Stephen Tjoa, Group Chief People Officer, BoardRoom Group

In the dynamic world of professional services, where people are the lifeblood of success, Stephen Tjoa stands tall as a trailblazer in strategic leadership and human capital expertise. With a career spanning over three decades, including a remarkable stint as a Partner and HR luminary at KPMG, Tjoa brings a wealth of experience to his current role as the Group Chief People Officer at BoardRoom Group. His journey from shaping the human capital landscape at KPMG to charting new territories at BoardRoom Group is a captivating tale of resilience, adaptability, and unwavering dedication to organizational excellence and employee well-being.

Reflecting on his transition from KPMG to BoardRoom Group, Tjoa paints a picture of continuity intertwined with innovation. “In many respects, KPMG and BoardRoom share many similarities,” he says, highlighting the common threads of professional ethos and talent strategy that bind the two organizations together. These shared foundations provided Tjoa with a solid launchpad to embark on his mission to elevate BoardRoom Group’s people-centric initiatives and solidify its reputation as a sought-after employer across diverse geographies.

Upon assuming the mantle of Group Chief People Officer at BoardRoom Group, Tjoa wasted no time in rolling out a holistic strategy aimed at nurturing a culture of growth and engagement. “The objectives laid out for me were clear,” he recalls, emphasizing the importance of laying down strong people foundations and fostering a culture of continuous learning and development. One of his proudest achievements is the establishment of the BoardRoom Academy, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at providing employees with structured learning pathways and leadership development programs.

But Tjoa’s journey wasn’t without its challenges. As he navigated the complexities of change management and cultural transformation within BoardRoom Group, he relied on his keen business acumen and unwavering commitment to people-centric values to steer the organization toward success. “Change management was inevitable for us,” he reflects, “and we had to have the right people and systems in place to meet these challenges.”

Fostering Human Potential and Values-Based Leadership

At the heart of Stephen Tjoa’s leadership philosophy lies a profound belief in the power of human potential and the transformative impact of empathy and humility. For Tjoa, these values aren’t just lofty ideals; they are the bedrock upon which successful organizations are built. “In any credible study or barometer, people issues remain one of the top 10 challenges of any organization,” he observes, highlighting the enduring importance of prioritizing human capital in the corporate landscape.

Drawing from his wealth of experience, Tjoa underscores the critical role of nurturing talent and fostering a culture of empathy and respect within organizations. “Nothing rivals the significance of getting the right people, developing them, and retaining the best to establish an organization’s true competitive advantage,” he affirms, emphasizing the authentic embrace of human capital as a tangible asset rather than mere rhetoric.

Recognizing the inherent complexities of human nature, Tjoa acknowledges that managing people is not an exact science but rather a nuanced endeavor guided by empathy and humility. “Human beings are wholly unpredictable,” he reflects, emphasizing the need for leaders to provide avenues for individuals to thrive on their own terms. “Every human being aspires to reach his or her potential, whatever he or she decides that would be,” Tjoa observes, highlighting the universal desire for purpose and fulfillment in both personal and professional pursuits.

As a leader in the talent space, Tjoa sees his role as a facilitator of personal and professional growth, guided by the principles of empathy, humility, and respect. “Through empathy, humility, and respect, we are able to establish trust in an authentic manner,” he asserts, underscoring the importance of leading by example and cultivating a values-based organizational culture.

For Tjoa, leadership is not a title bestowed upon those with tenure or experience; it is a continuous journey marked by resilience, adaptability, and a steadfast commitment to navigating through adversity. “Good leaders are forged in fire,” he remarks, reflecting on his three-decade-long career punctuated by economic crises, pandemics, and personal challenges. “The true measure of success is how one navigates through these complexities and helps people along the way,” Tjoa adds, encapsulating the essence of values-based leadership in times of uncertainty and change.

Nurturing Talent and Cultivating Organizational Success

Stephen Tjoa has developed a strategic approach to talent management that emphasizes recruitment, development, management, and retention. For Tjoa, there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the talent space; instead, success lies in understanding the unique needs and challenges of each organization and crafting tailored strategies to address them.

