microsoft has an amazing story to tell on this front. Potential candidates have noticed it and are curious about it.

Secondly, it is about amplifying the message through storytelling about the innovation we bring to our customers and partners and the strong culture of the organisation that we represent. I always tell my team that each of us is a brand ambassador and advocate of Microsoft – we should be talent magnets with a head-hunter mindset. It is important that we build a strong talent pipeline rather than be reactive and hire only due to attrition.

You are part of the senior management team at Microsoft and work with board leaders in client companies. Why do you think it is important for boards to stay relevant and how would you suggest they do it?

It is easy to be complacent and remain in a comfort zone but in the complex world we live in, we need to stay vigilant and think ahead. My approach is to maintain the mindset of being prepared to be disrupted anytime and in doing so, always challenge the status quo. It is about remaining relevant to our customers and adapting to market changes. This means constantly validating our strategies, checking in to ensure they are applicable to the current state of business, anticipating changes and staying ahead of the curve.

Additionally, I would place a strong emphasis on listening more to our customers and employees. Personally, I make it a point to my team to give me good news and bad news. I want an open, transparent culture where people can feel comfortable coming forward so that we can respond to changes in the market and stay relevant.

My approach is to maintain the mindset of being prepared to be disrupted anytime and in doing so, always challenge the status quo.

You are very passionate about diversity and inclusion. How do you go about applying it in the teams you work with?

At the board level, having members with different profiles and broad experiences helps companies challenge and validate their strategies to have more inclusive perspectives. Likewise, having diverse points of views within my management team is something I strongly advocate. I have introduced it in every company I worked for. It has become my personal leadership style.

Diversity is not just about gender – it is also about bringing the best team together with different backgrounds, skillsets and experiences to share, collaborate and implement the best ideas. We should leverage each other’s strengths, discourage a siloed mentality and group thinking, and be open to different ideas.

Mentoring is something you have done throughout your career. What are some principles that you share with them?

I coach and mentor individuals across all backgrounds. One piece of advice I often tell them is to have a growth mindset and that it is okay not to know it all. It is something I learnt from my previous roles, and is also a big part of our culture at Microsoft.

I have noticed too that when I want to give a job opportunity, some female candidates tend to be more hesitant to take up new challenges, despite them fulfilling many criteria. I will share with them that they must believe and convince themselves first, as this is an internal roadblock they must overcome. Also, when opportunities come by, they must raise their hands so that they will be given a chance. Take on new roles and challenges to build and accumulate work experience as no one is born knowing everything. Next, identify mentors who will be able to step in, coach and guide them towards success.

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Lee Hui Li is responsible for helping organizations in Singapore build resilience, empower digital natives, innovate using cloud and artificial intelligence, and nurture a culture of inclusion. She brings extensive experience in the business-to-business technology industry, leading global business services, consulting, channel ecosystems and go-to-market transformation for customers across Asia Pacific and around the world.

Prior to this role, Hui Li was the General Manager for Microsoft’s Enterprise Commercial business in Asia Pacific, where she led an organization of sales, technical and industry specialists who support businesses, enterprises, and partners on their digital transformation journeys. Prior to that, she was the Managing Partner at IBM, managing their ASEAN Global Business Services and led a large consulting sales and delivery organization. Hui Li also has experience in leading the Channel and ecosystem organization for IBM in Asia Pacific. Her professional experiences include regional and global leadership roles across Symantec, Dell, HP, and EY.

With more than twenty-five years of experience in technology and consulting, Hui Li is a business transformation leader, driving innovation and building teams. She champions diversity, inclusion and allyship, having initiated mentorship and coaching programs for female communities.

Hui Li lives in Singapore and is a graduate of the National University of Singapore, where she majored in Economics.

The Council for Board Diversity (CBD) believes that board diversity catalyses robust governance and responsible stewardship, and is a valuable driver for growth.

Having diversity in the board brings together the diversity of judgement to chart the best course through uncertainty, challenge, opportunities and risks – applicable to both for-profit and non-profit organisations. The mix of knowledge, skills, experience, gender, age and other relevant features is harnessed to devise strategy and manage its execution. Against this backdrop we believe that including women on boards, in particular, adds a powerful lead-in to the other forms of diversity that bring value to the board’s role in the company.

CBD, established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, endeavours to promote a sustained increase in the number of women on boards of listed companies, statutory boards and non-profit organisations as a stepping stone to broader diversity.