Lessons on Leadership: Goh Siang Han, Chief Operating Officer, Food Solutions

Lessons on Leadership: Goh Siang Han, Chief Operating Officer, Food Solutions

It was the pirate flag on Goh Siang Han’s office wall which hinted at what would be an extraordinary session of In Conversation with Senior Management.

The Q&A-style webinar, conducted in August 2020, was a candid, cheery conversation with the Chief Operating Officer of Food Solutions. From parenting his two daughters to his leadership style, the industry veteran shared pearls of wisdom (and some interesting anecdotes!) from his 29-year career in the aviation industry.

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Is there a story behind that intriguing pirate flag behind you?

I’m a fan of the Pirates of The Caribbean series and Captain Jack Sparrow!

But that’s not why this flag has been hanging in my office for almost 20 years.

It actually serves as a reminder that we, in SATS, are all on the same ship sailing towards a common destination. If this ship sinks – everybody sinks with it.

As captain of my “ship”, my decisions carry a lot of weight and if I make the wrong choices, it might lead to mutiny or sometimes worse outcomes. I am reminded by the flag to take care of the interests of my people and that we carry the burden of protecting the company together. As a leader, one needs to stand firm and pull through the tough times.

How has your leadership style changed over the years?

When I first started running a team, I thought of running it in a military fashion – very much like the army. But as I started to manage different groups of people, my leadership style was shaped by the tasks assigned, different personalities and the direction of the company. Today, I find that being relationship-focused as a leader is more important.

You could ask my people – I try my best not to micromanage. I trust the team understands the broad direction of the department and they are free to do as they will. Of course there are exceptional situations, but those are rarely life-threatening – I have faith that the team will know how to make the right decisions.

We are moving towards a period of recovery now, but have there been any key challenges you’ve faced during this period of time?

We’ve been trying to get different countries in our network to work together and streamline operations, but each country has its own culture. It has been a challenge turning all of them, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Maldives, Philippines and Indonesia into a cohesive unit.

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to major changes for our workforce. Job redeployment became a necessity as we pivoted our operations to survive. We’ve identified some employees for movement within the company, but it’s been a challenge convincing people to move away from their comfort zones to try new things. Rather than looking at it negatively, I hope they’ll look at the bigger picture and see the positive factors instead.

Having been on both sides of the business (Gateway and Catering), do you have some tips for those considering moving within SATS?

It’s important to remember that when you move to a new department, you’re taking a step out of your comfort zone. There is always a steep learning curve, but that can be exciting too.

Like when I moved from Gateway to Food Solutions. Someone without a background in F&B running a food business?! It definitely felt strange. But the principles of leadership and management, no matter where you go, are still the same. There are always skills you can bring with you to a new role.

I was also thankful that there were many people who took me under their wing and guided me. Everyone, from the admin officers to managers and senior management such as (Chairman) Tan Chuan Lye, Peter Tay, and Andrew Seow – they all guided me.

Looking back, I can honestly say I enjoyed my time there. It’s really important to focus on your strengths, avoid letting your weaknesses get you down and to adapt to changing circumstances.

How would you sum up your career at SATS?

I like to joke that that I joined SATS by mistake, but the truth is I don’t regret my time here at all! A lot of it is due to the people I’ve worked with. I was lucky to have met good people when I was with Apron Services, Human Capital, Baggage Services, and Passenger Services at Terminals 1 and 2. Initially, I gave myself just five years… but before I knew it, I've reached my 29th year! My youth is gone! (laughs).

It’s obvious that you enjoy what you do.

A sense of fun always helps. While it’s important to work hard, I also think it’s important to have a sense of self-awareness and know when you need to take a break and detach yourself from work.

So how do you de-stress and take your mind off work?

I love to run. I’m free from distractions when I run solo and have more space to think. I especially enjoy midnight runs - it’s really quiet and there are few people around.

I also enjoy Mahjong! If you’re familiar with the game, you’ll know that no matter how good or bad your current circumstance might be – it can always reset with a change of wind. (“Wind” refers to changing of the seats in Mahjong. This can often lead to a change of fortune in the game.)

Goh Siang Han is the Chief Operating Officer of Food Solutions, SATS. Previously from the civil service, he entered SATS in 1991 and has had a rewarding career here for over 29 years.