“When we say we want to recruit the best, do we clearly define what the ‘best’ is in our context and industry?” Tjoa challenges, highlighting the importance of aligning recruitment criteria with organizational objectives. He advocates a shift from the generic notion of “best” to a more practical understanding of “ideal” candidates who fit the organization’s culture, goals and business model. Tjoa underscores the need for clarity in defining organizational objectives and sourcing talent that best aligns with these requirements.

In Tjoa’s view, retention strategies must also be rooted in a deep understanding of employee needs and motivations. “There is a significant amount of work-life predictability that people are after,” he observes, emphasizing the importance of offering flexible work arrangements and opportunities for professional growth. Rather than relying solely on monetary incentives, Tjoa advocates for a holistic approach that prioritizes employee experience and well-being.

Furthermore, Tjoa emphasizes the value of learning from existing HR solutions and being open to ideas that may work well in unique circumstances. “Always be ready to share and be open to the ideas which may work well in your unique circumstances,” he advises, underscoring the importance of collaboration and knowledge-sharing in driving organizational success.

Central to Tjoa’s approach is the development of simple, practical strategies that yield measurable outcomes within a short to medium timeframe. He emphasizes the importance of aligning people’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with financial metrics to demonstrate the impact of HR interventions on organizational performance.

Reflecting on his tenure at KPMG, Tjoa shares a compelling example of a successful cultural transformation campaign centered around building the “Firm of Envy.” Recognizing the critical role of employee experience in retention, KPMG shifted its focus from clients to people, placing them at the center of its operating philosophy. The result was a remarkable improvement in staff retention, surpassing industry benchmarks and solidifying KPMG’s reputation as an employer of choice.

Transformative Leadership in Talent Development

Stephen Tjoa’s impact on talent development transcends conventional boundaries, as evidenced by his pioneering efforts in transforming scholarship programs into incubators of leadership excellence. Reflecting on his pivotal role in revolutionizing the scholarship program in the mid-90s, Tjoa unveiled a visionary approach aimed at nurturing high potentials and shaping future leaders.

“At the heart of my vision was the ambition to build a pipeline of individuals destined to become influential leaders and captains of industry,” Tjoa shares, highlighting his unwavering commitment to empowering ambitious young minds from diverse backgrounds. His approach, anchored in a full assessment center concept, encompassed a comprehensive array of exercises and interactions designed to provide participants with invaluable insights and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

However, Tjoa’s vision was not without its challenges. “Not everyone supported such elite programs, There was a perception at that time that getting the hiring pipeline right was more important than looking at long-term leadership succession programs,” he acknowledges, citing resistance from leaders and managers who viewed scholarship initiatives as secondary to broader recruitment efforts. Yet, Tjoa remained steadfast in his conviction that investing in the development of future leaders was not only strategic but imperative for long-term organizational success.

“My end-game was securing leadership potential,” Tjoa pinpoints, emphasizing the importance of identifying individuals with both academic excellence and street-smart attributes, poised to make a tangible difference in society and business. Through his ambitious reimagination of the scholarship program, Tjoa not only nurtured a new generation of partners within the firm but also cultivated a network of alumni who would go on to become influential leaders in their respective fields.

Tjoa’s transformative leadership was truly ahead of its time, setting the stage for the thriving present. The scholarship program stands as a testament to his visionary foresight. Today, the firm continues to reap the dividends of these strategic investments, with alumni scholars occupying leadership positions in the private and public sectors, shaping policy, driving innovation, and embodying the values of excellence and integrity instilled by Tjoa’s visionary leadership.

Leadership Beyond Borders

Stephen Tjoa’s leadership journey extends far beyond the confines of corporate boardrooms, encompassing a rich tapestry of experiences gained through his involvement with various not-for-profit boards at both the national and corporate levels. Reflecting on these diverse engagements, Tjoa unveils the profound impact they have had on his approach to leadership and the invaluable lessons he has gleaned along the way.

