As a student, her favourite subject was chemistry, and she dreamed not only of pursuing it in university, but to also carve a meaningful, impactful career with it. With determination, perseverance and unstinting support from her company, global pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Ms Yong Hwee Yee has been doing just that for more than 20 years.
From joining the firm as a chemist in GSK’s Jurong plant, she has risen to become the vice-president of the company’s Respiratory & HIV Manufacturing arm, an emerging area of importance. From her base in the United Kingdom, she oversees seven manufacturing plants and 4,600 staff across the globe, which produce products that reach tens of millions of patients across 140 countries annually.
“The entire world out there is our laboratory, and GSK has provided me with a platform to experience different countries,” said Hwee Yee. “By working in the different markets, I get to see innovation coming out from different areas.”
As a highly experienced leader in GSK’s headquarters, Hwee Yee is in a key position to drive global strategy, with the end goal of doing her best for the person at the end of the supply chain – patients who consume GSK products.
Hwee Yee shared: “The products we manufacture in these facilities touch the lives of 36 million patients every year. Our biggest achievement is when patients tell us how our products have allowed them to feel better and improve their quality of life.”
When she joined GSK as a fresh graduate of Imperial College London, Hwee Yee was quickly noticed for her talents and capabilities. Not only was she enrolled in various leadership development courses throughout her career, she was put through multiple job rotations that exposed her to diverse teams across different regions as well as different functions of the business. These included areas from research and development to manufacturing and supply chain management.
The entire world out there is our laboratory, and GSK has provided me with a platform to experience different countries.
– Yong Hwee Yee
Hwee Yee, who was in China for two and a half years as the regional supply chain lead and site director before assuming her current role in London, said: “I now have a better global perspective because I understand how markets and different regulatory environments operate. I’m also more sensitive in striving to foster an inclusive environment among my teams, because I truly see the benefits of diverse experiences.”
RECOGNISING AND EMBRACING DIVERSITY
Hwee Yee herself has benefitted from GSK’s inclusive culture, which welcomes and celebrates diversity. Said Mr Rob Bowers, the general manager of GSK Singapore Pharmaceuticals: “A culturally diverse workforce has been shown to drive better performance, enhance knowledge and skills transfer, and facilitate learning and sharing. It leads to higher morale and attracts talents.”
To facilitate integration among its culturally diverse workforce in Singapore, GSK has launched several initiatives, such as a buddy programme that pairs locals with new foreigners joining the organisation. The use of software tool GlobeSmart also helps GSK employees map out possible differences between their cultures to identify potentially sensitive areas, with the aim of helping them to work better together.
“Having an internationally diverse team is a really big advantage for GSK,” said Rob. “It’s a very competitive world, so a fresh approach, different thinking and new solutions are really important. People who come from different backgrounds help us be more creative.”
ENABLING EMPLOYEES TO ACHIEVE THEIR ASPIRATIONS
In Singapore, GSK was among the first batch of companies to be on the Human Capital Partnership Programme, which recognises employers that develop and train locals to succeed in a competitive global market.
As GSK Singapore and its talents are seen as key thought leaders for GSK internationally, Rob invests deeply in the development of his staff. “It’s really energising getting to know individuals in the organisation better, thinking of what we can do to help them develop, how we can give them new opportunities, the right training programmes, and how we can mentor them so they develop faster,” said Rob, who credits the local team with being highly committed, accountable and passionate about delivering the best to patients.
DEVELOPING FUTURE LEADERS
Now a senior industry leader, Hwee Yee hopes to continue injecting more inclusivity and diversity into GSK and the workforce by encouraging younger people, especially women, to join the sector.
She and a group of friends, whom she met at Harvard Business School, set up BioBiz in 2006, a biomedical business conference. Organised in partnership with local tertiary institutions, the annual conference gives students a sense of what the healthcare industry is like and connects them with industry leaders who share their stories, experiences, and advice, openly and generously.
She hopes that more young, local talents will discover the same passion she had when she was a teenager – one that has guided her all through her career.
“I hope to share my story and experiences with as many students as possible so that they ultimately find a role they are passionate about,” said Hwee Yee. “Hopefully, a few of them will be touched by what they see and hear, join the industry and become its future leaders!”
Read all the stories in our Diversity At Work series.