PSA’s Southeast Asia CEO on leadership and future-prepping

Ong Kim Pong delves into PSA's unique leadership culture, developing a future talent pipeline, and more.
By: | September 28, 2018

In Leaders Talk HRHRM Magazine Asia sits down with C-suite movers and shakers to talk HR and leadership.


In the first part of our interview with Ong Kim Pong, PSA’s CEO for Southeast Asia, he talked about how disruption is impacting the port operator – and transforming its workforce approach. In this second, and final installment, we join him for a deep-dive discussion on leadership and preparing for the future.


What is your personal philosophy towards leadership?

A good leader is actually a good steward. Stewardship is about looking after something – taking the responsibility given to you, and making it even better for the next leader. I wouldn’t call this a leadership style; it’s more a responsibility that I feel.


What are you looking out for as you shape that next generation of leadership?

I like to identify and train new leaders in two different character traits. One is presence of mind. It sounds a bit fuzzy, but I see it as the sum of whatever skills that they have, applied appropriately to each situation.

Another thing that I look out for is integrity, which I believe is a very important virtue for any good leader. We want to make sure that they’re not putting forward their own agenda, but rather, the agenda that is best for the organisation. Such integrity can be actually cultivated through a positive culture in the organisation.


How do you make sure that new hires fit into this positive workplace culture?

When we hire somebody, we first look for their skillsets. After they come in in, we’ll start to teach them about understanding the needs of everyone.

We also let them have multi-disciplinary training. A person will never stay in a particular role forever; we make sure that they get rotated – between different business locations, and maybe even countries.


How else is PSA working to develop a talent pipeline for the future?

We work very closely with multiple parties, such as the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, which has set up the Maritime Singapore Connect Office to connect employers with students and jobseekers.

I also sit on the International Maritime Centre 2030 Advisory Committee, which has the vision for Singapore to become a global maritime hub for connectivity, innovation, and talent.

We also have lots of academic collaborations with the Institutes of Technical Education, with polytechnics, and with universities. We actually work with the professors to come up with curriculum that’s very specific to the port processes of the future. They’re going to be highly automated; we’re going to need people who can get to grips with engineering systems.

We also have our living labs, where we develop innovative and cutting-edge technology solutions – for example, the automated guided vehicle system.


Where do you see PSA being in five to 10 years? 

I have a very clear vision that I don’t want us to be just another port organisation. Instead, I see state-of-the-art technology digitalising the supply chain, and enhancing it with global connectivity.

To get there, we will need technological investment and human capital investment. Both of these will have to be married together.


“A good leader is actually a good steward. Stewardship is about looking after something – taking the responsibility given to you, and making it even better for the next leader.” 

– Ong Kim Pong, CEO, PSA Southeast Asia



I like: Music. It’s a way for me to connect with people, especially my kids.

I dislike: Situations of indecision or sitting on the fence. Hedging excessively holds everyone back. We must be nimble enough to adjust our decisions when necessary.

Something that inspires me: I like jogging. It’s a time when I don’t have my mobile phone with me, so I can reflect on the day or week, or on issues that are bugging me.

Advice for my younger self: If I could relive my life, I would like to engage my mentors and elders a lot more and listen to the insights they are able to share. The experience that our elders have can never be learned from textbooks.

Career highlights: Back in 2000, I was able to be part of the international business at PSA, and I have not looked back since. I’ve been to Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Hong Kong, and even Chennai in India. Collectively, these overseas experiences have given me a lot of insights into a lot of different things.

Where I’d like to see myself in five years: I would like to be actively involved in new areas such as connectivity – getting all our ports connected.