“For me, contributing back to society comes in different forms,” Tjoa shares, highlighting his deep-seated belief in the importance of giving back and leveraging his professional expertise for the greater good. Through his involvement with a myriad of organizations spanning education, technology startups, social entrepreneurship, and social services, Tjoa has been afforded a unique vantage point from which to glean insights and experiences not typically encountered in his day-to-day role as a HR professional.

These experiences have afforded Tjoa a deeper appreciation of the diverse challenges faced by different sectors and industries. “Talent woes are everywhere,” he observes, noting the universal nature of talent acquisition and retention challenges across various sectors. Through his interactions with professionals and thought leaders from disparate fields, Tjoa has come to recognize the inherent value of cross-sector learning and collaboration, underscoring the importance of board diversity in driving meaningful change and innovation.

In his capacity as a board member, Tjoa has contributed his expertise to address a myriad of critical issues, including performance management, talent development, and compensation. “One of the good things about specific advisory boards is that you get to spar intellectually with other gifted HR professionals around the table,” he remarks, emphasizing the collaborative nature of board engagements and the opportunity for peer-to-peer learning and knowledge-sharing.

Tjoa’s extensive history of advisory board memberships speaks volumes about his commitment to driving positive change and making a difference in the community. From his involvement with organizations such as the CDAC and Singapore Employer Alliance to his role as Chairman of the Singapore Polytechnic Business School Advisory Board, Tjoa’s contributions have left an indelible mark on diverse sectors of society. As he continues to serve as a HR Committee Member for AWWA (Asian Women’s Welfare Association), Tjoa remains steadfast in his dedication to leveraging his leadership acumen and expertise to empower individuals and organizations to reach their full potential.

Driving Change and Embracing Innovation

In his role as a Worklife Ambassador for TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices), Stephen Tjoa is at the forefront of fostering fair and progressive employment practices that prioritize work-life harmony and integration. Reflecting on his privilege to contribute to this important initiative, Tjoa sheds light on the transformative impact he hopes to achieve through his advocacy and engagement.

“As a Worklife Ambassador, my focus is on pushing the boundaries of best practices related to work-life harmony and integration,” Tjoa explains, emphasizing the critical role of these practices in shaping an organization’s Employer Value Proposition (EVP). With the prevalence of work-life challenges, particularly among millennials, Tjoa underscores the importance of attracting and retaining talent through flexible work arrangements and supportive organizational cultures.

Drawing from his extensive experience in talent management and organizational leadership, Tjoa recognizes the significance of this initiative in addressing the evolving needs of the workforce in Singapore. “In talent-scarce Singapore, this has become an increasingly important area of focus and discourse,” he observes, highlighting the imperative for organizations to adapt and innovate in response to shifting employee expectations and societal trends.

Transitioning to the corporate landscape, Tjoa shares insights into the future of the corporate and advisory services industry in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in light of BoardRoom Group’s prominent position as a trusted partner for Fortune 500 multinationals and SMEs alike. Anticipating trends and changes in the industry, Tjoa emphasizes the critical role of technology and innovation in driving transformation and enhancing service delivery.

“As one of the leading corporate services providers in the APAC region, BoardRoom Group is well-positioned to continue transforming and enhancing its business offerings,” Tjoa asserts, highlighting the company’s Global Business Services Hub as a catalyst for seamless and integrated corporate services. In an era defined by speed, accuracy, and insights, Tjoa underscores the importance of leveraging technology to deliver value-added solutions that meet the diverse needs of clients across the region.

Through his dual roles as a Worklife Ambassador and a strategic leader within BoardRoom Group, Stephen Tjoa exemplifies the transformative power of driving change and embracing innovation. With a relentless commitment to fostering fair and progressive employment practices and driving organizational excellence, Tjoa continues to shape the future of work and elevate the corporate landscape in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Forging Paths to Leadership Excellence

Stephen Tjoa’s wisdom and experience offer invaluable guidance to young professionals aspiring to leadership roles, particularly within the realm of human capital and corporate services. With a focus on nurturing talent and driving organizational success, Tjoa shares his insights on navigating the complexities of human capital management and charting a course towards leadership excellence.

