How Shopee’s Chief Commercial Officer rose up the ranks
In Leaders Talk HR, HRM Magazine Asia sits down with C-suite movers and shakers to talk HR and leadership.
Don’t forget to check out our main feature interview with Shopee’s Zhou Junjie, here.
There’s a single question and answer from our interview with Junjie Zhou that immediately stands out as definitive of our subject.
When asked what was the best decision of his 14-year career so far, the Chief Commercial Officer of Shopee has no hesitation whatsoever. He says making the move from the corporate world to a fledgling startup was not just his boldest move, but also his most successful. That’s because it wasn’t just any startup that Zhou made the jump to, but the Sea Group (formerly Garena) in particular.
At the time, in 2010, Garena was predominantly online gaming business. Zhou was inspired and captivated by the company’s vision and strategy, and switched over from a promising career with local stevedore PSA Corporation.
It was – he admits today – a huge leap of faith, with plenty of risk and uncertainty attached. But sitting in the brand new, modern office space of Shopee in Singapore (which made HRM Magazine Asia’s Most Effective Workspaces list in 2017), the otherwise mild-mannered executive cannot help but smile proudly at the success he has attained since then.
Making the switch
Can you share a little about your career journey so far?
I first started my work in 2004 – wow – that’s like 13 years ago!
I started in PSA Corporation as a returning scholar, so I was offered a scholarship to study in the US. After I joined PSA on my return, I did a few things. First, I worked on terminal expansion projects, and after there I was an engineering manager, managing a newly-setup key site crane section as I am an engineer by training.
I think the work in PSA gave me exposure to big project management, and I also had the opportunity to work with different levels of people as an engineering manager. I worked there for six years.
In 2010, I came across the founding members of Garena, which has since been renamed to Sea Group. I was thinking about what my career journey should be like, and what else I should do, and where else my aspirations lay?
And after talking to the founding members, I felt what they were doing was really exciting. So I made the decision to make a rather big career switch.
It sounds like a leap of faith?
To move from a very established company to a startup company, yes, I think it was. So after I joined Sea Group, I did a few things as well. First I worked on cyber café and payment distribution channels. After that, I worked as a leader for our Indonesia office which I had to set up over a couple of years.
So when did you assume the role as a country head of Singapore for Shopee?
It was in 2015, while I was still in Indonesia. Back then I was still primarily working in the Garena side, which is more of the game business and I came back to manage our Singapore and Malaysia game business.
Shopee quickly grew to be one of the key focus areas of our group, so I decided it was a good opportunity and the company also needed me to contribute to this part of the business. I made a switch to come to Shopee.
ONE on ONE
I love: Eating really good food!
I dislike: People who make empty promises
My inspiration is: Joining this company and having so many great minds working together
Best career decision: Joining Sea Group was a very big switch but I had been urging myself to do something different and try to be part of the team; to create something different
Top tip for other leaders: I think you should always lead by example. And of course be very sharp and clear on your instructions, so that the team always has a clear sense of direction
Biggest regret: I spent two years managing our Indonesia office but I didn’t really force myself to learn and pick up Bahasa Indonesia
In five years’ time, I’d like to be: Leading Shopee to even greater heights
For more Asia-Pacific CEOs and business leaders discussing their HR challenges, head to HRM Asia’s dedicated Leaders Talk HR microsite.