The Human Capital Conversation

Developing people the ExxonMobil way

Mr Gan says an employee's future at ExxonMobil Asia Pacific is mapped with clear signposts.
Mr Gan says an employee's future at ExxonMobil Asia Pacific is mapped with clear signposts.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

In the first of a five-part series where leaders from the firms of the Human Capital Partnership Programme share their thoughts on what it means to develop talent for a strong core, ExxonMobil's Gan Seow Kee speaks to Xin Yun about its strategy in preparing employees for a global workplace.

The human capital development journey starts before anyone walks through ExxonMobil's doors, be it an intern or full-time employee.

ExxonMobil Asia Pacific chairman and managing director Gan Seow Kee says: "It's often too late to fix problems at the back-end if you have not had a healthy process to build a pipeline of leaders from the day they join. In fact, we start even earlier than that.

"We work and think hard about our internship programme - that's the starting point of many who later join us. The aim is to to grow the local talent, for them to be able to compete for and fill the senior leadership positions in Singapore and globally."

Developing human capital is serious business. Mr Gan says: "The people strategy is an integral part of every business line's strategy, of how we do business."

It has to be aligned with the way ExxonMobil works with a long-term view for a firm in a knowledge and capital intensive industry, he adds.

An employee's future is mapped out with clear signposts, by a "disciplined, structured" approach.

"We're big on processes in ExxonMobil because being a large company, you need to ensure that the practices you have are not only consistently applied globally but also sustainable," says Mr Gan.


  • The Human Capital Partnership (HCP) Programme is a tripartite initiative to grow a community of exemplary employers focused on staying competitive by investing in human capital development.

    HCP recognises and supports employers committed to programmes that nurture a stronger Singaporean Core; maximises complementarity between locals and foreigners, and enhances skills transfer from foreign to local employees to increase the capabilities of the local workforce.

    To find out more on how you can be part of the HCP Programme, contact TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices), the HCP Programme Manager on 6302-2782, e-mail us at or visit capital-partnership-programmme for more information.

These include what are called staffing and development committees comprising management leaders across different functions and levels. The Singapore Leadership Development Council, which Mr Gan chairs, is an example. Singapore-based senior leaders here oversee the development of local talent for leadership positions across the globe.

The Singapore office - also the Asia-Pacific headquarters for the downstream and chemical oil businesses and home to ExxonMobil's largest integrated manufacturing site - makes an effort to have at least 100 employees overseas at any point.

Most head to the US headquarters for a global perspective, including Mr Gan, who ran the global products supply and trading division there before returning to his current position in October 2014.

He says: "International experiences, be it overseas assignments or participating in regional or global teams, are essential for personal and professional development."

The firm has a "clear path of development for employees sent overseas, including plans for their future when they return".

There's no doubt why ExxonMobil puts in so much effort, having invested more than $20 billion here, with more than 3,300 employees.

Anticipated growth opportunities in the Asia-Pacific and Singapore as the regional hub will also lead to an increasing number of developmental opportunities for its Singapore workforce, he says.

  • In the spotlight

  • A shining example of how ExxonMobil develops local talent for the global workplace is Mr Choo Chia Vi, 41, ExxonMobil Pulau Ayer Chawan Refinery onsites department head.

    Mr Choo joined the firm in 2000 as a process engineer after graduating from the National University of Singapore with a chemical engineering degree.

    Over the years, he has taken up roles in manufacturing or supply and transportation, and has had overseas opportunities. For instance, he became a section head in the Singapore refinery in 2007, and later in 2012 and 2014, worked in various leadership roles in the United States offices.

    Mr Choo eventually returned to Singapore in August last year as a department head, bringing essential global experience back home.

    The firm said it often moves employees from the commercial or business side to manufactu- ring or the other way around, as part of long-term career development, and for them to "gain experience and knowledge in multiple areas as they progress in their career".

This is why ExxonMobil is recognised as a progressive employer and is part of the Human Capital Partnership Programme, says Mr Gan, where the goal is to share its best policies and encourage other employers to further strengthen the Singaporean core, as the real competition Singapore firms face are other manufacturing centres in other countries.

He adds: "The programme is a fantastic platform to showcase good practices and raise the overall quality of human capital development, for the overall Singapore objective of growing the pool of talent in Singapore."

The firm wants to show its commitment to building strong talent, and one way is through such programmes.

"It is in our interest for Singapore to succeed, and being a major player here, it's in our interest to grow a larger pool of talent. We need constant replenishment of talent into our organisation - good technicians, engineers, experts, business people... If we have a richer pool in Singapore, it'd be better for us in terms of ability to tap on that pool."

This is one reason ExxonMobil constantly reviews its practices. For instance, a workshop series for effective working in different cultures was introduced. Mr Gan notes that senior leaders like himself make it a must to attend, so as to share their knowledge - a commitment and investment in human capital.

ExxonMobil Singapore also hosts leadership and individual effectiveness training courses for employees in the Asia-Pacific. In 2015 and last year, more than 90 such sessions were held each year, covering about 2,600 employees. It also has technical and functional training courses for various aspects of engineering, and finance, among others.

He says: "Talent is a precious resource. We don't just want to send people overseas, we want to maximise the chances of success for every employee we send overseas. It'll cost you more if you don't develop your talent because in the end, the best team wins in the global marketplace."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2017, with the headline 'Developing people the ExxonMobil way'. Print Edition | Subscribe