“At the heart of human capital management lies the challenge of achieving a delicate balance between organizational objectives and individual aspirations,” Tjoa asserts, underscoring the dynamic interplay between business success and the well-being of employees. As custodians of human capital, Tjoa emphasizes the importance of upholding values and fostering an environment where talent can flourish and contribute meaningfully to the organization.

Drawing from his own journey, Tjoa emphasizes the need for human capital professionals to possess a heightened sense of realism and pragmatism. “We must make concrete, measurable, and sustainable impact,” he advises, emphasizing the importance of speaking the language of business and demonstrating the value of human capital initiatives in driving organizational outcomes.

Reflecting on his own growth and development, Tjoa highlights the importance of mentorship and continuous learning in shaping future leaders. “Mentors offer unique perspectives that can broaden our understanding and sharpen our skills,” he remarks, urging aspiring leaders to seek guidance from diverse sources and remain open to new ideas and perspectives.

Moreover, Tjoa stresses the importance of expanding one’s knowledge beyond traditional HR competencies, advocating for a holistic understanding of finance, technology, and organizational dynamics. “Reading widely is incredibly important,” he advises, noting the value of insights gleaned from anthropology, psychology, and philosophy in navigating the complexities of human nature and organizational relationships.

In addressing the misconception surrounding HR as a superficial and administrative function, Tjoa urges young professionals to redefine their roles as strategic partners and business leaders. “We must be seen not merely as administrators, but as effective business partners and strategists,” he asserts, highlighting the need for HR practitioners to demonstrate their value in driving organizational success.

Through his profound insights and unwavering commitment to excellence, Stephen Tjoa inspires the next generation of leaders to embrace the challenges of human capital management with courage, compassion, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. In his journey towards leadership excellence, Tjoa exemplifies the transformative power of vision, resilience, and lifelong learning.

Embracing the Future of Human Capital Management

As we peer into the future of human capital management, Stephen Tjoa offers a visionary perspective on the evolving landscape and the transformative impact of technological disruption. With insights drawn from the intersection of AI, HR technology, and organizational strategy, Tjoa illuminates the path forward and articulates a compelling vision for the future.

“In an era of technological disruption, the pace of change is relentless,” Tjoa observes, acknowledging the profound implications of AI and automation on the future of work. With AI poised to revolutionize traditional HR processes, Tjoa emphasizes the need for agility and adaptation in navigating this transformative shift. “Everything is expected to be faster, cheaper, and more accurate,” he remarks, underscoring the imperative for organizations to embrace AI-driven solutions to streamline operations and enhance efficiency.

Citing projections from industry experts, Tjoa highlights the exponential growth of the global HR technology market, signaling a seismic shift towards AI-powered solutions in optimizing business processes and reducing costs. “Reduction of costs will be a principal driver for businesses everywhere,” Tjoa asserts, noting the self-service nature of AI technologies and its profound impact on the employee experience.

Moreover, Tjoa anticipates a burgeoning demand for talent with AI skills, prompting organizations to redefine their value propositions and invest in talent acquisition and retention strategies. “Questions like where do we find them? Or how do we compensate them? And how do we retain these talents will become increasingly important for HR to answer,” he explains, highlighting the critical role of HR in navigating the evolving talent landscape.

However, amidst the disruptions wrought by AI and automation, Tjoa identifies a silver lining for people professionals. “We can certainly harness AI’s ability to power insight-driven analysis and predictions,” he asserts, envisioning a future where HR teams serve as strategic talent insights engines, guiding critical management decision-making with data-driven precision.

In this future landscape, Tjoa envisions HR professionals assuming an enhanced role as trusted advisors and strategic partners, leveraging data analytics to inform workforce planning, recruitment, performance management, and staff engagement initiatives. “With this,” Tjoa concludes, “HR teams will serve as the conscience of the organization, ensuring that ethical considerations and human values remain paramount in the pursuit of organizational success.”

As Stephen Tjoa looks ahead to the future of human capital management, his visionary outlook underscores the transformative potential of AI and technology in shaping the future of work. Through agility, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to human-centric values, Tjoa inspires organizations to embrace change and chart a course towards a future where technology and humanity converge to drive sustainable growth and organizational excellence.

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